True Blood’s Anna Paquin on art collecting, family plans and playing Sookie—plus her shopping picks for summer
By Elio Iannacci. Photographed by James White. Styled by Penny Lovell.
You can learn a lot about an actress by the way she steps on set for a photo shoot. Some stars require the armour of an entourage; others need a personality-devoid space and monastic silence. Anna Paquin is unquestionably neither of the above. Upon arriving at L.A.’s Smashbox Studios on a scalding Saturday afternoon, the Winnipeg-born, New Zealand-raised actress introduces herself to the FASHION crew without hesitation. Serving up a warm, Kiwi-accented “Nice to meet you” to photographer James White—and his troop of all-guy assistants crushing on her—the 29-year-old talent does the rounds as if she were hosting a cocktail party. Of course, there is a reason for Paquin’s accelerated social skills. Having won an Oscar at the age of 11 for her performance in Jane Campion’s The Piano, Paquin has grown up with cameras and handshakes at every corner, starring in a mix of family pictures (Fly Away Home), blockbusters (X-Men), indie flicks (The Squid and the Whale) and, most recently, a ratings monster of a TV series called True Blood.
After changing into her favoured cover look—a Jackie Onassis-like Marc Jacobs dress trimmed with silver studs—Paquin dashes in front of the lens, occasionally cracking jokes and posing without any forced fabulousness. Her good humour remains intact long after the array of designer heels and baubles are put away and we are left alone to talk.
“This is going to be an interesting dance,” she says with a laugh, referring to HBO’s strict no-spoiler policy for True Blood’s much-anticipated fifth-season premiere on June 10. “Plot twists are everything in this show. Everything.”
Paquin’s role in True Blood is, literally, the stuff of legends. As the centrepiece of the series, she plays Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress with a penchant for short shorts, Sun In and the affections of fanged men. Dodging three searing-hot love interests at once—1,000-year-old Nordic vampire Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård), former Civil War soldier /modern Dracula type Bill Compton (played by Stephen Moyer, Paquin’s husband) and virile, hulking werewolf Alcide Herveaux (Joe Manganiello)—Paquin has her work cut out for her.
“At the end of last season, Sookie told all those dudes to back off because she needed to be by herself,” Paquin says. “She’s trying very hard to stay true to that goal of independence, of not being his or his or his…and she’s trying to figure out her own life on her own terms without anyone there to catch her every time she falls. Things will be especially complicated with her and Alcide, since Sookie just shot the head off the former love of his life!”
Apart from the gunslinging and the ultra-steamy love triangles, Paquin says she does make parallels between her own life and Sookie’s so that her performances remain fresh. “There have always been aspects of her that I connect to, empathize with and understand—that’s the only way I can approach my job,” she says. “You have to find a common ground with any character. I spend a lot of time with scripts, looking for my truth.”
Another way Paquin conjures up her True Blood protagonist is by exploring HBO’s vast wardrobe department. “For me, costume is a great key to the character,” Paquin says. “What you wear is a pretty big reflection of your personality. Part of True Blood is told through Sookie’s clothes.”
Among the draws for the show’s devotees are a script that packs some serious political subtext (vampire-bashing stands in for racism and homophobia), and the level of aesthetic astuteness seen in each episode. Many scenes in the series—in which Paquin is lit in apricot tones—look as though conceptual portraitist Cindy Sherman is piloting the cameras, intermittently possessed by the ghost of baroque artist Caravaggio.
“This year, we are going to see inside the vampire authority,” Paquin says, hinting at scenes that demand more rich textures and lavish costumes as the show focuses on the places where the fanged elite meet. “The vamps will wear really hot clothes, and Sookie may need to step up her style. We already saw this in season two, where she began to try and live in a sophisticated, big-city world she knows very little about, and her outfits reflect that.”
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