Anna Paquin became a movie star at 11 years old when her debut performance in The Piano won her an Oscar. She played Rogue in the X-Men trilogy too, so any kids who didn't see her accepting her statue on the podium are still familiar with her work. Now she's doing her first TV show, HBO's True Blood.
"I had to audition for it," Paquin said. "I have always been really impressed with the series work that HBO does. I did a film for them a year and a half or so ago and had an amazing experience. It’s extraordinary to get to carry on with a character the way you do on a series that you just never get to do in film. That to me was really exciting because I just love my job. I love working. I love getting in to the texture of every character and the relationships. It’s just such a beautiful thing to get to continue it."
At 26 now, Paquin has maintained her excitement for acting for the past 15 years. She never allowed herself to become jaded by her early acclaim.
"I get to play with really awesome, interesting, talented people and have a career that I find exciting," Paquin said. "And I got to kind of jump to the head of the queue when I was 11."
Based on the vampire novels by Charlaine Harris, True Blood is about a girl who is dating a vampire. In their world, a company invents the drink "Tru Blood," which feeds vampires so they no longer have to drink human blood for sustenance. Many of the living are still resistant to the integration of the undead into their communities, but waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Paquin) is adventurous enough to fall for one.
"It’s sexy," admitted Paquin. "[Vampires] are dangerous. What girl doesn’t like the bad boy? It’s the unknown, it’s mysterious, it’s sexy. He’s from another time. He’s experienced things that she can’t even imagine and he’s seen whole lifetimes of things. She’s lived in one small town her entire life."
The negative feelings other townies have towards "their kind" is a clear metaphor for any kind of social prejudice, even though series producer Alan Ball prefers to just think of it as a fun vampire story. Paquin reminds viewers that drama has a long history of star-crossed lovers as well.
"I’m sure you could think of hundreds [of stories], where the entire community is shunning them, but they just gotta have each other. Romeo and Juliet, anyone?"
As he became fascinated with the books, Ball wanted to make viewers relate to Sookie on TV like he did as he read Harris’ novel. "She's fearless," said Ball. "I guess one of the things that attracted me to the character when I first started reading the books, and as we started working on the show, is that she's been through a lot. She lost both her parents at a very young age. Yet she's just generally a good person with a good energy, and she's very open-minded. In a small Southern community like this, it's unusual and it's very admirable. You just like her. You just want to understand why she does things that maybe might not be the smartest, but you want it to turn out well, and you get really invested in her."
Living and working in Louisiana, Sookie speaks with a southern accent, dresses scantily for the heat and sports a tan. "I’ve spent some time in the South, not a great deal," said Paquin. "I’ve watched a lot of films. I’ve done my research. A lot of her ‘Sookie-ness’ is written into the books, and that was very helpful. We have great dialect coaches, but now we don’t really need them anymore because it’s just how our characters talk. We’re all having to do it, so you’re hearing it [all the time]."
As for the miniscule outfits, Paquin is a good sport. "My wardrobe is awesome," she joked. "I mean, I’m practically naked the entire time. What’s not to love? No, that took a little bit of getting used to, but they also give me this nice spray tan, so I feel like I’m sort of wearing an extra layer of clothing that’s actually not really there. I feel quite naked actually. I bought a lot of little, tiny shorts to wear before I go onto set. It’s weird. You really feel like you’re wearing your underwear for the first week, that you’re in hot pants."
The attention to skin has made Paquin a tad more self-conscious about the importance of physical activity. "I mean, I’ve always been really active, but come on, it becomes bikini season all year long. What girl would not spend a considerable amount of time making sure that to the best of one’s ability, you feel comfortable in your own skin? I work out like anyone else. I go to the gym. I run, I box, I do pilates, I take dance classes. I like doing stuff, and I’m learning to skateboard, which is actually a lot harder work than it looks. It’s fun."
The brunette Paquin even dyed her hair blonde to play Sookie, which has caused a noticeable difference in her real world social life. "I love it. Boys like to stare at blonde girls. Apparently it's totally true, so it's amusing and quite lovely. Boys like blonde girls. Who knew?"
In the show, Sookie has some super powers of her own, at least the mental power of telepathy. Perhaps making that look natural will be her biggest weekly challenge. "For the first couple episodes, I just felt like a massive idiot because I’m sitting there like, 'What does someone look like when you’re reading someone’s mind and you’re trying to make sure everyone doesn’t know that you’re reading their mind?' No, we usually have someone read the [voiceover] lines off camera, mostly for timing and also so that you’re not just standing there staring blankly like a big, big dummy. Now we’re all used to it. There’s a routine now."
Paquin’s character and story arc give her plenty of work on each weekly episode. "Without slanting anything else I’ve ever done, I’ve never wanted anything more, and I fought hard to get this part. I absolutely love it, and I work with some of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with."
True Blood premieres Sunday, September 7 at 9pm et/pt on HBO.