Hilary Swank is back on our screens in the new Netflix series, Away. She tells Georgia Humphreys about her experience of playing an astronaut.

It was only as Hilary Swank began her gruelling preparation for new Netflix series, Away, that she realised she has major claustrophobia.

The Nebraska-born actress, 46, takes on the lead role, Emma Green, who we see embarking on a treacherous mission to Mars in command of an international crew, leaving her husband and teenage daughter behind for a year.

And Swank discovered there were plenty of challenges that come with playing an astronaut. “When I put on my spacesuit, I almost passed out,” confides the star, who is famous for films such as P.S. I Love You and Million Dollar Baby. “So, that was definitely a great physical obstacle that I had to overcome as a person in order to play this character.”

Meanwhile, the cast also had training to help them understand how it feels to be in zero gravity, she adds. “We had to be hung by our hips like a pendulum, so we had to have really strong abs and glutes in order to hold us in that position and make it look effortless.”

Away – created by Andrew Hinderaker – is an epic series about love, hope and humanity.

“I love Emma Green,” Swank gushes animatedly when asked what drew her to the character. “I love her drive, I love her passion, I love how she perseveres through adversity.

“I love that she is vulnerable. I love that she is a leader that cares immensely about the people that she works with and their wellbeing and I love that she is a mother and that being a mother is as important to her as her mission to Mars.”

Swank is now “selective” about the projects she takes on, she notes. “It’s got to be something like really special to take me out of the environment that I love.”

She also took a three-year screen break to look after her father Stephen, after he underwent a life-saving lung transplant in 2014. The decision to be his live-in carer was actually an experience Swank could draw on for the role of Emma, a character who we see having to make some big sacrifices.

“Emma has this moment where her husband has an emergency and she has to make a decision of whether she goes and helps him or continues on her mission,” said Swank.

“Just being in that position to be able to help him was like a no-brainer to me. There was no other choice for me.”

If she was in Emma’s situation, would Swank be able to leave her own family for the greater good?

“You know, I think if you are as passionate about something as Emma is about going to Mars – yes,” she says. “It’s all circumstantial. But you can see the great wear and worry that it puts on her; she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if something bad happened.”

  • Away is available on Netflix from Friday, September 4.