New stuff

All About Anna







Other Stuff



The Education of Anna Paquin

Eric Gladstone

Anna Paquin has to find a gift for her friend's birthday. "I love birthdays," says the actress, who turns 18 herself on July 24. So on a sunny summer day. She goes out to shop -- not at the mall, like your average teen, not on Beverly Hills's tony Rodeo Drive, befitting an Oscar-winning actress, but in the funky collection of boutiques and curio shops on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice California.

"I like old things," says Paquin studying one antique watches in a glass case, "just thinking about where they've been." In another storem she reaches for something red and fuzzy, then drops it suddenly. "Furry handcuffs," she says with a shudder, "I don't think so."

So sophisticated and yet still an adolescent, Paquin has grown up literally before our eyes, ever since she won the 1993 Best Supporting actress Oscar for The Piano at age 11. In the Last seven years, she has blossomed from the impish bonnet-clad Flora in that movie and the duck-chasing Amy in 1996's Fly Away Home to Donna, who trades sex for shelter as a homeless teen in 1998's HurlyBurly and Alison who rebels against her fractured family in the 1999 Woodstock-era film A Walk on the Moon. Having just graduated from high school, the actress is about to emerge as a young adult in three new roles: a mutant superhero in the summer blockbuster X-Men; a punk prostutute in the controversial independent film It's the Rage; and a '70s-era groupie in Cameron Crowe's as-yet-untitled fall film.

Smartly but casually dressed in sandals, a pink plaid skirt and a white T-shirt, Anna Paquin is quite firmly on the cusp of girlhood and womanhood: The nails on her toes are painted sparkly purple, but her fingers are plain: her face hasn't a trace of makeup: and the only styling in her hair is dragonfly barrette. "Eighteen is a good age," she says, confidently staring you in the eye, "'cause you get the benefits of being a kid without the restrictions. Not that I'm irresponsible of immature."

Not at all. Everyone who works with Paquin says as much. Her X-Men costar Hugh Jackman calls her "a brilliant natural actress," nothing that she waited on the set for eight hours to help him on his first day of filming. Rage director Jim Stern says Paquin is "an incredibly bright woman and incredibly mature for her years. She's astonishing." And Diane Lane, a former teen actress herself, who played Paquin's mother in A Walk on the Moon, says, "She's so different than I was at that age. Anna's just a lot stronger."

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Paquin was raised from age 4 outside Wellington, New Zealand, by her mother, Mary Paquin, an English teacher, and her father Brian Paquin, a phys-ed instructor, along with her older brother, Andrew (23), and sister Katya (19). The youngest Paquin got into acting very much by accident, tagging along with friends to The Piano's open auditions. "I didn't really know what an audition was," she says, speaking with an accent that flips back and forth between California cool and New Zealand trill. "I didn't even know that there was such a thing as acting." Nevertheless, from the moment filming began, she loved it, if only because "everyone includes you -- You're not the youngest child who's too young to play with the big kids." And, she adds, "it was like playing dress-up all the time, all the funny old dresses I was wearing."

Paquin says her famous Oscar moment, where she stood for at least 20 seconds, in shock and breathless, before she was able to utter a coherent word, is just a blur: "I had no idea what I was doing. I could hardly see over the podium." But she says she wouldn't change a minute of it. "If I had gotten up and read this perfect little speech, that so would not have been me." Paquin keeps the statuette hidden away in a closet because "I wouldn't want to make anyone uncomfortable. Out of sight, no one thinks about it, and I'm just Anna."

In 1998, at age 16, Paquin enrolled in West Los Angeles's small private Windward Prep high schood and took up residence with her mother in a modest apartment nearby. They moved to make it easier for her to work in movies, and also because Paquin had her eye in attending an American university. Now that Paquin has graduated, her mother plans to return to her teaching position in New Zealand, and Anna will begin her freshman year at Columbia University in New York. "I just want to have normal a college experience as I can possibly have," she says. "I just want to be like everyone else, where no one really pays attention." As her major, she is considering English (she took an advanced-placement class during her senior year), psychology or French -- which she has already tried out on the streets of Paris. "It was so amazing actually being able to speak in another language," she says. "my first two sentences made them think I speak French -- yay! But then I can't understand a word they're saying!"

Paquin admits to having wanderlust for Europe, Asia, Africa -- just about anywhere, say the amateur photographer, "where it's going to be visually completely different, [with] different cultures. I want to see everything. 'Cause I trevel a lot, but I don't really go anywhere. I go back and forth [between] big North American cities; I spend way to much time on airplanes, but I'm not really seeing anything."

Paquin's early success hasn't spoiled her. After sinking a basketball free throw on the Late Show with David Letterman on April 1, 1996, she donated her $10,000 prize to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to terminally ill children. She exceeded her school's community service requirements by working in a downtown L.A. soup kitchen and spending her last spring break at a special education center. "Once you start working at those places, you end up wanting to do more," she says. "It's a really good feeling."

But don't believe that Anna Paquin is an early candidate for sainthood just because the worst thing she will admit print about herself is that her cello is collectiong dust. "The most rebellious thing I've ever done is not going to be written about in an article that my mother's going to read," she says definitively. "So we can forget about that. I'm going to leave that up your imagination."

Maybe that's why she won't say whether or not she's dating and laughs nervously about how the sexuality she's displayed onscreen has influenced her real life. "The only thing I can definitely say is that you cease to be self-conscious after you've had to kiss somebody on-camera with 30 people watching." Even when she attended an all-girls school in New Zealand, she says, "I was never one of those girls who thought guys had cooties."

At another store, Paquin peruses some vintage magazines with giggle, saying that they remind her of the dog-eared Playboy decorating the tour bus on Crowe's rock-era film and the stack of '70s Rolling Stones that the director (a former RS writer) gave her to study. Conveniently for the sake of her character, Paquin supposes she's be more flustered meeting Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant than meeting almost anyone in Hollywood. As for actresses she admires, Paquin again reaches back to more glamorous time, when stars like Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly "or anybody who got to dance with Fred Astaire" lit up the screen. "I can't imagine going to work every day and, like, tap-dancing and singing. I just think that would be amazing."

Her career path has been compared to that of another class act -- former child actress Jodie Foster -- But Paquin says there's no clear plan for her transition into adulthood. "I just do what feels right," she says, "I think the great thing about getting to do what I do is that you can try out being a different person without having to screw up your life to do it."

US, July 31, 2000