Rogue Star

Photo: Joseph Llanes

When she was 9, Anna Paquin went with her sister to an audition for the part of Flora McGrath in a small film called The Piano in New Zealand. From 5,000 kids, she was chosen: Two years later, Paquin found herself shyly delivering an acceptance speech for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress—it’s worth looking up on YouTube; she can barely see over the podium. Today, she remains the second-youngest person ever to receive an Oscar. “When we got back to New Zealand, there were people with cameras who followed me to and from school,” she says, slumping back into a booth in a diner on Hudson Street. “I was like, ‘That’s weird, why do you care?’ ”

Now 24, Paquin, who will appear in the HBO film Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (see John Leonard’s review here), has been working as an actor for fifteen years and, talking to her, nothing could be more obvious. Hers is a well-honed and, occasionally, slightly unnerving poise. Unlike many former child stars, her career now seems to be going from strength to strength, and she will, as she says, “babble on tangents for hours” about it. (She also has two movies—Margaret, alongside Matt Damon, and Trick ’r Treat—slated for release in addition to Blue State, which she executive-produced with her brother.) On the subject of HBO, you get the impression she could hold court all day, and well she might: The network is putting a lot of faith in the actress. In addition to Bury My Heart, she has been cast in the pilot for Alan Ball’s (Six Feet Under) new series, True Blood, based on the Charlaine Harris books about vampires in the South. “I would say it’s a not-so-subtle metaphor for … you know, pick your minority group,” Paquin says. “They use the expression ‘Came out of the coffin,’ so there could be parallels with homosexuality or whatever…”

Born in Canada, Paquin was raised in New Zealand and moved to Los Angeles to complete high school in 1996. In 2000, after a few uneventful roles, she relocated to New York to attend Columbia. She lived in the dorms for just one year (and off-campus for another) before taking a break to continue acting. “I was honestly never a huge school person,” she says, tugging the sleeves of her white V-necked sweater. “How long can you pretend you’re enrolled when you haven’t been back in five or six years and your class graduated ages ago and now have real jobs?” The same year, she played Rogue in X-Men and, suddenly, she had returned to international prominence. Asked whether there is going to be an X-Men 4, she delivers a taut “I have no idea.”

As charming as Paquin is, she seems to have learned, very early on, not to give too much of herself away. When the subject of her home, which is just a few blocks from the diner, comes up, I am enlightened that, yes, it is an apartment and that she is “an apartment dweller.” But at a certain point I wonder whether her guardedness isn’t more about the fact that there’s not that much to say. I’m not criticizing you, or anything, I tell her, but you rarely stray from discussing your career. “Well, it’s not a criticism if it’s an accurate observation, is it?” she says, then pauses a moment. “Like most people my age, my job is the main focus of my life. I don’t have some kind of jet-setting fabulous lifestyle where I’m constantly in situations to acquire amazing anecdotes, that’s it.” And “prior to this, I was practically in kindergarten.”

“It’s the most depressing 500 pages of English words I’ve ever read,” says Anna Paquin of Dee Brown’s book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. “It’s unthinkable that that actually happened. I mean, you can’t wipe people out in that kind of numbers and dismantle a culture so completely and expect everything to be okay.” But reading was only a small part of her preparation for her role as Elaine Goodale. “I had the incredible opportunity to learn Lakota [the native Sioux language],” she says. “I practiced that shit so much. I was like, ‘If I’m going to speak this language that a very small number of people understand, then damn it, I’m going to do it right.’ ”

SEE ALSO: John Leonard’s Review of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Rogue Star