01/23/2006 at 01:00 AM EST
Lovingly strolling arm-in-arm, Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe wore out their share of red carpets the last several Oscar seasons. “They were a very happy couple,” says boxing trainer Hector Roca, who prepped Swank for her 2005 Oscar-winning role in Million Dollar Baby. “I thought they would be going for a long time.” But that happiness has apparently faded. “Hilary and Chad have decided to separate,” announced Swank's rep on Jan. 9, “but they are hopeful they'll be able to get through this tough time.”
For Swank, 31, and Lowe, 38, the separation, which occurred last month, “was a mutual decision,” says a source close to the couple. “They're really hoping they can work this out.” It was surprising news from the scene-shunning pair, avowed homebodies who nested in New York City and celebrated at an L.A. burger joint after her Oscar win last year. Accepting her statuette, Swank, who famously forgot to thank Lowe during her 2000 win for Boys Don't Cry, told him, “you are my everything.”
She had felt that way ever since meeting Lowe at an L.A. party when she was just 17. Despite their disparate backgrounds (she grew up in a Washington state trailer park, while he and brother Rob were raised in Hollywood), they clicked, marrying in 1997. When Swank's stardom began to eclipse his own, Lowe maintained that that was never an issue. “She's my best friend,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2000, “and her success is a validation.”
Yet standing by during Swank's second Oscar go-round last year was more difficult for Lowe. She was “at the highest point in her life, and he seemed to be feeling very down,” says a source who knows the couple. “It must be tough on him. She is in the stratosphere.” Meanwhile, Lowe, who has built a thriving career behind the camera (he directed the movie drama Beautiful Ohio last fall), was ready to start a family. “For six years he's been wanting one,” Swank told Vogue last year, adding that she was “very close to being ready” for kids.
For now, says a source, Swank and Lowe will remain partners in their production company Accomplice Films. And possibly life partners as well. “They understood each other,” says Hector Roca. “I hope they work it out.”
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
ROLES OF A RELATIONSHIP