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At age 25, Canadian-born, New Zealand-raised actor Anna Paquin has already had a longer career than most. She won an Oscar at 9, for her performance in Jane Campion's The Piano. She's appeared in more than 20 films, working with directors as varied as Steven Spielberg (Amistad) and Spike Lee (25th Hour). She's been a goose wrangler in Fly Away Home and the mutant superhero Rogue in the X-Men trilogy. When she graduated high school, she moved to New York City and enrolled in Columbia University, allowing her to work onstage, starring with Kieran Culkin in an Off-Broadway production of After Ashley. She even made her way to the London stage, working with playwright Kenneth Lonergan in a production of This Is Our Youth in the West End.
More recently, she and her brother Andrew have started a production company called Paquin Films; its first release is the politically fueled, romantic road comedy Blue State. She stars alongside Breckin Meyer, whose character decides to move to Canada after the 2004 presidential election when his candidate, John Kerry, loses to George W. Bush. Recently, The A.V. Club sat down with Paquin to discuss politics, dropping out, black leather, and claws.
The A.V. Club: You moved to New York a few years ago to attend Columbia. How is that going? Or is it over?
Anna Paquin: Well, it's over, not because I finished, but because I kind of stopped going. I started working a lot and kind of forgot to go back.
AVC: That seems to be a concern among younger actors who decide to go to school. They get restless to get back to work. Four years away is an eternity in Hollywood. Was that a concern?
AP: Well…[Laughs.] That's kind of a gloomy way of looking at it. No, it was actually more because I had done my first year of college straight out of high school, and I had the best time. I didn't work [on any films], and it was the first time I hadn't worked since I started. Then the second year came around, and everyone was getting more specific about what they really wanted to do with their lives, and I kind of already knew what I wanted to do with my life. I didn't find it was where my focus or my attention was. I was more interested in doing my job. Things were very interesting. I started doing theater, and that in and of itself is like an education as far as being an actor, because I had never done it before, and it's really hard.
AVC: The opening credits of Blue State announce that it's a production of Paquin Films.
AP: Yeah, it's my brother Andrew and myself. This is the first film, and we're both very involved. We had been talking for quite some time about wanting to do films together. My brother was working in finance and I was doing what I was doing, and it turns out to have been a very good combination of experiences, because he's good with the finance end of things, and it turns out that I know a lot about filmmaking—just from watching it and having been a part of it for so many years. We definitely want to do more of this together.
AVC: Is the idea that this production company will allow you more control, more choices as an actress?
AP: If I find a piece of material that I'm really passionate about, I can get it made. I don't have to wait for somebody else who maybe doesn't feel as strongly as I do about it. I think that those are the best films. Those are the projects that I love being a part of the most, is where whoever's behind it is really, really, really passionate about it. Those are the people that I want to work with, when you walk into a room and a person is just so committed to what they've discovered that they have to make the film. I'm very passionate about my work, and it's not contained within the realms of acting. I just like the idea of getting to be my own boss, in a sense. Getting to decide what I want to do. Though it's also really nice to have no responsibility whatsoever, outside of being an actor, and have everyone else be worried about all the details. [Laughs.]
AVC: Is this film a reflection of your politics?
AP: It wasn't because we were trying to make some kind of political statement. My politics are very liberal, but I can't vote in America, so it's kind of irrelevant. It was just a story that we all really connected with. The relationship that develops between the two characters, John and Chloe, was very different from a lot of guy-girl relationships you see onscreen—they kind of look like they're going to kill each other for the first 45 minutes. She's not exactly cute and cuddly, or eyelash-batting. Yet somehow they end up getting along. It's almost like the roles have flipped, like he's sort of the slightly prissy, girly one…
AVC: You call him a pussy more than once during the film.
AP: Yeah! And she's this tough chick that doesn't take anyone's shit. I liked that. That was fun! I also got to punch him in the face, which was also fun.
AVC: There were plenty of people who were up in arms after the last two elections, and it's amazing how quickly things revert back to normal once the dust settles. In light of that, this film seems less about left vs. right, or a specific kind of politics, and more about maintaining a passion for your beliefs even when you lose.
AP: Yes. Absolutely. It's about, do you live your beliefs, or do you just talk about them when it's the popular topic of conversation? Are you willing to actually stand up for what you believe in, or do something about it? I think the point that my character makes is that doing something really radical like leaving the country isn't necessarily the same thing as really living your beliefs. The thing that John decides to do at the very end of the film, which I'm obviously not going to give away, is kind of more the point. If you care so much, do something about it. Actually do something active. Not just do something that looks like you're taking a major stand, really get involved. Be a part of it.
AVC: It seems like his character is reacting more to his father than he is to any kind of political system.
