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.”
In real life, Paquin has her own fangirl attraction to fashion. “I recently spent an afternoon with [Alexander McQueen designer] Sarah Burton while she was making a collection and it was fascinating. I was in fashion geek heaven!” she says, noting that the label’s black 3-D snakeskin fluted pencil dress and Knucklebox clutch top her wish list. “I’ve always been a diehard McQueen fan. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for [Burton] to design after losing someone [she was] so close to,” Paquin says, referring to McQueen’s death in 2010. “Sarah’s done an amazing job of taking over under such hard circumstances and she’s run with it in such a beautiful way.”
When it comes to preparing for award shows, Paquin insists she has no interest in repeating old-Hollywood glamour looks. “I’m not a ballgown kind of girl,” she says. “I don’t think the red carpet is my prom. I prefer edgier cuts and darker designs because they suit me. I’ve learned how to dress for my shape, and I have to be able to sit, stand, walk properly and shake hands in an outfit without feeling confined. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what looks good for my body for fittings, and I’ve taken notes. I’m five-foot-four and change! I know I will never be like Gisele, and I also know I will never be a hipless, assless supermodel.”
Unlike her strict rules for dressing, Paquin says she is pretty easygoing when it comes to everything else, including the fact that business and pleasure are constantly mixing, since she and her husband are also co-workers.
“Work does come up pretty frequently, because that is how we spend most of our year,” she admits. “Aside from trying to spend no more than two or three weeks apart, I’ve never been one for rules in a relationship. I don’t have any guidelines on how much shop talk we can have at home.”
Recent chatter at the Moyer-Paquin dinner table has revolved around making room for an additional family member (in April, the couple announced they are expecting their first child), Moyer’s directorial ambitions (he will be taking over the cameras for an upcoming True Blood episode), and Paquin’s next two movies—Straight A’s and Free Ride. The latter is a film the couple produced together, which casts Paquin alongside Cam Gigandet as a single mom embroiled in a drug ring.
Yet Paquin’s and Moyer’s interests run deeper than Hollywood. Paquin lights up as she describes their burgeoning art collection, which includes a portrait by legendary fashion photographer Lillian Bassman and photographs from Australian artist Vee Speers’ avant-garde series The Birthday Party.
Paquin dabbles in photography herself, in her downtime. “I love to take candids of people who are not aware that I am taking their photograph,” she says. “I like the documentary style. It’s really interesting when nobody’s watching—that’s when you can capture someone’s essence.”