Hilary Swank on Pausing Career to Care for Dad After Lung Transplant: 'It Takes a Lot of Energy'

"The ups and downs are so challenging and can be overwhelming," the Away actress said of becoming her father's health advocate

Hilary Swank
Photo: Yu Tsai

Hilary Swank is opening up about putting her career on hold to care for her father.

In a new interview for Health magazine's September issue, the two-time Oscar winner, 46, explained that she stepped back from Hollywood in 2014 in order to be at her dad Stephen's side as he underwent a lung transplant. The hiatus lasted longer than expected for Swank, who said she became her father's "health advocate."

"It was supposed to be a year, because it takes a year to see if an organ transplant takes. A lung transplant is the most difficult of all, as it’s an incredibly delicate organ," said Swank. "The plan was to take off a year. I became my dad’s health advocate. One year quickly turned into two and then three. And, thank God, prayers were answered. He is healthy and doing really well five-plus years later."

Swank said the emotional toll that came with her father's health battle was, at times, "overwhelming."

"It takes a lot of energy, love and edifying yourself on the matter at hand. The ups and downs are so challenging and can be overwhelming," she said, adding advice for others who become health advocates for loved ones: "Make sure that you’re taking time for yourself and that you vocalize what your needs are to the people who are around you so they can help support you."

Hilary Swank
Yu Tsai
Hilary Swank
Yu Tsai
Hilary Swank

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Swank eventually made her return to acting, starring in the 2018 FX limited series Trust, and the thriller The Hunt earlier this year. She next appears on the new Netflix space drama Away, in which she plays an astronaut leading the first mission to Mars.

The star explained that the new series' diverse cast of characters attracted her to the project — and her childhood aspiration to become a space-traveler.

"Before being an actor, I wanted to be an astronaut. I had such passion for, and respect for, astronauts and people who are exploring something that’s so much bigger than all of us," said Swank. "Something else, which was just as significant to me when I read Away, was that the script was unique in its inclusion of so many multiethnic characters."

"They too are all struggling with their own powerful personal stories, which really connects all of us," she continued. "It also highlights the beautiful fact that space has no borders. We could use more of that down here right now."

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In March 2018, Swank shared more about her hiatus during an appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

“He’s great, thank you for asking! For those of you who don’t know, my dad got a lung transplant,” she said at the time. “It’s the hardest surgery a person can undergo and I thank all the people who make themselves a donor, it saves lives.”

She continued: “They had given him a short time to live if he didn’t get one and thankfully he got one and he’s alive and thriving and well. I took three years off to be with him and help him through that life journey.”

On Father's Day, Swank paid tribute to her dad on Instagram, calling him "funny, present," and the "best suspender wearin’ and ultimate fixer of all things."

Marking the one-year anniversary of his 2014 transplant, the Million Dollar Baby actress thanked the doctors and donor who helped save her dad's life.

“This dear man, my dad got a lung transplant a year ago today,” she wrote on Dec. 27, 2015. “By the grace of God, brilliant doctors, an organ donor, much love and many prayers from loved ones…and even complete strangers, he is alive today. Thank you all for your care and kindness!!”

Away is available to stream Sept. 4 on Netflix.

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