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Devoted sister to legal eagle; Film of the Week: Conviction.

Byline: Shereen Low

H OLLYWOOD studios have long been aware of the power of an enthralling true story.

From Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich to soccer mum Leigh Anne Tuohy - immortalised in The Blind Side, which won Sandra Bullock the Best Actress Oscar -remarkable achievements by ordinary people make moving, inspiring movies and often lead to awards and box office glory.

This year the spotlight's on Betty Anne Waters, the mum-of-two who tirelessly devoted 18 years of her life studying for a law degree, sacrificing her marriage in the process, so she could exonerate her brother Kenny, wrongly convicted of murder in 1980.

Waitress Katharina Brow was found stabbed multiple times in her trailer home in Massachusetts. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, the testimonies of two ex-girlfriends ensured Kenny was convicted and sentenced to a life in prison without parole.

With his sibling's dogged pursuit of the truth, helped by the Innocence Project organisation and new developments surrounding DNA and forensic evidence, he was finally freed in 2001.

In CONVICTION, two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank plays Betty Anne with Sam Rockwell as Kenny.

With Swank in the lead role it's no surprise there's already awards buzz around the film.

Her Academy Award-winning portrayal of transgendered teen Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry, as well as performances as aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart in Amelia and suffragette Alice Paul in Iron Jawed Angels, prove she doesn't shy away from difficult real life roles.

"I've always been drawn to true stories because life is stranger than fiction, and this story amazed, moved and inspired me," says 36-year-old Swank.

"This was such a beautiful love story between a brother and a sister that was so compelling."

Conviction, however, also came with its challenges.

"If I don't do justice to this story, I don't think I could live with myself. To let Betty Anne, Kenny and their family down would be the biggest regret of my life. I wouldn't be able to live with that."

Like her hero, Nebraska-born Swank had humble beginnings, growing up in a trailer park. When she was 15, she headed to Los Angeles with her mother so she could pursue her acting career.

Swank finally met her idol when Rockwell suggested a meeting.

"Sam came on board four weeks before we started filming and said he wanted to meet Betty Anne and the family straight away," she recalls. "So we spent the weekend with her. She's so gracious and phenomenal."

Later, when filming began, Betty Anne joined them on set.

Known for her unforgiving passion to make characters believable, Swank - who was also executive producer - worked tirelessly, leaving little time for anything else.

"It's in my heart, I had to do it. There'll be other Christmases with my family," she says, shrugging. Although, ironically, the film has reminded her of the importance of her nearest and dearest.

"In this day and age, where people are losing their jobs, you realise the only thing you have to rely on is your family," she says.

The commitment and work paid off, with Swank winning acclaim, receiving a nomination from the Screen Actors Guild and being tipped to score another Oscar nod.

Betty Anne is amazed by the end result, gushing: "Seeing Hilary play me, I can't explain it. I felt like it was really me. Call it therapy, if you will, but I couldn't stop crying."

Swank didn't have to do too much research into the US legal system, as she was already aware of the flaws.

"I have a friend who's an exoneree so I know we have a very flawed judicial system," she explains. "Innocent men have been executed, so I don't believe in the death penalty. That is injustice at its greatest.

"Kenny spent 18 years of his life in jail for a crime he didn't commit. I can't imagine what that would be like."

* See review - Page 6

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COURTROOM DRAMA: Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) and her elder brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jan 14, 2011
Words:666
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