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The piano-playing Oscar winner is too hot to handle in X-Men

Patrick Stewart, acclaimed actor and oft-cast authority figure, is behaving most inappropriatcly. He has his thumbs behind his ears, with his hands flapping, and is sticking his tongue out. The sole purpose of this behaviour is to make his X-Men co-star; Anna Paquin, laugh during her Empire interview. She acknowledges him with a brief smile, before gesturing that he should leave her alone. He gives up, but only on the condition that she talk to him later.

Patrick postponed, Anna returns her attention to the tea on the table. We're sat in a high-class hotel restaurant, on the day before the US X~Men premiere, and it's clear that this is not Anna's natural environment. She talks about hanging out with her school friends, fancying cartoon characters Trent out of Dana has, according to Anna, 'a cool Sid Vicious thing going on' and her plans for attending Columbia University in "the fall". Acting is very much her summer job; other kids work at McDonald's, but in LA, where Anna now lives, acting is the equivalent of the Mcjob. It's just that even the LA youth acting elite don't get directors raving aboutthem the way they rave about Anna.

"I almost fell off my chair when she began," says The Piano director Jane Campion, on the then nine year-old Anna's audition, for what was to become her Oscar-winning role. "You totally believed her. It is rare to flnd someone so young with such an instinct for performance."

"I must have watched that tape a thousand times," enthuses Cameron Crowe, who cast Anna as 'the muse' in his forthcoming rock opus, Almost Famous, after seeing her audition tape. "It was so great!" And Tom DeSanto, executive producer of X-Men, was keen to defend Anna's selection as Rogue, traditionally the sexiest character in the X-Men comics. "When we started the movie, Anna was really shy in a way, but we were shooting a cover for a US magazine in May and she put on this Black Sabbath music and was working that camera, and I just turned to one of our casting directors and said, 'My little girl's grown up. She was just on fire and has become a woman!"'

"I've finally stopped being a nine years old!" agrees Anna, who until she turned 18, had to be chaperoned by her mother onset. "Where we pick up with Rogue it's kind of pre-cornic, so she's much more withdrawn, but by the end of the movie, Rogue is getting it together All tough and slick and ready to start fighting. Something to took forward to if we make a sequel."

And if the sequels get sexier? "1 have no problem with being sexy," she says, wriggling in a tight-fitting black dress that shows off her recently developed curves, to prove the point. "I have no problem with tight leather suits. I want to fight, I want to be kicking and punching and really getting involved in the action. I spent most of this movie either tied up, or squashed against that dashboard in handcuffs! Everyone was great, but the only two people I actually go to do scenes with were Sir Ian McKellen (Magneto) - not too shabby - and our wonderful Mr Hugh Jackman..."

Ah, the wonderful Mn Hugh Jackman, currently attracting Russell Crowe-sized female fan mail. "But he's so hairy," squeals Anna, protesting at this thought. "He's just like my big brother". His character, Wolverine, also happens to be the action figure available with Rogue in a bonus twin-pack. A fact Anna discovered when she literally fell over herself. "I'm not kidding," she says. "I was with my friend, It was in a toy aisle, and I just kicked it to one side. It was quite surreal it was almost like I was afraid to touch it."

Next up for Anna is Finding Forrester, with Sean Connery, and Cameron Crowe's movie. In the meantime, she's finding time to indulge her new passion for photography. "I like hiding somewhere, like, say on a bus street in a doorway, and taking pictures without people knowing - which sounds really creepy," she laughs, slightly self-consciously. "But it's honestly not! You get some of the most interesting pictures because people are walking past not realising you're there. And I think where people know you're there, they're not being themselves, and I think that's what interesting... what people are like... as they really are.

Empire, October 2000