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Rescue is a theme of sorts in Swank's new film, P.S. I Love You -- only this time it's Swank's character who's in need of saving. Based on Cecelia Ahern's 2004 best-selling novel of the same name, the funny and dramatic romance is about a young widow who is led through the grieving process by a series of instructional letters left to her by her dead husband. "To me, it's what life is about -- having that person who loves and supports you, taking for granted that he will always be there -- I connected to it on such a profound level," says Swank. Indeed, in the film there are moments that showcase Swank's earnest and melancholy way with a line of dialogue and how she can let different emotions -- loss, despair, loneliness, vulnerability -- flicker across her face. But P.S. I Love You also gives her comedic bits: trying to sing away her blues by lip-synching Judy Garland's tragic "The Man That Got Away" while outfitted in her husband's white dress shirt and shamrock-print boxers. Since Swank's breakthrough role in 1999 as Brandon Teena, a teenage girl living life as a boy, in Boys Don't Cry, followed by her turn as a prizefighter in Million Dollar Baby (for each of which she won Academy Awards for Best Actress), Swank hasn't had many chances to showcase her skills as a comic or a damsel in distress. Richard LaGravenese, the film's screenwriter and director, wanted to change that.
"I got to know her on Freedom Writers," says LaGravenese of the 2006 movie that he wrote and directed starring Swank as real-life inner-city schoolteacher Erin Gruwell. "I discovered there are all these other sides to her. There's this great comedienne and a romantic heroine and there's this beautiful woman who represents Everywoman. I wanted to give her a chance to show all that in this film."
A few hours after our cover shoot, Swank, now in jeans and a blue tailored shirt, slides into a booth at a hip Hollywood restaurant. Before her dinner arrives, she and the waiter engage in a flurry of wine lovers' calisthenics: lots of strenuous glass swirling, energetic sniffing and brow-furrowing assessment of which red might pair best with aged beef. When he delivers her dinner -- a rare Texas Wagyu rib eye, parsley-flecked gnocchi, spinach gratin, a medley of forest-foraged wild mushrooms, and sauteed baby broccoli -- he casually informs her that a few small crunchy nuggets nestled near the slabs of steak are pieces of fried bone marrow. Not that long ago, Swank, a fish-eating vegetarian for 18 years, was informed that she had elevated mercury in her blood system, so she switched her main protein source from seafood to beef. "That's fried bone marrow?" asks this beginner carnivore, a startled expression settling over her luminously smooth, angular face. "I thought they were scallops!" she groans good-naturedly.