There are two main rules of thumb for Hollywood celebrities: 1. Don’t take net points over gross, and, 2. Never tacitly give your support to brutal foreign leaders known for human rights abuses. Hilary Swank, who broke Rule No. 2 when she attended the Oct. 5 birthday celebration of Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno last night and apologized for her actions. The actress explained to Leno — who helped her out with friendly questions like a supportive defense attorney — that the appearance was a mistake and that she didn’t even know the event was going to be in honor of Kadyrov, who has been accused of a bevy of violent dictatorial actions. She also insisted that her line “Happy birthday, Mr. President!” was less a Marilyn Monroe-esque affectation than simply a product of not knowing the Chechen leader’s name.

To be fair, it wasn’t all equivocation. Swank did admit fault, stating, “Shame on me. The bottom line is I should know where I’m going and I should do better research.” It should also be noted that other celebrities like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Seal also attended the gala — that Kadyrov has some eclectic taste — but have not since apologized. Of course, they’re under less scrutiny considering their relevance dried up somewhere back in the late ’90s. Check out Swank’s Tonight Show appearance below:

Swank isn’t exactly someone who you would expect to get into this kind of kerfuffle. Until this incident, she seemed relatively successful at just doing her thing, alternating schizophrenically between Oscar-bait dramas and godawful genre dreck, and flying below the radar. I’m sure she was caught off-guard by the controversy, and I’m even more sure that she was tempted last night to just turn to the camera and say, “Seriously, do you have any idea how many famous people do this kind of thing?” (Like, say, Beyoncé and Mariah Carey’s performances for members of the Gaddafi family.) It’s no excuse, obviously, but then again neither is “I didn’t know!”

What did you think of her apology? Is it too little, too late? Too much, too early? Just right? And how many of you would like to see a similar apology for The Reaping?

Read more:

The Tonight Show (TV Show)
  • TV Show