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Anna Paquin, on Acting.

For the Jane Eyre co-star, 13,
costumes have proved the hardest part of filmmaking.

Henry Sheehan

Submitted by Greg Buczek

Anna Paquin has a story to tell that could probably drive a certain type of actor around the bend. Just 13, she won the Oscar for playing the daughter of Holly Hunter in her first feature, Jane Campion's 1993 winner, award- The Piano.

Not only that, but Anna, who considers herself a normal New Zealand girl, hadn't heard of the Oscars before she was nominated. Nor any of the other prizes _ including the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards _ she won that year.

"I didn't really know about the film-critics awards and the Oscars and the Golden Globes _ I didn't win the Golden Globes, but I was nominated for that," Paquin says in a quiet voice that regularly ripples into giggles. "I had no real reason to know, until I was maybe going to get nominated for the Oscars. I didn't know what on Earth an Oscar was until they told my parents it was actually quite possible that I could get nominated. Then when I did get nominated, I was very happy, but I expected that that was it. But it wasn't."

No, it wasn't. Almost as impressive was the girl's demeanor. She was only 11 when she calmy stepped on stage to accept her award. Is that Anna's normal response to excitement, to be calm and collected on the outside?

"Well, no, actually, that's not what happens," she says with a little laugh. "If I looked quiet and calm when I was up on that podium, then I did OK, because I was trying to look quiet and calm. And not as if I was about to start doing backward flips on the stage, jumping up and down and doing somersaults."

Paquin is on screen again, this time playing the childhood version of Charlotte Bronte's heroine in Jane Eyre, which opened Friday in Orange County. She took about a month to film it in England before Christmas and said there was only one serious difficulty involved in making it.

Young Jane, an orphan, has spent a childhood being mistreated by her aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her children. When the movie begins, she's being hustled to a crummy boarding school for orphaned girls. Before she departs, she tells Mrs. Reed, played by distinguished English stage actress Fiona Shaw, just what she thinks of her and her bratty little son.

"To be perfectly honest, the bit where I tell my aunt that I hate her more than anyone else in the entire world except her son, I did have a tiny bit of guilt _ that's underestimating it, actually," Paquin confesses. "Basically, I had just met her. One minute it was like, `Hi, Fiona, how are you? Nice to meet you.' Then the next minute it was, `I hate you more than anyone else in the world except your son!' I actually went to apologize, because I just felt really bad."

Paquin also had a problem with the period costume, something she's becoming expert in. In most of her scenes, which take place at the boarding school, she and the other students wear the plain, cheaply made uniforms of the time. But apparently the film's costumers made them with even less thought of girlish comfort than 19th-century milliners did.

"I can't actually say it's fun being confined into tight dresses," Paquin says. "I wasn't able to move very much. They just made heaps of them for the orphans, and they actually had to alter the dresses of me and the girl who played (Jane's friend) Helen Burns because we found we couldn't raise our arms. We also had to look like we were starving to death and freezing cold when, in fact, we had plenty of food and it was not at all cold. In fact, it was rather warm as it usually is in the studios."

For The Piano, the period dresses were far more comfortable and nicely made. But that turned out to be a problem, too, because most of the movie's action takes place in a muddy New Zealand rain forest.

Not that Anna minds running around in the muck.

"If you'd like to try spending three months in period costume which you're not allowed to get the tiniest spot of mud on, then being told you get to walk in the mud, I think you'd be pretty happy as well," she explains. "For three months I was told, `Oh no, sorry, Anna, please don't sit there because you're going to get mud on your dress, and it won't match continuity, blah, blah, blah.' Then every once in a while, you get to go walk through that enormous big mud patch over there; it's a lot of fun."

If these complaints make it sound like the young actress finds filmmaking a chore, that's not the case. They were elicited by a journalist digging for anecdotes. So Paquin makes a point of saying that she doesn't find filmmaking hard work at all.

"It's not hard if you're not thinking about it being hard," she explains. "If you think about how hard it is, it gets hard. But if you're not actually expecting it to be hard and don't really know exactly what you're doing and are basically just doing as you're told, it's not hard."

And anyway, she's given up on period films at least for a while. This year, she'll be seen in Flying Wild, the latest feature from Carroll Ballard, director of Never Cry Wolf. Set in Canada, it features Paquin as a young girl who comes across parentless goose eggs as they hatch.

"She adopts them, takes care of them," Paquin says. "It's coming to be winter, they've got their primary feathers and are ready to fly. They need to migrate south for the winter, and in order to avoid clipping their wings or keeping them in cages, she and her father develop this plan. He does flying with a hang glider. If he could convert his hang glider into a microlight airplane, then they could teach them to follow and migrate south. That doesn't work. So they get the idea that I fly the airplanes because I'm the one they supposedly think of as their mother. Then they follow me, and we both fly them south for the winter. It's actually based on a true story."

The problem came with the flying scenes, which are, as usual, largely shot close to Earth. Typically, it was another costume problem.

"When it was like 90 degrees, you're sitting on the ground in a snowmobile suit for flying, because it's supposed to be cold up there, but of course, it's not on the ground," she said. That's the kind of thing that's quite hard sometimes."

The Orange County Register, April 14, 1996