The two-time Oscar winner stars as the commander of a mission to Mars. To prepare for the role, she headed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas

By Jason Sheeler
September 09, 2020 12:00 PM
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Hilary Swank is grateful every day for the ability to tell stories in her craft as an actor.

“It’s a gift that I’ve been given, to be a storyteller,” Swank tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. “I couldn’t be more blessed. I literally get to walk in different shoes with every single job that I get. It enriches me as a human being in so many ways — it blows open the blinders of how I see the world.”

With her new role, as the commander of a spaceship headed for Mars, Swank, 46, has an entirely new view of the world.

In Away on Netflix, Swank joins the Joint Mars Initiative, an international crew undertaking a three-year trip to the red planet. (Watch Swank train like an astronaut, eat like an astronaut, workout, and geek out over meeting her heroes in the above video.)

  • For more from Hilary Swank, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Hilary Swank in Away

While it’s an action-packed and dramatic series, Swank was attracted to it because the tension didn’t come from one familiar plotline.

“I love that the commander on this mission to Mars is a woman and that that's not the drama of the show,” she says.

The drama of the show, instead, says Swank, also doesn’t come because of the diversity on board. “I love that the show deals with all different types of races. There's an LGBTQ storyline. It really is representative of the world we live in. And I think so often, in the 30 years of my career, so much of it was just from the point of view of really a white straight male. It wasn't representative of the street that I walk down every day.”

For her role as Commander Emma Green, Swank headed to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for a day of training in February. She was also able to interview women who have long been her heroes. She met Karen Nyberg — who became the 50th woman in space upon her first mission in 2008 and spent a total of 180 days in space — and met, in a way, Jessica Meir. She spoke to Meir, who was onboard the International Space Station. (Meir returned to Earth in April after seven months in space.)

Hilary Swank in Away
NETFLIX © 2020

Swank, who won her first Oscar in 2000 for her portrayal of trans man Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry and again in 2005 for the Clint Eastwood boxing film Million Dollar Baby, is known for going all-in for her roles.

The choices she makes professionally are rooted in her personal worldview.

“We are trying to continually find equality as women in very much what I think is a man's world," she says. "I think I'm drawn for sure to these women, mostly true stories, who persevere in their own way.”

Away is now streaming on Netflix.