AP: Yeah, and that's sort of what ends up coming out, is that people who have these very, very strong beliefs—oftentimes, it's not about the politics. It's not about the outside world. It's about what's happening in their own lives and their own personal experiences. It's sort of colored their views. That's what we show, I think, in this film.
AVC: At one point, your character refers to people in the military as "fuck-ups looking for a way out of life." That's going to anger a lot of people. It's sort of an unwritten rule that whether you're for or against a particular war, you're always in support of the troops.
AP: I think any time you take on touchy subjects, you're going to offend some people, or you're going to please others. Honestly, I've done a lot of stuff on film that I wouldn't say I could personally support. [Laughs.] And I've done worse onstage. So it's a character. It's how she feels. I think what we're saying is that one person's experience of the same event doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how the rest of the world perceives it. For John, the war is really personal for his own reasons. For Chloe, it's very personal for her own reasons. It makes you behave in a certain way, or form certain beliefs, but it isn't necessarily the only way to look at it. I'd rather really please some people and really offend some people than just be completely boring and blah. Who wants to watch a film about people who are politically correct all the time? If they were really nice, they loved everyone, and they all lived happily ever after…
AVC: It would be an animated film for children.
AP: Exactly! And even Disney kills off mother characters.
AVC: What do you think is behind the close relationship between actors and Democrats? How come they get all the A-list stars, while the Republicans end up rolling out people like Chuck Norris and Larry The Cable Guy?
AP: I can't speak for everyone. And obviously, it's not all actors that are liberal. But a lot of creative people are very liberal. It's a lot of people who have been raised to think that it's even conceivable to pursue a career in a ridiculously unattainable industry like entertainment. [Laughs.] We're often raised by pretty open-minded people. Obviously, that's a generalization, and I can really only speak for my own family, but no one in my family ever told me what I did or didn't have to believe, or what I did or didn't have to do with my life. I was kind of just left to do what I wanted, and this came my way. I was raised in a very open-minded household. I don't know. I can't speak for everyone, but maybe there's some connection between creativity and liberal open-mindedness.
AVC: You've said before that one of your favorite things about working on X-Men was the ensemble that included Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman, among others. The cast in Hurlyburly was pretty impressive too: Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Meg Ryan. Do you prefer working with large casts, or in smaller one-on-one stories?
AP: I like both, to be honest. I love being around other actors; be it one other actor, or like 15 of them. [Laughs.] Like in X-Men. For me, it's just really exciting to see how that dynamic comes alive, regardless of how many people there are. When I was younger, it would have been a lot more intimidating carrying a film, so to speak, so I felt like I learned a lot from being a part of some really incredible larger casts. I couldn't possibly say I liked one more than the other.
AVC: You were thrust into the spotlight at such a young age, but that seems to be an advantage, especially for a woman. Men often seem to be able to work through their 40s, but women have a harder time as they get older. Is getting a head start beneficial, as far as career longevity is concerned?
AP: I would have to say, in general, at any age, there are more interesting male roles than there are for women. There's a lot of male energy, let's say, in the industry. But also, there's so many actresses that I can think of that are over 40 that do beautiful work, and are still very well-known and recognized. I don't know. That's not really something that I think about. I'm just kinda doing what I'm doing now. I think the nicest thing about having been doing this since I was a kid is that during the figuring out of how the hell I actually do my job—okay, so I did it once, and everyone made this big fuss, but now I have no idea what I'm doing, and apparently people seem to think I should. I was young. You know what I mean? Even though I felt like there was a lot more leeway for trying things and maybe not doing such a great job without everyone being really judgmental about it, because it's like, "Give me a break! I'm 13!"
AVC: You've already won an Oscar. Do you ever feel like winning another one would be more "real," that you'd have to really earn it?
AP: The work I did when I was, what, 9, in The Piano? I mean, truthfully, I would say it was more a case of really good handling by an extraordinarily talented director, Jane Campion, and the fact that Holly Hunter and I had a really great connection, and really clicked as far as this sort of mother-daughter relationship. I didn't know how to create something, or think about creating a character, I just showed up and did what it felt like I was supposed to do, and just watched everyone else. It's not really a conscious performance.
AVC: Now that you're at the helm of your own production company, making these smaller films, are you completely averse to doing something on a grand scale like the X-Men films again?
AP: No! I had a great time doing that. What, are you kidding me? I got to be a comic-book superhero! I got to wear skin-tight black leather! And run around during explosions! It was awesome. I'd like to have a little more action if I were to ever do another action movie, though. I think I was possibly one of the only people to have gotten through three action films and had maybe two stunts in the entire trilogy. I'm very athletic and stuff, and I have a lot of that sort of background, so I was like, "Oh, come on! Let me like punch somebody or something! Let me shoot something!"
AVC: Yeah, when you put it that way, Rogue's "superpower" was essentially to just hold people.
AP: I know! I was like, "Why can't I have claws? I want claws!"