Hurried, hard-charging and terse — Anna Paquin’s celebrity publicist portrayal in “Flack” is complex.
While fashion, sports and entertainment clients wind up in the half-expected drug binges and sex scandals, her “Robyn” character wrestles with her own vices — cocaine, deception and adultery among them. A fast walker and a fast talker on the Pop TV series, the actress sounds a little no-nonsense in a phone interview, too. Punctual to the point that a five-minute holding period is planned in advance, Paquin is serious about her craft. Her first film role in “The Piano” at age 9 earned her an Oscar and subsequently the need for a publicist. Although Paquin may have observed some celebrity side shows and understands the potential foibles of fame, she isn’t about to spill anything.
“Luckily and somewhat by design, I’ve never really sought out the kinds of environments that weren’t really just focused on the work. As for those high-drama catastrophes, I haven’t really had a front-row seat at any of those, so I wouldn’t be good source material for a client for ‘Flack.’ You hear about things, you see things. But I’ve generally been more in the world of really focused, serious people trying to create interesting films, plays, TV shows. But it all feels pretty accurate from where I’m sitting,” she says.
As for having had any firsthand is-this-really-happening observations, she said, “Sure, and like any good p.r.-trained person obviously that wouldn’t be something that I’d talk about in a public context. But, yeah I’ve seen some stuff [laughs].”
Playing the emotionally detached but let’s-be-done-with-it publicist in the new series, which debuts Feb. 21, Paquin advises a skittish new hire, “In the future, just assume we’re lying to everyone.”
Honesty is repeatedly in question amidst the cast, which includes Sophie Okonedo, Lydia Wilson and Genevieve Angelson, among others. “I think truth means different things to different people. I don’t think that is unique to the world of celebrity,” Paquin says. “People in their everyday lives make choices about how they want other people to see them. Maybe their Instagram page is a version of what they want their life to look like. It might not necessarily be representative of what their life really is.
“I think everyone does it on some level even if it’s not grand-scale deception. Most people are to some extent conscious of how they present themselves when they leave the house. There are plenty of instances where there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and there are plenty of instances where that goes into some morally murky territory and crosses a line.”
Regarding her own need for a publicist at the age of 12, Paquin says, “There are two reasons for having a publicist: to either do as much as is humanly possible or to protect you if you’re a little more introverted and shy. My family was not particularly keen on artificially forcing me to grow up and to turn into some kind of slick, well-oiled kiddie actor machine. But they also didn’t want me to miss out on some interesting life opportunities. We hired a publicist on my behalf mostly to protect me from having to do too much or to be too exposed, or having too much thrown at me that just wasn’t age-appropriate.”
The “Flack” costume designer Pam Downe favored fitted dresses for Paquin’s character to relay a sense of control. The actress says, though, that she didn’t borrow traits from any real-life publicists. “Ina [Treciokas] has been my publicist since I was 12. She’s family. I have had the same team, since I was literally prepubescent. I’m a rare case in that way. I like my tribe and I keep them. Loyalty is very important to me,” Paquin said.
So much so that she and her British husband Stephen Moyer served as executive producers for “Flack.” HBO viewers know the pair from their “True Blood” days and more recently they teamed up for the new film “The Parting Glass.” With 6-year-old fraternal twins and a full-time job, Paquin doesn’t have the time allowance to write as much as she would like to, but she is hopeful that will one change as her children get older. Her stint at Columbia University as an English literature major was cut short to focus more on acting.
Regarding working with her husband on “Flack,” Paquin said, “It’s kind of all we’ve ever known. We were working together incredibly well before we became a couple. But then continued to work on that same job for almost eight years. It’s kind of hard to pick apart exactly how and why and all of that business, but it’s just a very, very healthy and happy aspect of our marriage. He’s directed a bunch of ‘True Blood’ and a film that we produced and that I was in. I love taking direction from him. We just creatively and personally click. We are very fortunate. I know people are like, ‘Oh, my God, how is it working with your partner?’ I’m like, ’That’s kind of what we prefer to be doing.’”
Like many Hollywood-ers, Paquin has been repeatedly reminded about an obscure biographical footnote — playing a skunk in her first nonprofessional role. “There are these random little one liners in something that end up following you around for the rest of your life. I mean, did any kid not have a ballet recital? It was a ballet recital — that wasn’t acting. Yeah, it sounds hilarious but I don’t think it’s really representative of anything other than normal childhood end–of–year recital for your dance class. I wouldn’t say that was a role per se. But yes, it was a skunk. And I’m sure we all looked ridiculous and adorable.”
After another question or two, Paquin’s assistant cuts into the phone interview to say time is up. Everything played out like clockwork, just as Paquin had instructed and was accidentally overheard doing so.