Uncomfortable with fame

She takes acting seriously, but not the hoopla that goes with it

May 26, 2006|By CHRIS KALTENBACH | CHRIS KALTENBACH,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Twelve years have passed since Anna Paquin won an Oscar for her first film role, as the angry, petulant daughter of a 19th-century mail-order bride in Jane Campion's The Piano. And for six years, she's been a key player in the highly successful X-Men movies as Rogue, a mutant with the power to drain a person's life force away simply by touching them.

But still, this whole fame thing really doesn't sit well with her. She loves the work of being an actor, but finds some of the ancillary stuff puzzling, if not downright irritating.

"It's a little embarrassing when someone's like, `Oh, really, you look familiar, what have you been in?'" says Paquin, 25, during a Washington appearance to promote today's opening of X-Men: The Last Stand. "I mean, should I hand them my resume? The only times I've said, `X-Men,' they're like, `No, that wasn't it.'"

Paquin sighs and giggles in the same breath. "It's like, `Why do you care? Why am I important?' I'm sorry, I missed that."

The actress, who charmed the world with her breathless, deer-in-the-headlights Oscar-acceptance speech, laughs and giggles a lot when talking about herself, a nervous reaction that suggests this isn't exactly her favorite topic.

But she'd best get used to it. In the years since The Piano was released, Paquin has starred in a steady stream of hit films, made for both major studios (Almost Famous, Finding Forrester) and independent producers (most notably Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale). She's famous and accomplished, a favorite of both critics and fans. And if her Oscar win wasn't enough to ensure her place in the spotlight, her three appearances in the X-Men films certainly will be.

"It's still about 50-50," she says, "between people who say, `Yeah, that's Rogue' and `Wow, weren't you that little girl in The Piano?'"

Like the mutants at the center of the X-Men movies, super-powered men and women (and boys and girls) whose powers are with them from birth, Paquin knows what it's like to be singled-out, to be stared at for doing nothing beyond being herself. But the mutants' uniqueness is due to a genetic abnormality that makes them outsiders no matter where they live. And while she admits that celebrity brings its share of unwelcome attention, she dismisses the idea that knowing what it's like to live under a spotlight has given her any special insight into the character she plays.

"It's very different," she says of her own experiences. "The kind of attention you're getting is positive. I feel like it would be diminishing the experience that other people have, people who are put in the spotlight for negative reasons, to say that you can relate because you have been singled-out somehow."

Paquin, in fact, draws on an experience much more universal in understanding Rogue.

"I would say more, just having been a person, I can relate to the X-Men," she says. "Having gone through adolescence, I can relate to the X-Men. I don't think anyone gets through [adolescence] totally unscathed. ... Your body and your face and everything changing, that's not fun."

Paquin insists her life is pretty normal; her Oscar, she notes with a chuckle, sits inside a box, as yet unpacked following her most recent move. In many ways, the actress says, she's still the shy, introverted young girl who grew up in New Zealand and had never acted professionally before Campion cast her in The Piano.

"I'm a pretty quiet, pretty reserved person in my personal life," she says. "That can sometimes make you a little more isolated than necessary. I'll be having a great time, and everyone will think I'm miserable because I'm not talking a lot. `'

She credits her parents with making sure she remained grounded in reality, even while she continued to garner more and more attention through her movie work. Living on the other side of the world from Hollywood didn't hurt, either.

"My family is, I would say, rigorously normal," Paquin says, "very uninterested in that aspect of celebrity. It just really doesn't impress them in any way. And just culturally, New Zealand is not really a place that kowtows as much to celebrities. We're pretty far removed from that whole culture.

"Besides, I was the youngest of three," she notes, sounding every bit the serious actress, "and I was always more the observer than the person who needs to be at the center of attention."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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