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Anna's Balancing Act

Actress Anna Paquin finds time for fame and friends.

Marisa Fox

Some kids dreams of going into show business, while other get their lucky break when they're not even looking. Take Anna Paquin: Though she never envisioned life in the Hollywood spotlight, she's one in-demand actress.

This year, Anna has been in a string of films which showcase her considerable talents. She made audiences laugh as little sister Mackenzie in the romantic comedy She's All That. And in the recent A Walk on the Moon, Anna stars as Alison Kantrowitz, a precocious, 14-year-old from Brooklyn who gets swept up by Woodstock and the 1969 "Summer of Love."

React caught up with the 16-year-old actress at Manhattan's posh Four Seasons Hotel when she was in town for the 1999 React Take Action Awards. Looking less like a celebrity and more like a preppy high school student in her long silver-gray pleated skirt and blue cardigan, Anna admits that it's still 'strange seeing myself on-screen." But with movies booked until the end of 2000, it's something she'll be getting used to.

Anna, a native of Wellington, New Zealand, and the daughter of high school teachers, wasn't exactly groomed to have a career in showbiz. Aside from singing tunes from the musical Annie in her bedroom as a little girl, she had no plan to become a performer.

That all changed when Anna accompanied her friend to an audition for a dark drama set in 19th century New Zealand called The Piano. It was a complete fluke that she was cast.

"I was just hanging out with my friend, and they put us in a room where they were eliminating girls based on whether you looked like [lead actress] Holly Hunter or not," Anna says. "And I was small enough because Holly is quite petite. So it all just worked our... strangely."

At the age of 11, Anna scored a Best Supporting Oscar for her role in the 1993 film. In it, she plays Flora. a girl who has to communicate for her mute mom.

After that star-making turn, movie offers started rolling in. In 1996, Anna starred in the sweet family film Fly Away Home as Amy Alden, a young girl who helps a flock of geese fly south for the winter. It was her second major role. She was 13, and she has been busy working ever since.

Anna has grown up considerably over the years. Well, sort of. "I still don't know how to drive. In fact, I still don't have my permit," she admits with a giggle. "But I'm sure I could figure it out."

Though she moved from New Zealand to Los Angeles in the past year, Anna doesn't link herself with the young Hollywood star squad. And she would rather stay at home with friends than hang out at a trendy club any day. "I don't even look close to 21," she says. "So I wouldn't embarrass myself trying."

School is a major priority for Anna. When she's not shooting a film, she attends classes at a private high school. Whenever possible, she tries to schedule her movies during vacations.

"There has to be something about the script or the character I'm playing that has to get me really excited about doing it," she says about choosing her roles. "if not, then it becomes a job."

Anna was particulary drawn to her role as Alison, a girl dealing with the seperation of her parents, in A Walk on the Moon In real life, Anna had to deal with her own parents' divorce. "Those memories are still very real and painful," she says. "But if those feelings can help me reach other people, then it's OK."

For now, though, life with her mom in L.A. is pretty sunny. She's excited about her upcoming film, All the Rage, in which she plays a punk girl. "I got to be a blonde," she says. And this summer, she started work on a movie directed by Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire.)

This class of 2000 high school student also has college on her mind. She already has scoped out some schools on the East Coast. But she won't be majoring in acting. "Acting is one big, elaborate game of make-believe," she says with a smile. "I'm afraid that if I start to approach it so self-consciously, I won't be able to do it anymore."

With an Oscar under her belt, it hardly seems Anna needs any lessons. And speaking of Oscars, where is her award stashed? "in my closet, next to a pair of shoes," she says with a laugh. " A pair of sneakers to be exact." For this down-to-earth actress, that sound about right.

React, May 10 - 16, 1999