Anna Paquin

Sure, she’s already won an Oscar, but Anna Paquin’s latest film has her starring and producing in her hometown of Winnipeg

Miss Indie-pendent
Sure, she’s already won an Oscar, but Anna Paquin’s latest film has her starring and producing in her hometown of Winnipeg

“Hey, sorry I’m late!” shouts Anna Paquin, 23, after bounding toward a café in Manhattan’s East Village. It’s 3:02 p.m. and the interview appointment was for 3 p.m. No, Paquin is no inconsiderate Hollywood diva and her dozen-year-old honour as the second-youngest Oscar winner (after Tatum O’Neal) hasn’t given her attitude. “I look like crap,” she says with an apologetic smile. Nothing could be further from the truth, yet she persists, explaining that she’s in the middle of moving. “I haven’t washed my hair in several days.”

Apparently, this is her only chance to pack due to a hectic itinerary; just around the corner is the May 26 launch of her new movie, X-Men: The Last Stand, an estimated $150-million comic-book fantasia about mutant superheroes who are battling a cure for genetic mutations. In all three X-Men editions, Paquin plays the vampirish Rogue, a heroine who has a white streak in her hair and a deadly touch. It’s an unusually commercial role for an actor who usually likes taking on films such as Almost Famous and Buffalo Soldiers (in which she acted alongside Joaquin Phoenix and Ed Harris). Even back in 1996, Franco Zeffirelli directed her as the young Jane Eyre and, in the same year, in Fly Away Home she adopted a flock of Canadian geese. But when you have a chance to save the world in the company of Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and Patrick Stewart, and when the salary will score you a cooler apartment than you might own as one of the stars of The Squid and the Whale and The Dark, why refuse?

Born in Winnipeg and raised in New Zealand, Paquin hit the ground running at nine when she was picked out of an open call to costar in Jane Campion’s dreamlike art film The Piano. Two years later, in 1994, there at the Oscars stood Paquin, a waif in a beaded cap, making a bewildered, unrehearsed acceptance speech. With no professional experience, she had played a 19th-century Scottish child whose mute mother (Holly Hunter) is forced into an arranged marriage. Throughout the movie Paquin’s eyes well with anger, defiance and vulnerability. Her face would be called “unnerving”; her pauses, “scene-stealing.” She’s barely been out of work since.

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Sipping coffee at our table, however, Paquin goes unrecognized; she seems like anyone’s bubbly Gen-X/Y kid sister. Her brown hair is tied back, her makeup minimal, the space between her front teeth unfixed. Very un-Hollywood. As are her interests outside show business: she speaks French and loves art. Some of her career choices wouldn’t thrill a Tinseltown agent: if she likes the script, she’ll spend months in a low-paying off-Broadway play (in 2004, she was in a production of The Distance from Here). Maybe because she’s known as a smart actor, she’s never had to compete with the latest onscreen “it” girl or been left behind amid yesterday’s child stars.

“Nobody ever cast me because I was the little kid who had the cute lines and the cute voice and the cute face,” she says, “or because I was some drop-dead-sexy teenager. I was usually the kid in an adult movie.” Remarks an admirer of hers, the New Biographical Dictionary of Film author David Thomson: “I have the hunch that a few more degrees of prettiness or sexiness have pushed Natalie Portman into star parts while Anna Paquin is a character actress.”

But Portman rarely gets to play such nuanced roles as the lead character in Kenneth Lonnergan’s Margaret, due out this fall. In it, Paquin stars opposite Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo and Matthew Broderick as a young woman who feels certain she inadvertently played a role in a fatal bus accident. Paquin’s normal-girl air makes her intensely believable; it even gives the cartoon character of Rogue a truthful ring. “I don’t play Rogue differently than any other part,” she says, “because if I don’t take it seriously, no one else will.” She went through a phase of playing flirty teen temptresses (Buffalo Soldiers) and gave them surprisingly dark undercurrents.

“To be provocative is certainly one way girls can act out their troubled lives or feelings,” she explains. “But I’m done with those parts now, which is great. I’m not underage anymore. So, by definition, I’m no longer Lolita.”

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*For the complete article, be sure to pick up the June issue of FLARE!*