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Anna's Well-Grounded, Thanks

Child star of Fly Away Home doesn't let movie success go to her head

Bruce Kirkland

HOLLYWOOD -- Anna Paquin, the Canadian-born, New Zealand-raised child star from The Piano, keeps her Oscar hidden away in a drawer back at her Kiwi home.

"That is typical of the no-nonsense, I'm-just-a-regular-14-year-old girl, Paquin. "I just don't want to show it off because it's not my personality," says Paquin, the surprise winner of the Academy Award for best supporting actress in 1994.

"I don't want everyone seeing it and everyone talking about it. It's kind of boring. I wasn't incredibly impressed by the whole Oscar thing. I didn't even know what they were until it was a possibility I might get nominated."

So, yeah, "it's cool," she says. But that's all, it's forgotten.

Now she is more concerned with Fly Away Home, the made-in-Canada Hollywood movie that officially opens the 21st Toronto International Film Festival tomorrow night. Paquin, in a page deliberately torn out of her own life, stars as the Canadian-born, New Zealand-raised daughter of an Ontario sculptor and wildlife enthusiast who teaches Canada geese how to migrate using his ultralight aircraft.

This is a fictionalized account of the real life of the eccentric Bill Lishman, known as Father Goose but named Thomas Alden in the movie, and played by Jeff Daniels. Paquin plays Amy Alden, loosely based on Lishman's real-life daughter, Carmen, although Carmen was not raised in New Zealand. The two became fast friends during the filming of Fly Away Home in the summer of 1995.

Like Carmen Lishman, Anna Paquin is a headstrong young girl more concerned with having fun than posturing as somebody 'important.' Which is why Fly Away Home director Carroll Ballard (best known for The Black Stallion and Never Cry Wolf) could not figure her out originally.

"When we first started shooting," Ballard says of his time with Paquin on location at and about Lishman's farm 50 miles north-east of Toronto, "I'm trying to do my job as a director. 'Now get serious here! This is how we're going to do the scene! Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.'

"I was trying to be 'the big director' and she'd be on a video game or doing a crossword puzzle or something -- and she wouldn't pay any attention to me. I would sort of give up and back off and do the scene. Then -- bang -- there it was."

Paquin, seemingly without effort, did exactly what Ballard needed, wanted. Sometimes she did more. "So I just shut up after a while. She's just a natural. She is a real kid, but she is also a real natural (as an actress). She absorbs it and puts herself in the place of that person. It doesn't have that appearance at all until the camera goes on and there it is!"

Then Paquin would go back to being a kid. One day, she saw a nose ring "in a junky jewelry store" and bought it with mischievous intentions. "Okay, I can scare somebody. So I went on set one day with the nose ring and Carroll saw it and went: 'I like it, I'll use it!' You're not meant to like it, you're meant to be scared!" So Paquin was disappointed, although she laughs about it now.

Paquin also has a child's taste in movies. She likes action pictures such as Die Hard With A Vengeance and Speed. But she harbors no illusions she'll star in one. "There aren't very many action movies for 14-year-old girls!"

In the meantime, Paquin -- with co-star Daniels and director Ballard -- will be at Toronto's world premiere of Fly Away Home tomorrow night. Just don't look for Oscar. It remains hidden in her dresser drawer, along with her ego.

Toronto Sun September 3, 1996