Why Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-Winning Film ‘Million Dollar Baby’ Was Almost Postponed

by Taylor Cunningham
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(Photo by Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

While filming Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, Hilary Swank took her role so seriously that it nearly killed her.

When Eastwood pegged Swank as boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in the 2004 flick, she had just earned her A-list status in Hollywood with her first Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry. And the actress knew that working on an Eastwood movie would give her a chance at another.

So as she prepared for her role, she got into the mind of a champion boxer the best she could. Swank spent her days training at the gym and building 20 lbs of muscle. And she was so dedicated that for months, she even woke up in the middle to down a protein shake to keep the weight on.

And as she worked on her physique, Hilary Swank did not complain or worry about small injuries. But at one point, she took that overt toughness too far.

As the now 47-year-old told 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace in 2005, she developed a blister on her foot during her countless hours of training. And instead of asking for help, she took matters into her own hands.

“I was about halfway through my training when I got a blister…the size of my palm on the ball of my foot. And it was my front foot, the one I have to pivot on. …So, I popped it,” she admitted. “…I popped it myself. I didn’t let it pop on its own, whatever.”

Hillary Swank Developed a Life-Threatening Infection While Filming ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and Never Told Clint Eastwood

Swank knew that blisters were common for boxers. So she figured there was no reason to worry. But what she didn’t know was that staphylococcus is common in gyms. And while walking around, the bacteria made its way into her wound.

Within two days, the Million Dollar Baby star had developed a full-blown infection, and she decided not to tell Clint Eastwood. Instead, she went to the hospital and dealt with it in private, which in hindsight, could have held up filming—or worse, led to debilitating physical consequences.

“There were streaks going up my foot,” Swank continued. “So, I went to the doctor that second, and he looked at me, and he said, ‘This is really serious. And if you had waited two more hours, you would have been in the hospital for three weeks. And if it gets to your heart, that’s it.'”

Hilary Swank never told her director about the health scare after the fact either. The first time he heard about it was while watching 60 minutes with the rest of us.

“I didn’t tell Clint,” she said. “He still to this day doesn’t know. The producers don’t know. No one knows…except my trainers…because, in the end, that’s what happens to boxers.”

Nonetheless, Swank’s dedication ended up paying off in the end. Million Dollar Baby took home four Oscars that year, including one for Swank’s performance.

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