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TIFF PHOTO GALLERY: Hilary Swank and the woman she portrays at the Conviction press conference

Actor Hilary Swank attends the Conviction press conference at the Hyatt Regency (Image: Karon Liu)

“If I didn’t do justice to this story, which is so beautiful and inspiring, I don’t think I could live with myself,” said Oscar-winning actor Hilary Swank at Monday’s press conference for her new film Conviction, the film adaptation of Betty Anne Waters‘ true story of spending 18 years to get her wrongly accused brother out of prison. Waters, who was also at the press conference, was a high school dropout who later worked her way through law school to defend her brother Kenny after he was convicted of first-degree murder. Kenny, who is played by Sam Rockwell in the movie, was exonerated in 2001 after DNA testing proved that he did not kill Katrina Brow.

“Betty is my real-life hero, and to let her down and Kenny and their family, it would be the biggest regret of my life,” Swank continued to say about the pressure of bringing Waters’ life to the big screen.

Director Tony Goldwyn came up with the idea to make a movie about Waters after his wife saw a segment on the case about nine years ago on television. “I got fascinated by this bond between brother and sister, and I found myself asking, ‘What if she’s wrong? What if he’s guilty? What if she didn’t succeed in getting him out of prison?’ I realized that the story isn’t really about whether she succeeded or not but the love story between a brother and a sister.”

Unfortunately, Kenny passed away six months after his release, but Waters recalled that his last months were the happiest of his life. “He loved the lake at our house. He couldn’t wait to get in there, and he jumped in even though it was March and it was very cold. We were on Oprah, some other shows and did some travelling. He loved it. If he was here, he’d be taking over the room.”

Unlike other roles, Swank said this was a particularly challenging task because it’s rooted in reality (even though she also starred in biopics Amelia and Freedom Writers). “The difficult part is that this is a true story. In a fictional movie, you can put a space between what you’re doing and say, ‘Oh, it’s just a movie. It’s just a story.’ But this is real life. While we’re all here, there’s someone in prison who’s been wrongly convicted. Sam and I sat there and thought, for 18 years, this was Kenny and Betty Anne’s life. We’re portraying this story, and yet this happened.”

Although Waters was all smiles at the conference and seemed to enjoy the spotlight, it’s clear that the pain of the ordeal hasn’t gone away. “Seeing Sam play my brother was like seeing my brother again. Call it therapy if you will, because all the feelings I had in life were there on the screen. When I saw it for the third time, I thought it would be easier, but it hasn’t been yet. It gets too real.”