"It's like magic."
Having grown up in a family of entertainers, Hilary's parents always encouraged her to be creative. She and her brother would write plays and film them. She was constantly imagining, creating. And now that's what she does for a living.
Hilary's love of performance started when she took her first ballet class at age 4. From there, she branched into community theatre. During a performance of her first musical, Damn Yankees, an agent spotted her in the crowd. Thinking that 11 was too young and acting was too scary, she said thanks, but no thanks. By the time she was 16, acting still had a hold of her. She put a call in to the agent from years ago. He was delighted to hear from her and signed her on the spot. Immediately, she booked a series regular on "The Secret World of Alex Mack." Since then, Hilary has been working steadily, including a role in Mike Nichols' Charlie Wilson's War, opening Christmas Day, where she acts alongside Tom Hanks...
What do you love most about acting?
I love when you start to really understand a character and actually experience what that character is going through, when you meet up with the script and it all starts to flow. You almost go numb, and you let the writing take over. It comes to life in a way you didn't imagine in your mind. It's like magic. It's inspired. When it's truthful is when it's really exciting.
What can you tell me about your character?
This movie is based on a true story and my character really existed. She's a stripper in Las Vegas that, in the book, meets Charlie Wilson (played by Tom Hanks) in the lobby of Caesar's Palace in 1980. He invites her up to his room and they're all throwing a party. The movie begins with the party. There's a lot of cocaine and alcohol. I'm in the hot tub with Charlie Wilson, and I have a friend with me. More or less, he's not paying attention to the half naked strippers next to him. Instead, he's watching a Dan Rather interview on "60 Minutes" with an Afghan lawyer. I keep asking him why he's watching the news and what's going on. I find out he's a Congressman. We try to seduce him, but he doesn't want to have any part of our party. We end up going to the airport with him where we keep trying to coax him into this party that we want. Basically, it sets up that Charlie Wilson is a Playboy that doesn't get much done in Congress, but he knows how to have a good time.
How did you prepare for the role?
I did go to a couple of strip clubs - for research, of course. [Laughs] It's a party scene, so there's not a lot of dramatic, deep, emotional feelings; it's really about having a good time. These girls are probably really drunk and really coked up. The way I work is I use my experiences in similar situations - like an experience of alcohol in my past. I remember what it made my entire body feel like, how it affected my brain. That's really it. Then I let it take over when I'm on set. It's pretty easy when you have Tom Hanks next to you, other great actors around you, and a wonderful director.
What was it like working with Tom Hanks?
He's a complete gentleman and a real genuine human being. He said so many times how lucky he is to be where he is and reminded us all how we could be shoveling chicken heads in some factory. Instead, he gets to sit in a hot tub and say lines all day. The other thing about Tom is that he knew everyone's name on set - from the grip to the PA. He knows how to welcome people and realizes that it's a collaborative effort.
Can you tell me about the director, Mike Nichols?
I describe him as being like your grandfather. He treats you with such respect. He'll talk to you about the story and what he's trying to achieve, but he talks to you as if you're at his level and you're making the movie just as much as he is. He includes everyone. You can see why his movies are so amazing when you meet him because he's a storyteller.
Can you tell us any stories from filming this movie?
One day, early on, Tom decides to take me and a few girls out to lunch. He sits at the head of the table and starts telling a story about his first day on Forrest Gump. He was really nervous because he hadn't found his character yet. He had been preparing, but he didn't know quite how to make it work. He did one take of a scene, and Robert Zemeckis (the director) yelled cut. Tom went back to his trailer. Rob came in and told him that that wasn't Forrest Gump, find him quick because time and money were a-wastin'. Tom couldn't figure it out. He had been playing Forrest as a joke-y guy. Tom came from a comedic background, so his habit was always to go to the punch line, to make someone laugh. That was his thing. Then he realized that Forrest was the opposite - he stands there, doesn't move, and says his line. I thought that was such an eye into who Tom is because he was telling this story to, basically, strangers. (It was right as I had started, and I didn't know him well yet.) He was telling us his insecurities and how he messed up. We all, as actors, are constantly trying to improve our craft. We don't always get it right on the first take or the third or fourth. We really have to give ourselves a break sometimes. The story just made me like Tom even more!
What do you like to do in your free time?
I go to the gym a lot. I guess that's the life of an actress. And I love to cook, which doesn't coincide with the gym! [Laughs] But I love to have people over for dinner parties and cook great meals. Also, my husband and I have gotten into bowling this past year. I don't know why, but we've got our own balls and shoes and we're such dorks. I'm terrible, but he's really good which is probably why he likes it. I like it because we go with friends and act silly. Of course, I also try to get to as many ballet classes as I can.
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