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Paquin No Longer Breathless

NEW YORK -- Shooing her father outside and closing the door behind him, Anna Paquin is just a normal teenager looking for a little privacy.

"I don't need anybody to hold my hand," she says.

There's no trace of the tongue-tied Winnipeg-born girl from New Zealand who gasped for breath at the podium as she accepted the 1994 Academy Award as best supporting actress for her role opposite Holly Hunter in The Piano.

"Oh, I look pretty much the same, except for my hair," she deadpans, proud of the hip, short blocky style that has replaced her flowing girlish locks.

Except for her cherub's face, she couldn't look more different, wearing a tight, all-black outfit and sneakers fit for a downtown fashion model.

Her answers are littered with teen-speak, rapid-fire thoughts punctuated with "like," "totally," "you know" and "Oh, my God!"

Still, at 14 she's incredibly self-possessed, with the refreshing openness and honesty of a natural talent. Apparently, someone forgot to tell her she's going through her awkward years.

Paquin is here for the opening of Fly Away Home, a film that tells the story of Bill Lishman, who left his home at Lake Scugog, near Toronto, in 1993 and 1994 in an ultralight airplane to help guide his flock of Canada geese to safety in South Carolina, where goose hunting is banned.

Paquin is enjoying a break from her "normal" life in Wellington, N.Z., where she goes to public school and does household chores.

Being normal means normal teenage rebellion, or at least attempts at it. During filming of Fly Away Home outside Toronto, Paquin gave it a try by pretending to get her nose pierced.

"I went to this old funky jewelry store and found this little clip-on nose ring. I was with a friend who knew the shopkeeper and he gave us each one," she says, head bent, whispering, suppressing giggles.

"We thought, 'OK, this is going to be cool. Let's see how many people we can scare.' So first we, like, totally terrified her mother.

"I decided I would wear it onto set, leave it on and see how many people noticed. And so we were just about to shoot and (director) Carroll (Ballard) said, 'Anna, what is that thing on your nose?' And I said, 'What does it look like?' He said, 'I know you didn't put a hole in your nose. You're not quite that stupid. How is it attached?'

"Uhhh!" she moans, making a fist and pounding the table.

"Like, no one freaked out at all. I was expecting somebody to say, 'Oh my God, she's gone and pierced her nose.' Totally nonresponse. Then Carroll said: 'I like that. Let's use it.' And I'm like, you're supposed to freak, not say, 'I want to use it in the next shot.'"

She wore it throughout the final part of the film, the ring becoming a symbol of her character's personal growth and her renewed bond with a previously estranged father.

"It was my idea," Paquin says simply, happy with the progress of her own personal life.

"I was getting kind of sick of people coming up and saying, 'Oh, you're that sweet little girl from The Piano," she says, putting her feet up on the table. "I got really tired of braids and little-girl clothes.

"I was getting worried that I was going to keep getting that until I was 90."

Paquin, the beneficiary of astounding circumstances, is on intimate terms with fate, with accidental synergy. The most amazing example is how she landed the Oscar-winning role in The Piano without meaning to.

"Zero," she says of her previous acting experience.

"It was an open-call audition. Someone I knew saw an ad and they started talking about it. I thought there were probably a lot of people going (there were 5,000 auditions), and, well, maybe I'd come along too.

"I just thought it might be fun ... But then, of course, I got the part. I guess it is just my fate. I stumbled into a perfect situation."

After The Piano, she co-starred in Jane Eyre. She recently finished her fourth film, Member of the Wedding, for the USA cable TV network.

Beyond that is anyone's guess.

Paquin isn't afraid of success spoiling her leisurely waltz toward womanhood.

"You can't actually change the amount of time it takes to grow up," she says wisely. "You never really know if I was going to grow up quicker or slower without the acting, or the Oscar, you know.

"I'm growing up normally."

OK. Now define normal.

AP, September 8, 1996