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Interview: Anna Paquin

Kissing vampires in True Blood has made Anna Paquin a cultural icon. She talks to Stylist about the controversial show.

A TV show which features vampires, werewolves and bartenders who can change into dogs, should not equal cult viewing for adults. Artificial blood, fangs and skin which burns – literally – in the sun are plot specifics which should, in theory, be reserved purely for the adolescent teen. But when you throw into the equation a telepathic hotpant-wearing waitress (Sookie Stackhouse), a 174-year-old southern JOBgent (Bill Compton) who casts a sexual spell over her, a powerful 6ft 4in vampire sheriff and the sexiest love triangle on TV, you can begin to see why True Blood is actually one for us adults.

Then there’s the incredibly stylish cinematography (the credits alone look like a Hieronymus Bosch painting); plotlines which simultaneously deal with politics (albeit fictional ones, the series is set just after the Vampire Rights Amendment has been passed which allows vampires to live freely in the US and Scandinavia); popular culture (Angelina Jolie has supposedly adopted a vampire baby) and the type of raw, realistic sex you’ve probably never seen on television. And suddenly you have a show – which is just about to show its fourth series on next Tuesday on Channel 4 – that revolutionised TV.

In fact, on its release in the US three years ago, it sent shockwaves through the fairly conservative country thanks to its graphic sex scenes, nudity and a barely disguised political subtext – vampire bashing standing in for homophobia and racism (the show’s opening credits feature the sign: “God hates fangs”). It now has a cult following of two million viewers in the UK, the first series produced $17 million in US DVD sales in its first week, has its own jewellery and make-up line and the lead actors have become worldwide stars.

Perhaps True Blood’s success is less surprising when you discover the man behind the show is Alan Ball; the genius who wrote the equally dark 1999 Oscar-winning film American Beauty and the lauded TV series Six Feet Under. Ball has a talent for challenging conventions and teasing viewers’ boundaries and immortal vampires, who possess a potent sexual energy which can send humans into a drug-like sexual high, and live a life without boundaries is the perfect vehicle for his dark and addictive vision. His vampires may be dead, and survive by drinking the blood of humans, but the viewer can still empathise and live their extreme lives vicariously.

The show also has to thank its 29-year-old star Anna Paquin for her brilliant portrayal of a naive, moral young waitress who refuses to fall victim to the vampires that surround her. She captivated audiences worldwide – both on and off screen. The actress began dating her co-star Stephen Moyer (who plays Bill) a few months after filming began in 2008 and they shared their first kiss on screen. A year later, Stephen, 41, proposed on a Hawaiian beach and they were married in Malibu in August 2010. Since then, Anna has spoken candidly about their relationship: “Maybe it should be weird, simulating sex with your husband in front of people,” she has said. “But it’s really not. When it’s a love scene with someone you actually love, there’s no feeling like, ‘Can I touch him here? Can I touch him there?’ You know what your boundaries are – or what they aren’t, I suppose.”

You’re raised to be humble. When people are gushy about stuff, I just want to laugh

Last year, Anna also revealed that she’s bisexual in a campaign advert for the gay rights group, True Colors Fund. Unsurprisingly, Stylist jumped at the chance to meet the talented blonde to discuss the fourth series of True Blood. Disappointingly she wasn’t wearing denim hotpants and a Merlotte’s Bar and Grill T-shirt, wielding a shotgun or sporting bite marks when we met her at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Instead she was dressed in a vibrant pleated purple Michael Kors dress and silver heels and drinking sparkling water. Anna, who at 11 became the second youngest actress to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1993’s The Piano, is instantly funny and smart. With just a hint left of her Kiwi accent (she moved from New Zealand to LA when she was 16), the actress is typically self-effacing about her career, particularly her Oscar, “I was just a kid who did one movie.”

But Hollywood came calling and calling some more. Anna was cast as the young Jane in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre in 1996. Blockbuster roles in Spielberg’s 1997 slave epic Amistad, Cameron Crowe’s coming-of-age comedy Almost Famous and X-Men in 2000 followed, and Anna remained in the spotlight. However, unlike other juvenile Hollywood actors like Drew Barrymore or River Phoenix, she managed not to succumb to the pressures of childhood fame.

And it shows. Anna has an ease and charm that only experienced professionals have. Personal subjects are batted gently and politely away with no inkling of a Hollywood strop. In fact, the only subject she resolutely refuses to discuss during our interview is the subject of Stephen’s two children from previous relationships.

But even if she doesn’t want to scream it from the rooftops, Anna is clearly, emphatically, mad about her husband, often fingering her unusual dark-toned silver and diamond engagement and wedding rings (by the bold Californian jewellery designer Cathy Waterman) while we talk about her career and their marriage. Like Anna, they are unique, beautiful and a long way from the conventional Hollywood package.

You’ve just celebrated your one-year anniversary, True Blood has been commissioned for a fifth series, and you have four films coming out. Is this the best time of your life?

This is definitely a really amazing time in my life, personally and professionally. A lot of things are coming together in a way that is just amazing and I feel incredibly lucky. We all know it’s not always going to be brilliant. There’s always the harder times. But this is one of those really, really good moments.

Do you ever find it difficult; being both married to Stephen and romantically involved with him on screen?

Not at all. We have a life outside the show. Plus, I get the opportunity to see my husband all the time as opposed to being stuck in a random country making a movie and not seeing him for five months.

