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Young Star Flies High in 'Home'

Career of Anna Paquin is anything but for the birds

John Urbancich
Executive Editor

LOS ANGELES -- When you're 14 years old and co-starring with 100 birds, it's really not very hard to choose the most memorable part of your filmmaking experience.

"Oh, that's easy," Anna Paquin agrees. "It's the geese. They're kind of noisy and a little messy, but quite sweet really. The flying was neat to watch as they circled round and round, over and over behind the airplane."

Paquin, whose supporting performance in 1993's The Piano stunned Hollywood and won her an Academy Award, turns toward family audiences Friday when Fly Away Home zooms into theaters.

The young New Zealander plays a teen coping with her mother's death and relocation to a new country (Canada). But, that's before she herself becomes a surrogate mom to a flock of 16 orphaned geese.

With major assistance from her inventor dad (Jeff Daniels), the girl teaches "her kids" to fly. The stirring tale, directed by Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion), is based on the true-life adventures of Bill Lishman, a Canadian artist who really did teach geese how to fly.

"Bill Lishman has a daughter who is my age and we're friends and stuff, but the character I was playing wasn't her," Paquin notes. "Her mother's still alive, she never lived in New Zealand and she was only 3 at the time of the migration of the geese."

Of course, Paquin never took off in the nifty glider she rides in the film, either.

"I would have liked to go up, but for safety reasons I wasn't allowed," she says. "I did, though, get to ride on the back of a tractor with this arm thing that moves up and down."

Blue screening and a "really fast boat" also were used to simulate some spectacular flight sequences.

"The birds were imprinted on the plane, the boat or tractor," explains producer John Veitch, who developed the film after watching a 20/20 segment about Lishman's geese on ABC-TV.

Veitch cast Paquin after seeing her on the 1994 Oscar telecast on the same network. "We said, 'This is the girl for us,' and sent her the script."

Paquin, who keeps her Oscar statuette in a drawer at her Wellesley, N.Z., home (so none of her friends thinks she's "making a big fuss" about it), remembers the evening, too.

"Oh, my God, I was surprised and I'm sure that I looked very surprised," Paquin says. "I was pleased that I was nominated; that was a good thing, even though I had just found out what the whole Academy Award thing was about.

"(My parents) told me that they don't give (awards) to kids very often, so don't be too disappointed because it would probably go to some other person."

Paquin, who recently starred in a new version of Jane Eyre, just completed shooting on another remake, Member of the Wedding, with Alfre Woodard.

"I really haven't decided what I want to do when I'm finished with school," the eighth-grader concludes. "I don't even know if I want (acting) to be a possible career when I get out. Not all kid actors make it to be adult ones and I may not be one of them."

Sun Newspapers, September 12, 1996