Steaming ahead in season six of True Blood and appearing in the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, Anna Paquin has never been hotter.
“Sleep’s not a very big part of my life right now,” admits Anna Paquin, star of HBO’s sexy sensation True Blood, who is surprisingly clear-headed, given that she’s spent the bulk of her day working on the series’ set, breaking somewhat late in the evening to speak with me before turning her attention back to her husband, co-star Stephen Moyer, and their 9-month-old twins at their home in West L.A. “But that’s fine. It’s kind of part of the deal.”
The demands of Paquin’s career, which has hit a highly productive sweet spot, stretch her waking hours thin, maybe even more so than the requirements of first-time motherhood. But from the sound of it, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is one of the jobs where you don’t get to pick the timing, and when it rains, it pours,” explains the actress, who at age 30 is one of television’s most popular stars, with a film career on the upswing. “When there are interesting things happening and interesting people you want to work with, you kind of jump on it and figure out the details, which thankfully have all kind of fallen into place. And then I’ve had a really, really awesome last few months.”
First and foremost, there’s True Blood, the show that, even after her steady career as a child actress, made her a bona fide star. She returns for the soaplike series’ sixth season, debuting this month, to play out the continuing saga of Sookie Stackhouse, the pert and plucky roadhouse waitress whose beguiling faerie ancestry serves as a sort of sexual catnip for a variety of vampires, lycanthropes and other hunky members of the supernatural—and usually shirtless—cast.
Building on the blueprint of the heroine provided by novelist Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries series and transfused to TV by Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball, Paquin deftly delivers Sookie as simultaneously strong-willed and vulnerable, sensual and sweet, exotic and down-to-earth, keeping her Golden Globe-winning performance rooted to what’s written on the page. “I read the books and obviously that was very helpful, but [TV’s] Sookie was created by Alan and our writers—the way she has grown has felt like a natural and collaborative process,” says the starlet, who loves the character’s fearlessness and strength.
True Blood followers will be comforted to know that things remain as harrowing as ever for Bon Temps’ leading temptress in the new season, which picks up from a cliffhanger that left Sookie and her onetime blood-sucking suitor Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) discovering her other vampire paramour, and possible true love Bill (hubby Moyer), transmogrifying into an evil-incarnate ubervampire. “Things left off in a pretty serious place in regards to where Eric and I leave Bill having just turned into this creature of the blood with these monster fangs—and who the hell knows what that is?” she poses, chuckling. “So obviously, that situation has to [play] out. And we have new cast members this year, and that’s always fun to have fresh blood, if you’ll pardon the pun.”
Among the new faces is Brit actor Rob Kazinsky as the charismatic Ben, who helps Sookie and her brother Jason delve deeper into the mystery behind their parents’ death and is, perhaps, yet another magical entity looking to get into her short shorts. Plot twists aside, expect a more introspective Sookie.
“This season, the writers and I have been making a concerted effort to help Sookie grow up, become a little bit darker, more accepting of her fate, more self-knowing,” says newly minted True Blood showrunner Bryan Buckner, further revealing that the character will explore her attraction to vampires head on in a soul-searching journey made exponentially more compelling through Paquin’s subtly nuanced performance. “She is able to tell us so much with her eyes… I don’t think there are very many actors out there who could pull off what we’re asking of her this season… Her performances literally hold [True Blood] together as a show.”
Paquin sees Sookie as a “danger magnet.” “[This] translates into something pretty dramatic happening to her most of the time, which means it’s pretty much impossible to ever get bored on the job,” says Paquin, noting the series’ compelling horror trappings. “It’s entertaining to watch, and it’s really entertaining to do. Because [the show falls] under the umbrella of what I guess you could call ‘genre,’ we get to kind of make up rules for our universe and you’re not just limited to what actually exists in reality.”
The reality is, Sookie has seduced Hollywood too, and Paquin is pleased to see similar meaty opportunities for actresses in female-driven projects like Homeland and Weeds on Showtime and HBO’s The Big C. “It’s been really amazing getting to work on a show that kind of treats the girls and boys the same. The girls are just as much a part of the action as the boys are and sometimes more so,” she says.
But the actress was in on the action long before she landed in Bon Temps. Paquin appeared in Marvel Comics’ big-screen version of X-Men in 2000 as the life-force-leeching, unable-to-touch Rogue. Paquin provided a relatable and conflicted counterpart to star-in-the-making Hugh Jackman’s roiling, raging Wolverine, infusing the film with the kind of teenage angst that sustains comic-book culture. With X-Men director Bryan Singer back at the helm for the upcoming installment X-Men: Days of Future Past, Paquin reunited with her first genre family—Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and more mutant mainstays (“a group of people I’ve known for years and years whom I genuinely love and respect”)—to reinhabit Rogue, even as she was neck-deep into Sookie’s latest story arc. But, thanks to some creative scheduling and liberal kindness from both productions, Paquin accommodated a speedy stint in Montreal.
All this comes on the heels of not only two brand-new babies, but also a more figurative offspring with Moyer: The couple teamed up to produce the indie flick Free Ride, starring Paquin, at a breakneck pace. The plot involves a single mom’s tangle with the 1970s marijuana trade while raising her daughters. “We just thought it was a fascinating piece of material and a really exciting new talent to work with [writer-director Shana Betz]… we kind of muscled on through and got it done,” explains Paquin of the push to kick-start the production. “Small indie films that are labors of love are not easy, but absolutely worth it on every level once you’ve got the final product.”
With Free Ride completed and being shopped to distributors, Paquin, the youngest of three children, is experiencing the kind of remarkably fertile period she’d dreamed of when she committed to the life of an actor, around age 15. Though she was also interested in fashion design and photography, and was becoming an accomplished cellist, her focus in combination with the timing of her parents’ divorce prompted Paquin to relocate to L.A. from her native New Zealand. Another turning point came when she abandoned college for theater, which ultimately convinced her she was on the right path.
As Paquin matured, managing to skirt the ubiquitous child-star pitfalls along the way, she racked up a solid list of film credits (Fly Away Home, Amistad, A Walk on the Moon and Almost Famous) before X-Men and, later, True Blood, cemented her adult career status. “I’ve been really blessed,” she insists. “I’ve never really been drawn to things because I wanted to be famous or huge or anything. I’d rather do one day’s work on a movie that is really creatively interesting than be in every single frame of something that I find a little dull. I feel like that guided my choices a lot and I’ve consequently been drawn to people who, in the best possible way, kind of kicked my ass, because I didn’t want to be the weak link.”
That was unlikely. Paquin is, after all, an Oscar winner, taking home a best supporting actress Oscar for The Piano at age 11 in 1993, an experience she regards with a blend of matter-of-factness and mystification. “I mean, it’s a pretty bizarre and awesome thing to happen to a small child living in New Zealand,” she marvels. “It consistently, sort of implausibly, has afforded me enormous opportunities and opened a door for me that probably wouldn’t have opened otherwise. I’m very grateful, but it’s just kind of part of the texture of my childhood. That was 20 years ago.” Nearly a lifetime for a woman with an equally thriving professional and family life, all achieved without a too-specific agenda.
“I kind of just put my work in and see where it gets me… I’ll see [what] the universe offers up,” says Paquin, with a sanguine attitude that suggests she might also squeeze in a good night’s sleep very soon. “Oh, probably not,” she laughs.