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Anna Paquin: Wallflower

Anything but an accessory to the grown-up big guns of acting she's so often paired with, the 16-year-old Oscar-winning New Zealander is destined for a long and healthy shelf life. Peter Davis gets to the heart of her, uh, sole.

Peter Davis

Academy Award-winning 16-year-old movie star Anna Paquin looks like any high-school junior. Sitting in the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Santa Monica, wearing a beat-up brown leather jacket and bell bottomed Lee jeans, no one seems to recognize her--even when the guy behind the counter hollers "Anna," alerting her that her Ice Blended is ready. "I don't like people making a big fuss over me or paying much attention to me," Paquin whispers, pushing a strand of her long brown hair off her face. "I like being unnoticed."

The Wallflower guise might work in public, but on-screen Paquin brings plenty of attention to the characters she plays: from Flora, the wide eyed daughter of Holly Hunter in Jane Campion's The Piano(for which she nabbed the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for at age eleven), to Freddie Prinze, Jr.'s make-over obsessed sister in the hit teen comedy She's All That, to Donna, the pot-toking Midwestern runaway stuck in David Rabe's Hollywood Hell in Hurly Burly. "None of the characters I've played are really like me. That would be boring," she says with a native New Zealand twang. "It wouldn't be acting."

The youngerst of three children of school-teacher parents, Paquin was raised "very reqular" in small-city Wellington, New Zealand. When she was nine, an open casting for The Piano was held. All her girlfriends from school were going, so Paquin thought it would be fun to tag along. Three call-backs later, the role was hers. "It was a fluke that that happened," Paquin says. Things got flukier when Paquin beat out odds-on favorite Winona Ryder--in The Age of of Innocence -- to bring home the Oscar.

"I had no idea what the Oscar were," Paquin claims. "And I wasn't expecting to have to do anything. I didn't want to go up and talk with all these people staring at me, waiting for me to say something. Those types of things aren't too fun when you're little." Paquin keeps her gold statue in the closet. "It's the strangest thing that's ever happened, but I'm still me." she says modestly. "it's a weird thing but it doens't really change anything."

Paquin's only complaint during The Piano was her character's large oval headgear. "I hated the bonnet," she admits with a chortle. "It had this little clip thing that attached to your hair so it wouldn't flow up, because there was a lot of wind. But every time the wind blew, it pulled up on my hair and it hurt a lot."

Last summer, Paquin and her mother moved to Los Angeles. She tries to jet back to Wellington a few times a year to visit her family and friends. Although she still seems homesick, she is adjusting to a new school and life on the West Coast. Like scores of teenage girls, Paquin is a self-confessed Dawson's Creek junkie and alternative-rock fanatic. She spends her free time scouring "hole-in-the-wall" thrift stores, going to the movies (The Wedding Singer is her favorite), parties at friends' houses and grinding out her homework.

Paquin doesn't lead a Drew Barrymore wild-child Hollywood party life. She doesn't have a fake I.D., so clubs and bars are out of bounds. She hasn't obtained her driving license yet because she "hasn't had the time to do the whole driver's-ed thing." Her favorite way to spend her hours at school is holed up in the darkroom developing pictures. "I have this little old camera that you have to do everything yourself," she says. "I like to take pictures--it's very soothing and relaxing."

Paquin just wrapped the independent feature All The Rage with an ensemble cast that includes Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels, Gary Sinise, Josh Brolin, and Robert Forster. She plays Giovanni Ribisi's cocky younger sister. "She's horrible," Paquin says of her character. "She completety believes that she's the queen of the world. She thinks she has complete power. Her brother will go out and kill for her at the drop of a hat. She's completely out of touch with reality." Paquin describes it as being about "guns gone bad," and packing a message that's bound to tweak the N.R.A. There are too many guns," Paquin declares. " Too many people have them that shouldn't--and people are ending up getting killed because of it."

Paquin can currently be seen as Diane Lane's daughter in A Walk on the Moon, a film about the turbulent late 1960s that was actually shot more than two years ago. "That girl I play is only 14," Paquin says. "She's wanting to be Little Miss Hippie-Chick rebellious, but she's too young. Her parents won't let her do anything, but she does go to Woodstock, and that was fun."

After graduating next year, Paquin plan to attend college on the East Coast like her older brother, who attends Harvard. Will she take time off to shoot movies? "If it's a story I want to tell, or a character I want to be for a while, I will," she answers. "I like to see what it's like being different people."

Detour April, 1999