LOS ANGELES, Sept. 4 (UPI) -- Two-time Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank plays an astronaut commanding a mission to Mars in the Netflix original series Away, premiering Friday. But Swank said she was drawn to her character's vulnerability more than her authority.
"I love that Emma was also written vulnerable, that [it] wasn't seen as a weakness," Swank said of her character, Emma Green, at a recent Television Critics Association panel. "It was seen as a strength of hers."
Andrew Hinderaker created Away, and Parenthood writer/producers Jessica Goldberg and Jason Katims executive produce. Swank said she felt the trio avoided common cliches about female characters who are leaders.
"Usually, they're tough, they're from the military and leading with an iron fist," Swank said. "Again, her vulnerability is not a weakness. It's a strength."
One of Emma's vulnerabilities relates to the family on Earth. Emma must leave her daughter for three years to command the Mars mission. Her husband, Matt (Josh Charles), is chief engineer of the Atlas I mission, but suffers a stroke prior to launch from the lunar base.
Emma considers relinquishing command to return home, but her family encourages her to continue the mission. For Swank, that imbued her space scenes with more weight.
"It's not that weird dynamic where the husband doesn't support the wife," Swank said. "They're both these equals walking shoulder to shoulder, trying to complete this mission together."
On the Atlas shuttle, crew members are not so unconditionally supportive. Cosmonaut Misha (Mark Ivanir) frequently questions Emma's decisions. The crew also includes astronauts from China, England and India.
"The drama was these richly different racial backgrounds," Swank said. "It shows how colorful the world is."
Each of Emma's crew members has loved ones on Earth. Swank feels that love for people on Earth unites the crew, whether they are longing for their children or partners and whether they are same-sex or heteronormative partners.
"That love is the same," Swank said. "We all experience and feel love the same inside."
While the characters navigate those emotional issues on the mission, the actors also had to simulate space flight in a studio on the ground. Swank and her co-stars learned how to mimic zero gravity while hanging from wires.
Each actor had a member of the film crew holding the wire on the ground. When all five astronauts were in a scene together, five crew members had to prevent five wires from tangling.
"We have to figure out how we cross each other and fly by each other while on these wires," Swank said.
It also impressed Swank that the issue of gender never came up in Away's scripts.
"The commander of this mission to Mars is a woman and that's not the drama of the story," Swank said. "That shows how far we've come working toward equality."
Swank acknowledged that in her 29 years as an actor, she often came up against stories told exclusively from a white male point of view. She hopes the progress Away represents in telling fictional stories can be an example for real world progress, too.
"The show is such a beautiful reflection of where we're headed," Swank said. "We've definitely come far in the last hundred years, and we still have so much more to accomplish in equality for women."
In Swank's career, she said, she has played a number of characters that inspired her to "be a better woman, to never give up and to continue to fight for other women."
Swank's resume includes real-life characters such as women's suffrage activist Alice Paul, Amelia Earhart, Freedom Writers teacher Erin Gruwell, bartender-turned-lawyer Betty Anne Waters and Gail Getty, mother of the kidnapped J. Paul Getty III.
Her fictional characters inspire her, too, she said. She played a boxer in Million Dollar Baby, a miracle debunker in The Reaping, an Old West wagon driver in The Homesman and, before Away, the villain in The Hunt.
"I feel blessed to be getting these opportunities," Swank said.
Away Season 1 premieres Friday on Netflix.