Not so long ago, Anna Paquin fretted she might have a career confined by a corset.
“For the first couple of years of my career, I thought I would be doing corset movies the rest of my life,” says Paquin, 24, whose credits include period pieces like “The Piano,” “Jane Eyre” and now HBO’s “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee,” which premieres Sunday
But time and puberty took away some of her fears.
“The best thing about growing up on film is that you can’t do the same (roles) over and over because you are always (growing physically),” she says.
In “Wounded Knee,” Paquin plays progressive frontier teacher Elaine Goodale. She shares more than a passing acquaintance with the character. Goodale was a published poet by age 11, a noted journalist and an activist for educating Indians in the later part of the 19th century.
Born in Canada and raised in New Zealand, Paquin also had a career launched by 11, when she became the second youngest actor to win an Oscar. She won it for her role as Holly Hunter’s daughter in 1993′s “The Piano.” She followed that with “Jane Eyre.”
Though she’s still known for her serious period pieces, Paquin has tried to come of age. More recently, she has starred in the “X-Men” movies as the mutant named Rogue.
She’s regarded as one of Hollywood’s “good girls,” rarely mentioned in scandalous headlines, and not known for late-night partying. In those terms, she has no desire to be like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears.
“That’s not really a lifestyle I covet,” she says. “I don’t need to be photographed all the time. I’m not a fan of it.
She’ll spend many weekends catching up on scripts or preparing for Monday’s work schedule. The darkness of “Wounded Knee” drew her to the script.
“I hadn’t actually read the book. I grew up in New Zealand, where we have our own tragedies,” she says, “but I knew of the story, and I really, really, really wanted to be a part of telling this story … I don’t think enough people actually know what happened back then.”
“Wounded Knee” details the story after Custer’s last stand. The U.S. government struggles to deal with the “Indian problem.” Reservations are established and a clash of cultures emerges.
Paquin plays Goodale as a woman thirsting for knowledge and enlightened for her time. She falls for Charles Eastman, an Indian taken from his tribe, educated and assimilated into the white man’s culture.
They are trapped between two agendas — a government expanding its northern borders and the natives who claim the land.
“There’s nothing that can undo that degree of sadness,” she says. “We are really, truly telling their story. There is something gut-wrenching about telling that kind of story.”