Thoughtful and dry-humoured, with a quivering, bird-like alertness, New Zealand-raised actress Anna Paquin is a dichotomous creature – an ingénue who has seen it all; an old pro who remains wide-eyed; a Hollywood powerhouse in a 5'4" woman-child frame. She’s 28 now, but was, by her own admission, “a bit of a goth” in her teenage years – an awkward gap-toothed girl who hid behind long dark hair and DM boots, nervously squinting under the glare of the lights and cameras that had followed her around since she was a schoolgirl. As such, it’s fitting that she should go on to become a poster child of our vampire-obsessed culture, star of the graphically violent, unashamedly erotic True Blood, in which she plays telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, a post-feminist small town blonde with a penchant for push-up bras and undead men.
Your character, Sookie Stackhouse, is telepathic. Some people say that telepathy is how super-evolved human beings will communicate with each other one day. Is Sookie super-evolved, being so hyper-sensitive that she can read minds?
I kind of like the way that Sookie actually thinks of it as being a disability, rather than some super-evolved trait. Because often what makes people more special sometimes, on a practical day-to-day level, makes life a little awkward. Most people just want to fit in and she can’t, because she’s got this internal monologue of what every single person is thinking
all the time.
Yeah, I guess it would kind of be a bummer. And that is the interesting thing about it; that her superpower is a bummer to her.
Personally, I’m pretty happy not being telepathic. If you don’t want me to know something, that’s all good.
You have your own film production company with your brother. What’s happening with that?
We did one film and then my life became all about True Blood. I really enjoyed being in the driving seat though, as far as making decisions about who we hired and how we did things. I have been doing this for like 19 years, so
I guess it’s natural to want to expand the range of responsibilities in my job. Most people want to climb up the ladder in terms of responsibility, or start working behind the scenes.
You seem conscious of being a grown-up as you approach 30.
For me, I feel like my numeric age is finally catching up with how old I feel. When you live in a world that is more traditionally occupied by grown-ups, it tends to make you grow up a few years faster – but if you are 18, 19, 20 and you look like you are 14, people tend to treat you like you are still a kid. At this point, it feels like the reality is catching up with what people expect of someone my age. I’m almost 30, so I guess it’s normal to have bought a house and be married.
So you’ve always felt older than your actual years, because you look young?
Yes, but I’ve stopped looking like a teenager, which I am pleased about – I feel like I looked like a teenager for way longer than most people do. There is something to be said for looking like an adult. There is a certain sort of thing where
“Never think too highly of yourself. It sets you up for a big fall”
people will look at you and think they know what your degree of life understanding and life experience is. Eventually, when people get to know you they realise you’re not some young flake – despite the fact that you look like you should be carded to go to an R-rated movie. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing, but sometimes people treated me like I was a kid – certainly not people who actually worked with me, because I don’t think I had the work ethic of a kid.
What’s it been like, transitioning from being a New Yorker to being an LA girl in the last three years?
I swore I would never leave New York, come hell or high water, because I loved it… but I really love living in LA. And then as I kept deferring school to go work, and then my class graduated without me, I stopped pretending I was going to go back.
I want to ask you what you think of fate and destiny. Your career came about because of your talent…
(Laughs) If you say so!
But also you were in the right place at the right time.
Well, certainly it’s very easy to see how you take a slightly different turn here or there, and it can lead you down a completely different path. I feel that stuff works well to explain the good stuff, but it doesn’t necessarily work to explain
“I guess they cast him and me in that combination because they thought we had chemistry. As it turns out, that wasn’t too
far off the mark.”
when tragic, horrible things happen to people. That’s when I have a little bit of difficulty with the notion of fate. Like well, if I was fated to end up where I am today, then if someone who was very close to me has cancer, was that also fated? I don’t believe that. I have been incredibly lucky. I don’t know if it’s anything more involved than that.
You seem to be a bit uncomfortable with compliments.
I will say thank you to compliments – I am told that is the appropriate response. But I promise, you are not going to get me to own any of that stuff – I refuse to own any of what people are saying to me, about me. It’s just the culture I was brought up in. I don’t know – I think English people have a good dose of that as well. Never think too highly of yourself. Never make it seem as if you think it’s all sorted. Because on that level, it does set you up for a big fall.
That’s very un-LA of you. In LA, people tend to have the opposite approach, over-hyping themselves and their accomplishments in the hope that people will believe it’s true.
I find it really fascinating when people will freely tell you things they are really good at. It’s like, ‘Wow, I am really happy that you are so confident!’ I guess part of me feels like if you think you’ve already got it all sorted then you’ve got nowhere to go. Then there is nothing to strive for and nothing to be attained. If you think you’re as smart as you need to be, then where do you go from there?
Complacency is not something you can be accused of, then.
I am ambitious, but some of the things I’m focused on have changed a bit. When I wasn’t married and had all the time in the world to focus exclusively on work, work, work, more work… that was what I did. At this point, there are other things that are important to me, so to take some job that would take me to someplace for six months becomes a different sort of decision. Now I have a home that I would be leaving and people who I would miss.
It seems like working on True Blood has meant life-changing experiences for you on every level – doing a TV show for the first time, and then meeting your husband, who happens to be your co-star, who your character is in love with on the show...
Yeah, it’s all right. I guess they cast him and me in that combination because they thought we had chemistry. As it turns out, that wasn’t too far off the mark.
Text by Caroline Ryder
Photography by Terry Richardson
Styling Katie Shillingford
Hair Dennis Lanni at Art Department
Make-up Jillian Dempsy at The Wall Group using Avon Cosmetics
Photographic Assistant Nick Sethi
Styling Assistant Caitlin Boelke
Digital Operator Glen Fabian
Lighting Seth Goldfarb
Production Joy Asbury Productions