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Ballad of a Teenage Queen

Robert Abele

"I'm kind of awake now." Anna paquin is back in her trailer, fresh from the nearby makeup room, where her long brown locks have been strategically styled to look, well, not that different from 15 minutes ago. So where did the effort go? "It's a continuity thing, I guess," she says.

It's nearing 10:30 A.M., and Paquin's been at the Manhattan Beach, California, studio set of director Cameron Crowe's still-untitled '70s rock 'n' roll romantic comedy since, as she puts it, "early early." That would be 8 A.M. which meant getting up at 7. A.M. to be ready when the driver arrived to pick her up at the Brentwood home that she shares with her mother. Her first waking thought? "I want to be asleep," she recalls, This August morning was a luxury, however, compared with other rise-and-shiners. "I've has 6 A.M. pickups, which means getting up at 5:15," she says with gleeful teen disgust before issuing a caveat: "I'm not complaining, though. That would be bad form." Now come some gleeful teen giggles.

Okay, so Paquin, a few months into a shoot that started at the tail end of the previous school year, isn't getting to enjoy the same lazy summer at her peers. But not many 17-year-olds get to be movie stars, either, and fewer still have an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress--for 1993's The Piano--tuck away in a closet.

Why isn't tge statuette on view? "It would be awkward and uncomfortable for my friends," she explains. Ger 1994 win was, after all, the globally viewed, speech-stifling (can you blame her?) culmination of a normal 11-year-old New Zealander's first-ever foray into acting.

When the whirlwind was over, it would be a few years before Paquin returned to screen, in 1996's Jane Eyre and Fly Away Home, but chalk that up to her trying to regain some semblance of a child's life. Post-Oscar career pressure, she says, was an "irrelevant" issue. "I didn't know I was supporsed to feel it," she says. Now, though, having moved to Los Angeles with Mon (her farents are divorced), she's trying to balance being Anna Paquin, acclaimed actress, with being Paquin, Anna, Class of 2000.

In Crowe's highly anticipated movie, she plays Polexia Aphrodesia (more giggles betray her love of just saying the name), a self-styled muse of the story's fictional rock band. "She's a notch above groupie," the actress says. "It's serious for her." Paquin, whose only concert experience has been shooting this film's live-music sequences, won the role after a reading in which, according to Crowe, she gave good wave. "I asked her to say goodbye to a hotel room she'd stayed in for a few days, where stuff had happened, and I must have watched that tape a thousand times, it was so great," the writer-director says.

Crowe ended up "improving the character," who is in love with the band's lead singer(Jason Lee,) but at the same time monopolizing Paquin's summer, a fact that he addresses graciously by noting, "We love her loyalty."

At least waiting around in costume on this film isn't like downtime on the more rigorously clothed period films she's made. The 1973 charactoer garb she's wearing today--flower-print sundress and platform sandals--hardly looks uncomfortable or even vintage. "A lot of the clothes I wear on the movie I really like," says Paquin, who enjoys the occasional thrift-store flip-through. "You don't see many things like that anymore. Just kind of practical."

It's now lunchtime, and she hasn't been called to the set yet--apart from a 15-minute rehearsal at 8 A.M.--but Paquin isn't at a loss for what to do. "It's read-aloud time," she says, bolting up form her chair to grab Heart of Darkness. No, this isn't some teen script version of Joseph Conrad's African story but the actual novella. Even though her senior year hasn't started, the actress is already plowing through her AP English reading list. Atop her trailer table sits a stack of books, including Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, and Albert Camus's The Stranger. Correction on that last one: L'Etranger--She'll be reading it in French. "I want to learn all the European languages," the future collegian says. "I find them fairly easy to learn." (Yes, she's the kind of frighteningly studious kid who has all of her lines memorized before the first day of shooting.)

After a quick break to munch on a tofu salad, she shifts to cramming for the SATs("another one of those hoops you jump through to get into college," she bemoans.) Finally, Crowe seems ready for everyone. Most of the crew's time, it turns our, has been spent getting acquainted with the huge gimbal upon which an airplane scene will be simulated. Even though the movie's big names are all here--Bill Crudup, Lee, Kate Hudson, Noar Taylor--there's only an eighth of a page to shoot. Consequently, Paquin's responsibilities are of the dialogue-free, passenger-in-the-background kind. So by 3:30 P.M. she's free.

With the day's shooting done, the 5'5" actress changes into jean and begins her weekend. She heads to a favorite cafe, Abbot's Habit, in Venice, where the only adjective in her jave order is a simple one: black. "If it's bad, though, you want a lot of everything in it.") As a gray, windy afternoon makes its way inland, Paquin smiles proclaims it "Anna weather," which is essentially, the kind of climate she grew up with. "I don't really like staying inside, but then I don't really like sun," she says, standing outside. "So it's sort of a double-edged sword."

Next, it's a browsing session in her favorite shops on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade:art-and-architecture store Hennessey and Ingalls, and the art-and-photography bookstore Arcana, where she can indulge her love of picture taking. "I spend all my free time at school in the darkroom," the young shutterbug says. As for subjects "I like to be places where there are enough people around that they're not going to notice you taking pictures of them."

Her Canon in hand, she strolls over to the Santa Monica Pier, where families, skateboaders, and a woman with a display of World War I planes crafted out of soda cans are unwitting contestants for a Paquin 35mm original. That is, of course, as long as she can jigger the camera in time for the chosen moment. "I'm so sick of really cool pictures walking away before I can get my f-stop sorted out," she says.

Evening is fast approaching, and it's time to head home: She has to get ready for a party tonight with friends. There's no time for any of the pier's rides, which she loves. What about getting her future told at one of the popular fortunetelling shacks? "I've never done that," she says.

Right now, she already knows what the future holds: college and making movies. The rest is blissfully unknown. "If great things are going to happen, I want to be surprised," she explains. "And if bad things are going to happen, I don't want to know about it!"

Premiere, Women in Hollywood 2000