Long before London 2012 saw women’s boxing make its Olympic debut, Anna Paquin – the sometime cute 11-year-old who won an Oscar for her bonnet-wearing performance in The Piano – had been regularly pummelling all-comers round the ring.
‘I’ve boxed for years – I love it,’ she enthuses. ‘I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say girls get angry, angsty and frustrated, too, so it’s good to have a healthy… release. You have to have a bit of a sick desire to experience pain. It’s exhausting, it’s so hard. But I’m a fitness junkie, so anything that isn’t hard is kind of boring for me.’
Paquin, 30, star of HBO’s True Blood is also, it seems, something of a challenge junkie: not only not your average Hollywood actress but a vegetarian ex-goth feminist bisexual who calls herself a ‘geeky weirdo’. On the day we speak, she is seven months pregnant with twins [born healthily the day before we go to press], and clearly deliriously happy with her husband, True Blood co-star Stephen Moyer.
She fell for Moyer after landing the role that has made her a bona fide TV icon: True Blood’s tantalisingly named Sookie Stackhouse, the brave, sweet, liberal, ass-kicking, telepathic and highly sexual ‘human-fairy’ hybrid. A small-town waitress in micro-shorts who has become a feminist emblem for millions (tap ‘Anna’ into Google today, and she’s the planet’s number-one search).
True Blood, HBO’s most-watched show since The Sopranos, is now in season five and is arguably TV’s sexiest show – a graphically sexual fantasy drama, featuring vampires, werewolves and shape shifters, living alongside humans in the fictional small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana (also a poetic allegory for civil and gay rights). Season five continues a three-way pull of spooky suitors for ‘fang banger’ Sookie between three preposterously handsome men: vampire Eric (Alexander Skarsgård), werewolf Alcide (Joe Manganiello) and on/off lover vampire Bill (played by Moyer). The men, gratifyingly, are more often than not just as naked as she is.
‘Nudity just doesn’t faze me,’ muses Paquin in her measured voice – a Canada-born New Zealander, who sounds American with a sporadic burst of pure Kiwi. ‘If it wasn’t something I was up for, I certainly wouldn’t have got involved. I’m sure sometimes it feels like they just take our clothes away because… they like taking our clothes away. But in True Blood, it feels creatively motivated. Sex and sexuality is a big part of adult life. Our target audience is not teenagers.’
Since season one, Paquin has often simulated explosive, completely naked sex with the man who became her real-life boyfriend in 2007, British-born Moyer, whom she married on a beach in Malibu in 2010. Which certainly begs a question: while she could get away with any real erotic stirrings on set, things wouldn’t be, surely, quite so discreet for him. Have they had any, you know, compromising moments?
‘There is a fine line between what we do and what adult actors do,’ she giggles. ‘But we have the Cock Sock that goes around the boys’ bits. It’s a little modesty pouch and they put everything inside there, and it gets tied up. So it’s all very appropriate and professional. And there’s the little patch that goes over the lady bits, basically a thong with the sides cut out of it, which you tape to yourself. Which is not massively pleasant, but it certainly draws clean lines around what they can and cannot show on camera. And it’s not just for the comfort of the actors: the crew don’t want to see more than they absolutely have to. I think it’s kind of polite, y’know?’
Beneath the dyed-blonde hair she kept after Sookie’s creation, the real-life Paquin is an introverted, alabaster-pale brunette, who arrived in New Zealand from Canada, aged four, and grew up into a skateboarding goth besotted with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Radiohead.
She was nine in 1992 when Jane Campion picked her from an open audition in New Zealand to play Holly Hunter’s daughter in The Piano, despite no acting experience, other than as a skunk in a school play.
A creative kid, Paquin moved to Los Angeles with her mum and older sister in 1995, following her parents’ divorce, where she was ‘picked on’ in school for being ‘the weirdo’. But her acting career flourished, and she was soon increasingly employed as the edgy teen in Hurlyburly (1998), A Walk On The Moon (1999) and Almost Famous (2000) – until the role of Rogue in X-Men (2000) redefined her as an action siren. Unfeasibly, though, despite 10 years as a child/teen star, Paquin never became either an unbearable luvvie or actually insane.
‘I had my own priorities, involving doing well at school and also having a job that mattered to me,’ she notes. ‘And, frankly, if I fucked up at school and was a complete monster to be around, my parents wouldn’t have let me continue to work.’
Somewhere during her adolescence, she realised she was bisexual – ‘it’s not like I had an “Oh my God” moment, it’s just part of who I am’ – something not publicly acknowledged, until she aligned herself with the gay rights campaign Give A Damn, in 2010, appearing in an anti-bullying TV ad alongside Elton John and Oprah Winfrey. Does her bisexuality have any bearing on her life now?