Nonetheless, it must be refreshing to have a new love interest in the character of Eric [Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård] in the fourth series?

Of course. It would be boring if all the characters were happily involved with the same person for season after season. There’s got to be conflict, there’s got to be some downs, some new people, so this season it’s the tall Swede. He’s massive – 6ft 4ins.

According to the books written by Charlaine Harris [which the series is based on] you are set to have quite an explicit scene in the shower…

Well, in the books, there are very detailed encounters in a shower. Our boss has confirmed that there is indeed a scene in a shower with Sookie and Eric, the specifics are yet to be divulged. It could be anything!

True Blood has some pretty intense fans. How do you cope with them?

I started acting young, so I had a head start in dealing with the ‘work thing’. It didn’t used to be as crazy as it is now, but I don’t totally remember what it was like before. Being recognised happened much less often when I was younger, but it still happened. I don’t really notice it anymore to be honest. When I am out with friends, they will get kind of protective, and be like, “Do you want to move, these people are staring?” I’m like, “Oh no, we’re fine.”

Even if fans are in your face, taking pictures on their phones?

Hmm, that’s an odd one to me. I like to think I’m someone who has good manners, and that’s not something I consider to be polite. If you like somebody’s work, and you would like to take a picture with them, why don’t you ask?

Perhaps they’re scared you’ll say no…

I’ve only ever said no once or twice in my life. Once was when I was crying. I was like, “God, I don’t understand this at all. I’m not an unpleasant person or stuck up but I’m kind of weeping into my cell phone right now, is there any chance maybe you can give me a pass on that one?” You know, it is what it is. I’m not asking for a pity party, but I would never go up to somebody who was crying and say anything other than, “Can I give you a Kleenex?” But that’s just how I was brought up.

It would be boring if all the characters were happily involved with the same person for season after season.

You were brought up in New Zealand. Has that helped keep you grounded?

Growing up in New Zealand, you’re about the things you have. I think that aspect of my upbringing has been helpful. So when people are really gushy about stuff, I kind of just want to laugh. I’m not someone who inherently believes someone when they pay me a compliment. I’m always sort of like, “Really?” A lot of the times, I can tell you’ve never seen my work, and you don’t know me, so you don’t know if you like me. It’s like you are kissing my ass because you think you should. I can be polite about it, but it doesn’t really make my heart go pitter patter.

Winning an Oscar at 11 years old for The Piano must have had a huge effect on you?

It’s not meaningless but it’s not the be all and end all. It’s so random. Which people are acknowledged and what films win and why; you can’t let yourself focus on it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel incredibly exciting when you get one.

Was your Golden Globe for Best Actress – Television Series Drama [for True Blood in 2009] more gratifying?

Yeah, in a way. I think something that I was conscious of when I was working for it, to get rewarded for it, it feels like I’ve actually done something. [With The Piano which was directed by Jane Campion] I just kind of showed up on the film set and did what I was told, and I didn’t really know why everyone was making such a big deal. The acknowledgment as an adult really feels like it’s more mine, it’s something that I can take credit for. I work really hard, thank you very much. I didn’t expect it, I didn’t need it, but thank you. That was all my work. [Laughs]

As the show’s profile rises, you’ve been involved in some iconic magazine shoots [Anna, Stephen and co-star Alexander Skarsgård appeared on the August 2010 issue of Rolling Stone magazine naked and covered in blood]. Do you like doing them?

I love that kind of stuff. They’re pure fantasy; dressing up, beautiful clothes, amazing locations. I think clothing tells a story all by itself. And it’s another tool we have as actors to express our character. I’ve always loved that aspect of it. Like, how short your nails are or how practical your outfit is. All these sorts of things play a big factor in giving people an immediate in as to who that person is. Not that it’s all about aesthetics, but as far as visual storytelling, a lot of it is. And manipulating people’s minds will immediately make them feel a certain way and that’s interesting to me.

What’s next on your career agenda?

An indie film called Straight A’s which makes no sense unless you read the script. It’s me and Ryan Phillippe, who is incredibly talented. I think he’s going to be amazing. I don’t think people give him enough credit for being a really serious actor. He’s fantastic.

Who are your favourite designers?

I always loved Alexander McQueen. I love what Sarah Burton is doing with the house now. I wore one of her dresses to the [2010] Emmys, shortly after he passed away, and then I got to meet her in London and she showed me around the showroom. It was amazing.

Did you meet him?

Sadly, no. But I wore a lot of his clothes and I’ve always been a big fan. His legacy is very edgy, but very intricately feminine, which is a combination not many people can pull off. I feel like Sarah’s continued on with that. I got to see some of the stuff that was in the middle of being prepared for the next show. It’s like getting to see behind the curtain. There were these intricate shoes being cast out of plaster. It was unbelievable.

What did you make of Kate’s dress?

Are you kidding? It was gorgeous. Just gorgeous. I mean, it’s a whole new take on ‘royal’.

Stephen is from the UK and you also have a house in London. It sounds like you’re becoming an honorary Brit?

I love that you can’t throw a stone without hitting an amazing Indian restaurant in London. That’s kind of the first thing we do when we go back to London, eat really good curry. Now I really want Indian food. Our house is right near Hampstead Heath, and when it’s sunny in London, there’s just nothing quite as beautiful. I also love any city that has a good public transport system, because then you feel like you can immediately get around and go places and have adventures on your own.

The new series of True Blood starts at 11:05pm on Tuesday 13 September on Channel 4.