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A bona fide thespian since picking up an Oscar at age 11 for her debut in “The Piano,” Anna Paquin has made a career of unexpected (though often dark) role choices. She has played everyone from Jane Eyre to a student seductress in “The Squid and the Whale” and, most recently, the mutant Rogue in the “X-Men” trilogy. Starting Sept. 7, Paquin adds another notch to her quirky resume when she stars as Sookie Stackhouse, a Southern waitress with mind-reading powers, in HBO and Alan Ball’s new series “True Blood.” Based on Charlaine Harris’ “Southern Vampire” books, the show is set in a world in which, thanks to Japanese-developed synthetic blood, vampires are able to live among humans without devouring them. Naturally, it’s a recipe for hybrid romance and Sookie quickly falls for a chiseled bloodsucker. Here, the New Zealand-born, 26-year-old Paquin chats with WWD about going blonde (and tan) for the role, shooting in the South and waiting tables for the first time.
WWD: What attracted you to this part in the first place?
Anna Paquin: Well, this whole world is so kind of exciting and unusual as far as the supernatural elements but also has so much in it that’s really emotionally poignant and the characters are so strong and so well drawn out. My character is so tough but she’s sweet and she’s innocent, but she’s kind of worldly. There’s just so much to it that it does not get boring.
WWD: Vampire sex certainly doesn’t get boring. In fact, the show gets quite graphic.
A.P.: You know, there’s some pretty full-on stuff of that variety. And on the whole I think vampire fascination is so intertwined with the whole idea of dangerous sexuality and that sort of scary edge to it.
WWD: What was it like down in Louisiana when you were shooting?
A.P.: Most recently, hotter than hell. I mean literally 108 degrees. You know it’s gonna be like that. I’ve been to the South in the summertime, but there’s still nothing that really prepares you if you’re not from there from stepping outside and feeling as if you just opened an oven into your face. But it kind of makes all the tiny, teeny, skimpy outfits seem incredibly justified.
WWD: Your waitress costume is quite skimpy.
A.P.: Yes, it is. And I had the most modest waitress outfit of all of them. Lynn Collins — who plays Dawn — I mean, it’s barely even underwear.
WWD: And then there’s the tanning business.
A.P.: I get the spray-painting thing. The first time it’s kind of awkward because you’re standing there naked in front of a stranger who is airbrushing your entire body and it’s not like, you know, you just need to get your arms and legs done. This is not a show where all the clothes stay on all the time, so there can’t be tan lines in places that reveal that you’re the palest girl on the planet.
WWD: Your character is a waitress. And there’s the cliché of the actress going to Hollywood and becoming a waitress until she gets discovered. Obviously you started off on a very different trajectory.
A.P.: I was lucky enough not to have to take that route to being an actress. But at some point it would have been nice maybe to at least have practiced carrying plates around on a tray before walking onto the set because I felt really stupid when everything went flying off.
WWD: But you picked it up quickly?
A.P.: Yeah, you know, I’m not actually stupid. Well, not quite as stupid as I possibly look now that I’m blonde.
WWD: Sookie has mind-reading abilities and you’ve played the mutant Rogue in three X-Men films. What superpower would you choose to have in real life?
A.P.: You know, I’m okay with being pretty normal.