‘I am a happily married woman and I married a man,’ she laughs. ‘I don’t think that negates that aspect of my life, but obviously I wouldn’t be with my husband if I didn’t want to be married to a man. Some people find it odd that you can identify with a sexual orientation that is not straight and yet be married to someone of the opposite sex. They’re like “obviously it’s not real if you’re married to a dude”. But that’s not my problem. I’m like, okay, if that’s how you feel, there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just living my life.’
It was HBO that forced Paquin and Moyer together. During the pilot auditions, neither lived in LA (she was living in New York, he in London), so HBO booked them into the same hotel.
They hung out, had dinner every night and, when they returned home, realised they missed each other. Essex-born Moyer is, she says, ‘as English as they come, very polite, very well-mannered. He’s a very nice English husband – and very attractive’.
He’s also a demon on the ukulele. ‘Of all the random things, I’m rather partial to the ukulele,’ she grins. ‘He’s very good, annoyingly, at rather a lot of things.’
Paquin has always been hermetically private and, since going public with her pregnancy news this summer (saying she was ‘incredibly excited’), vowed never to discuss it again, in case something went wrong. She’s equally protective of her step-mum role to Stephen’s two kids from previous relationships, Lilac (10) and Billy (12). ‘Their privacy is sacred to us.’
The imminently expanding family lives in Venice Beach, California. ‘It’s an outdoorsy, life, cruising around on our bikes and skateboards, going to the beach and hitting the farmers’ market.’
She describes 42-year-old Moyer as a ‘super-geek’, but he’s also a creative romantic, having designed her wedding ring himself. What binds them together, ultimately? ‘We’re best friends,’ she decides.
‘If you’re going to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want it to be the person you want to hang out with all the time. We have a lot in common but, when it comes down to it, if that person isn’t really your buddy as well, for me, I don’t think that would work. And we spend all our time together. A lot of people say, “Oh, I could never work with my significant other”, but I love getting to go to work with the person I want to spend all my time with.’
And when you get there, you get to have sex with him! ‘Sometimes we go to work and we’re not actually in any scenes together,’ she cackles. ‘But it’s really nice. It’s like working in the same office building.’
This summer, Paquin turned 30, and watched, amused, as her friends were more aghast than she was. ‘Various friends reacted as if it was end of their youth.’ She’d been rounding her age up to 30 for months anyway, ‘so I wasn’t treated like a kid. I’ve had a full-time job for 21 years and feel like a grown-up, in lots of ways’. She’s typically Kiwi in that, ‘I can’t take a compliment, I cannot accept praise on any level without feeling wildly uncomfortable and totally undeserving’.
But now her gap-toothed smile is almost as iconic as she is. It’s caused, she explains, by her palette being ‘split down the middle – braces wouldn’t fix it’, resulting in a lifelong smile almost identical (as 1960s music fans might know) to the young Ray Davies from the Kinks.
‘Are you telling me I look like a man?’ she hoots. ‘Well, it’s never bothered me. I’ve never understood why people are quite so interested in my teeth. I’m not even someone who smiles that much.’
Her immediate future is dramatically busy: the twins arrive this autumn, and she’s long decided she’ll be a working mum – next January, she begins shooting True Blood season six. ‘Like every other woman with a career, who wants to also have a family, I’ll be getting back to work,’ she nods. ‘I have the luxury of being able to afford the help I need. I consider having a full-time, reliable job a major blessing. You will never catch me complaining about being employed.’
Sometimes Paquin thinks about how accidental her life is, how everything in her adulthood has hinged, randomly, on where she was living at nine years old. ‘I do think about that,’ she admits. ‘A lot of actors have those stories where, if teeny, tiny things had been different, they would never have stumbled into it.’ She tends, philosophically, more towards random universal chaos than predetermined fate.
‘I have a problem with the idea of fate, in that it doesn’t explain when horrible things happen,’ she says. ‘I don’t buy into “It was their time, it was supposed to be”, and I also don’t think I’ve done anything that makes me more deserving of the good things. To a large extent, there’s a lot of dumb luck involved. I stumbled into some wonderful opportunities I could never have planned. But I think what you do with opportunity is not luck. It’s up to the individual, and whether you’re willing to then put the work in. I got very lucky. But I’ve worked very hard.’
She hasn’t, incidentally, ever seriously considered having the best-known tooth gap since Madonna closed through surgery. ‘They’d have to grind my teeth off and start again,’ she shudders and – no doubt thinking of her imminent baby twins – adds, ‘I’m not looking for any self-renovation projects, I have enough going on in my life right now.’