Hilary Swank on Attending Birthday of Accused Chechen Human Rights Violator: ‘Shame on Me’

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It has been a rough two months for Hilary Swank. The two-time Oscar winner was at the center of an international scandal in October when she attended the birthday party of Chechen president Razman Kadryov, an accused human rights violator who has allegedly killed scores of his own people. In the fallout of the event, Swank received tons of bad press and was reportedly fired from her public relations firm; she also fired her long-time management team. On Friday night, Swank spoke about the mess for the first time to Jay Leno.

In an interview on ‘The Tonight Show,’ Swank explained how she wound up in Grozny on Oct. 5 for Kadryov’s birthday celebration.

“I was invited by a Turkish real estate company to go and be a proponent of peace; help celebrate the rebuilding of a war-torn city. Grozny city, which is in Chechnya. I get offered appearances all the time. These people were trying to rebuild their lives too. Just seven years ago it was very war-torn and very dangerous. I thought, ‘Absolutely, yes. That’s an incredible thing; I love to travel, I love to meet people. This is an exciting opportunity.’

“Then, once there, on the side of the stage, someone said, ‘It’s the president’s birthday; can you wish him a happy birthday?’ I had never heard of him before. In fact, when they said his name, I couldn’t even say it. So I said, ‘I’ll just say Mr. President,’ is what I’m thinking in my head. So, I went out and I said, ‘Happy birthday, Mr. President,’ after I said my whole speech about it’s great to be a proponent of peace and you guys are doing incredible things rebuilding this city. When I got back, only then was I made aware of who he was. Kadryov. Now I can say his name because of I’ve done my research. He’s a bad, bad guy. Human rights organizations had reached out to warn me before I went but I did not get those warnings, they weren’t shared with me.”

Swank’s now-fired manager, Jason Weinberg, was reportedly contacted about Kadryov by Human Rights Watch before she attended the event, which — at the time — he wasn’t even aware of.

Still, Swank told Leno that regardless of who knew what, she’s ultimately to blame.

“Shame on me,” she said. “The bottom line is that I should know where I’m going and I should do my research. […] I actually didn’t know Chechnya was separate from Russia. I had no idea.”

Swank, who had previously apologized for the event, said that she’s now working with human rights groups and donated all the money earned from Kadryov’s birthday to good causes. “There’s always a silver lining to things. I’ve learned a lot about the incredible things people are doing. The Human Rights Watch, I’m working incredibly closely with them.”

You can see Swank in theaters in ‘New Year’s Eve’ on Dec. 9. Watch her interview with Leno below.