These days, Hilary Swank is on cloud nine. She recently wed entrepreneur Philip Schneider and she’s getting Oscar buzz for her role in the new drama What They Had (opening Friday, Oct. 19). But not long ago, life wasn’t so upbeat for Hilary.

Her father, Stephen Michael Swank, received a lung transplant in 2014, and Hilary put work on the back burner for three years while she helped tend to him in her home. “Caregiving changed me for real and forever,” she told AARP The Magazine in a new interview.

Hilary Swank and her dad Stephen
Getty Images

Not coincidentally, What They Had — which Hilary also produced — is a deeply personal project for the 44-year-old actress, who won best actress Oscars for another pair of searing dramas: 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry and 2004’s Million Dollar Baby.

In the new film, she plays a driven career woman who returns home to Chicago to help take care of her mother (Blythe Danner), who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. “It’s about a family,” Blythe told the magazine about the drama. “It’s about what normal people are dealing with — so many people are taking care of parents.”

Hilary knows all about that. She didn’t spend a lot of time with her dad when she was growing up (he was a traveling salesman, and her parents split when she was 15), but she made up for lost time as he recovered from his surgery. “I drove him to hospital appointments,” she recalled. “We’d have lunch, and I’d make his dinner.”

Hilary Swank and Blythe Danner
Getty Images

Such seemingly mundane tasks gave Hilary a new perspective on life. “What I used to stress about was silly and inconsequential,” she said. “All I’d done since I was 15 was act. Taking that away gave me space to recognize I’m so much more!”

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