After she won an Academy Award in 1994 for her work in "The Piano," at age 11, Anna Paquin could have made any one of several big-budget Hollywood films.
But since then, she's chosen to appear in a dozen movies, most of them low-budget independents like "A Walk on the Moon" and art-house fare like "Jane Eyre."
So perhaps it's a bit surprising that the now 17-year-old actress has turned up in "X-Men," a science-fiction, action-adventure film based on a best-selling comic book series.
"That's a bit misleading," Paquin said during a telephone interview from New York. "People may be expecting this to be a big blockbuster-type film, but it's not."
Instead, she claims the $75 million film is a character- and issue-driven piece that relies on the talents of its ensemble cast more than it does on action sequences and pricey special effects.
"I know that may sound incredibly pretentious but it's true," she said. "That's one of the things that drew me to the project, that and the fact that Bryan Singer was making it. I knew he wouldn't want to make something that was really different from what people were expecting."
Still, Paquin doesn't think fans of the comic will be disappointed. "I don't want it to sound like the film is nothing but dialogue and character interaction. There's a lot of action, too. But the emphasis is on story and character first, which you have to have if you're going to make something really interesting."
Besides working with Singer, the director of "The Usual Suspects" and "Apt Pupil," Paquin admits that she couldn't turn down the opportunity to work with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, two British actors known for their Shakespearean stage work.
"I was a little disappointed because I didn't really get to work with Patrick, and most of the time Ian is menacing me — I don't really get to trade lines with him," she said.
Although she worked with such actors as Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel at a young age, Paquin admits to being a bit daunted by McKellen. And she did resist the temptation to wave her Oscar in front of him. "Oh, heavens no. It wouldn't have been fair of me to do something like that at all," she said with a laugh.
Paquin was also glad to be able to take some of the pressure off Hugh Jackman, the Australian newcomer who plays the film's central character, a clawed Canadian scrapper called Wolverine. (The relationship between their two characters is one of the most integral parts of the film.) "Hugh was nervous at first, I think. But he did a wonderful job and was a joy to work with. I think fans of the comic are really going to enjoy his interpretation of the character."
Speaking of those fans, she claims to have been unaware of the initial furor surrounding her casting by some of them. (The character she plays in the film, energy- and memory-absorbing mutant Rogue, is more of a bombshell in the comic book). "I try not to bring any of that sort of baggage into the film with me. But I hope they'll forgive me for not being what they expected."
In the interest of appeasing some "X-Men" devotees and as a way of getting more in touch with the character, Paquin said she read dozens of "X-Men" comics as research. "That helped a lot for everything except for the Southern accent," said Paquin, who normally speaks with a strong New Zealand accent.
In fact, she said she's now hooked on the comic. "If all comics were as well thought-out as this one is, I'd say they get a pretty bad rap. ('X-Men') manages to address issues that most popular culture wouldn't even dare to broach."
So needless to say, she's rooting for the film's success. "I want it to do well, but my reasons are purely selfish. I'd really like to do another one," said Paquin, who has signed up for a potential sequel.
"Bryan promised I'd get to do some action scenes if that happens."