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X patriate Anna Paquin

Michele Manelis

It's Wednesday in Los Angeles and Anna Paquin has turned up to her interview with a minder. Only this isn't the unusual PR flack, but a dog - a 13-week old Staffordshire terrier named DeeDee.

At the moment, the pup goes with Paquin everywhere. It's just the thing if you look a little young - Paquin turned 20 last year - to get into New York nightclubs.

"Honestly, if you're trying to get past a bouncer, distract them with how cute your puppy is and they won't ask any questions."

The reason for the chat is ostensibly X-Men 2, in which Paquin returns in the role of Rogue after the hit 2000 first film from the superhero comic series.

But this year also marks the 10th anniversary of The Piano, Jane Campion's movie which won Paquin a best supporting actress Oscar for her performance as a 9-year-old.

Nine years on from that night in 1994, when the little girl in the beret gulped down her surprise to deliver an assured thank-you speech, was she old enough to appreciate the moment?

"No, not really. Not when you'd never even heard of them. I lived in New Zealand. I never watched television. My parents were kind of very into music lessons and no TV. We were a lentils-and-no-sugar household. I went to a Rudolf Steiner school until I was eight or nine. I was very very sheltered, so it was all a huge [expletive] shock to me."

And no, it didn't screw her up, she says, thanks to a family that deliberately kept her out of the media spotlight while allowing her film career to develop alongside her education.

"I have that kind of family that were like, 'Ok you can do this, so long as it's a positive thing. So long as no one's trying to turn you into a little media puppet and you get to develop at your own speed emotionally'.

"They wouldn't have let me become some sort of arrogant movie brat. They wouldn't have let me become one of those nightmare stories."

These days, Paquin has become an actress with a taste for sometimes risque supporting roles (Hurly Burly and Spike Lee's forthcoming 25th Hour) and an off-kilter screen presence.

Having lucked into a film career as a 9-year-old, Paquin now says that while she was sometimes ambivalent about continuing acting as she was growing up, she's decided this is what she wants to do.

"I'm just kind of relieved to say that it did work out, and I do want to be an actor. And I have absolutely no idea why. I really don't. Except that I guess I've somehow luckily escaped the pitfalls that are there."

These days when she's not in front of the cameras, Paquin divides her time between studies at New York's Columbia University, where she is still to decide on a major and has three or four years before graduating, spending time with her unnamed (and non-actor) boyfriend, and plenty of phone time with her family who are now stretched from New Zealand to San Francisco to Canada.

For the record, the statuette is kept in her closet in her New York apartment where she says it is quite safe. "You'd have to get past the security guys at the door of my building, wade through the mess, and get past my puppy. And then I could bludgeon someone to death with it because the thing weighs 10 pounds."

Now, Paquin has something arguably more valuable than an Oscar - a blockbuster franchise.

In the first X-film Paquin's Rogue was a troubled teen trying to cope with her mutant gifts - she's lethal to the touch. In part 2 she's coping with that and a spot of inter-mutant romance with newcomer "Iceman".

"I think her power really sucks," she laughs. "It's lame. The effect doesn't really blow shit up or anything, but in terms of like her emotional life, the fact that her power is so restricting of the ways she can relate to people that she's close with, that gives you a lot as an actress to help you figure out. And then getting to see how she does relate to someone who is trying to be her boyfriend, that was a really cool thing for me to do. Because in a big movie like this, we only get so many opportunities to only do acting."

While there are reports of ructions on set between star Halle Berry and director Bryan Singer, Paquin says personally she found the making of the second film easier.

During the first one she was juggling the workload of her last year of high school complete with exams and applications to university with shooting the film.

Also, there was the pressure of wondering if the film would turn out any good - or get flayed alive by faithful fans of the comicbook and ignored by everyone else. It worked out nicely, and Paquin reckons the second instalment ups the ante.

"It's cooler, it's tighter and more exciting. There's more confidence and panache in how it's executed because they know the world that the comicbook fans have already accepted, and they're not going to crucify us for making a mess of their comicbook, and other people who are not comicbook fans have enjoyed the movie.

"I'm not the damsel in distress this time. I got to ditch those big, heavy handcuffs which were the bane of my existence for the last six months on the movie."

But Paquin has her fans who aren't just X-Men nerds. As she's found out in the most unlikely places.

"I think one of the lucky things is that I've had a very diverse range of movies and characters. So I appeal to a very diverse bunch of people, so it completely depends. I get recognised for all sorts of things. I'm like, 'I didn't think anyone even saw that movie!' It's very flattering.

"We went to a professional wrestling event in Vancouver where we were shooting, and it was hilarious - we went backstage and met all of these people and one of them is like the Beast or something and he's like 350 pounds, huge and hairy, and he was speaking in mono-syllables in the ring. He came up to me and shook my hand and said, 'I loved you in The Piano'."

And there's a little homesickness in the answer to the inevitable question about what superpower would she choose?

"Teleportation. Whatever is happening with the airlines that don't fly to New Zealand? It's really pissing me off because I couldn't get home for Christmas. And it would be so nice to think, 'I miss my mother' [clicks fingers] and get to go see my friends."

* X-Men 2 opens on April 30.

The New Zealand Herald, April 20, 2003