ANNA PAQUIN: FROM
HOLLY HUNTERS TOT TO SEAN PENNS TOOTSIE
When I interviewed her in 1998 for Indie
Magazine, Anna Paquin struck me as a bright, refreshingly un-neurotic
young woman with a strong talent for playing neurotics. She still
strikes me that way, and I have a feeling that she will one day
walk off with another Oscar. --Guy Flatley
Whats the matter with kids today? Nothing, if theyre
like Anna Paquin, the precocious New Zealander who swapped her Teddy
Bear for an Oscar when she played Holly Hunters tot in "The
Piano" five years ago and now, at the ripe age of 16, jolts
us with her performance as a street waif shacking up with Sean Penn
in "Hurlyburly." Its a small role in this film of
David Rabes play, co-written by Rabe and director Anthony
Drazan. But it doesnt come off small. Thanks to the maturity
of Paquins talent, layers of suffering and resilience are
visible beneath the calm surface of the teenager who is offered
as a sexual gift by a sleazy producer (Garry Shandling) to his durggy
Hollywood pals, played by Penn, Kevin Spacey and Chazz Palminteri.
"Ive never known anyone like Donna, and Ive certainly
never been in a situation like that," says Paquin in a lilting
down-under accent (of which there is nary a trace in "Hurlyburly").
"But you dont have to experience something to know what
its like to go through it. All I did was try to imagine how
Id feel if this happened to me. Donna hasnt had an easy
life. Most teenagers are still living at home, not roaming the streets,
sleeping in elevators, hitchhiking across the country. Whats
remarkable is that she still sees the good in people and doesnt
judge them by what they say or how they look--maybe because shes
been judged so often on the basis of her appearance. Donnas
patient with people and willing to get to know who they really are."
certainly gets to know who these tinseltown low-lifes are. "I
think what David Rabe is saying about these guys is that they are
not the nicest guys youre ever going to meet," says Paquin
(shown at right with Kevin Spacey and Sean Penn). "Yet they
are human beings, and they are deeply affected by the sad things
that happen in their lives. Like human beings everywhere, theyre
going to have to sort things out--by talking about them or whatever.
Even if theyre not nice guys."
Donna the drifter represents a bold departure for Paquin from her
typical post-"Piano" roles, such as the girl who loves
geese in Carroll Ballards uplifting "Fly Away Home."
Her recollection of how she got the part is that she was shown the
script by her agent, Brian Gersh, and immediately said yes.
With a Rashomonesque twist, director Anthony Drazan--also a Gersh
client--tells the story another way. "Anna walked into Brians
office one day when he was down the hall," Drazan recently
said to me. "She saw the script on a table, picked it up and
started reading it. When Brian returned, she insisted that she get
to meet me. Months later, when I did finally meet her, she immediately
said Donna was a part she wanted to play. And I believed her."
Still, the prospect of discussing the intricacies of Donnas
erotic adventuring with the adolescent actress must have caused
Drazan a tremor or two. "When Anna came into town for the read-through,
we spent part of an evening together," the director recalls.
"At first, I was very inept and clumsy--I didnt know
what to do with a 15-year-old girl. But because of the way Anna
is, it turned out all right. Shes not as sexually knowing
as Donna, certainly--but, wow, how can I characterize what it is
that makes Anna Anna? Shes extremely self-sufficient and fiercely
independent. So I didnt have to say too much about Donnas
motivation before I knew I should shut up. Anna let me know."
Just as she let Sean Penn know they were virtually born to act together.
"When Sean and Anna did their first read-through, they locked
in instantly, and it was really something to see the pleasure they
took in their discovery," says Drazan. "I was so impressed
with Annas focus and joy in what she was doing. She loves
acting--you get that about her right away. Thanks to Anna, we were
able to excise most of the text from the final scene in the movie,
knowing that her expression, her simple and provocative way of communicating
ideas, was all we needed to make our point.
"Anna also had a lot of fun on the set. She enjoyed seeing
the guys--myself included--acting like lunatics as we tried to make
sense of the waterfall of text David Rabe had written. On more than
one occasion, she turned to me and said, You know, you guys
are crazy!' She was having fun hanging
out with men."
Fun was also had on the set of "A Walk on the Moon," the
new film in which Anna co-stars with Diane Lane, Viggo Mortensen
and Liev Schreiber under the direction of Tony Goldwyn. Once again,
however, there are not too many laughs up there on the screen. Set
in New Yorks Catskill Mountains (though shot just outside
Montreal), the drama is downright intense.
"My character is pretty much your normal teenager doing normal
teenage stuff," says Anna. "She hates her parents and
wants to be her own person, but shes finding it hard to do
because shes only 14 and therefore not allowed to do the stuff
she wants to do. And her family is going through a little bit of
a crisis, you might say. Her mother is having an affair, so everything
starts going haywire."
tension is something Anna knows firsthand. Shortly after the totally
untrained actress triumphed in "The Piano"--playing a
part she won at an open audition--her parents marriage began
to unravel, and they eventually divorced. Her two older sisters
now attend college, while she and her mother divide their time between
New Zealand and California, where Anna attends regular classes when
not being tutored on the set. "I dont think anyone likes
it when their parents get divorced," she says softly. "I
mean, who wants that ?"
Not that Anna, a budding beauty with dark hair, soulful eyes and
a lovely figure, has soured on romance. "I dont currently,
at this very minute, have a boyfriend," she says with a telltale
giggle. "But, of course, I have boyfriends. Dont most
16-year-old girls have boyfriends?"
These days, most 16-year-old girls have a crush on Leonardo DiCaprio.
How about Anna? "Not really. I dont get crushes on people
I havent met." (Once again, Anthony Drazan tells a slightly
different story. "Oh, listen, I think we teased Anna a little
bit about Leonardo DiCaprio on the set," he told me, laughing.
"One day, Sean Penn said he was going to get Leo on the phone,
and Anna sort of ran from the room.")
"I might have an actor for a boyfriend, but it would probably
be someone I met while working," says Anna, who recently completed
"Shes All That" with Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew
Lillard, Kieran Culkin and Elden Henson. And her idea of the perfect
date movie is "The Wedding Singer," the hit romantic comedy
starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler. "That was a completely
sweet, happily-ever-after story. You really wanted everything to
work out for the characters at the end of the movie."
Its been widely noted that Drew Barrymore--and many a child
performer before her--harbors resentment over having been deprived
of a normal childhood. "I dont know what thoses peoples
lives were like," Anna says, "but--hey--Im still
a kid. I dont think Im missing out on anything in terms
of being a child, because Im still doing silly kid stuff with
my friends. I enjoy acting, so I dont want to stop doing it.
But I wouldnt want to do it every single second of every day.
Im 16 and I like my friends and I want to spend time with
Few actresses win an Academy Award before reaching puberty. Even
former child star Jodie Foster had to wait a decade or so before
receiving the first of her two Oscars. Does Anna dream of a return
trip to the podium--if not for "Hurlyburly," then maybe
for "All the Rage," a sizzly indie in which shes
set to play a Lolita-like vamp with the hots for David Schwimmer?
"Before I got nominated for 'The Piano,' I didnt really
know what an Oscar was," she says. "So it wasnt
some huge thing I was aiming for. It just sort of happened. And
if it happens again, that will be really good. Who wouldnt
want it to happen again? But its not like Im dying for
it to happen. I think I was very lucky that it happened even once.
I mean, I was so young."