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'Fly Away Home' star is take-charge teen Update: 14-year-old Anna Paquin, who won an Oscar for her role in 'The Piano,' is in charge of herself -- and her career.

Shooing her father outside and closing the door behind him, Anna Paquin is just a normal teen-ager looking for a little privacy.

"I don't need anybody to hold my hand," she says.

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There's no trace of the tongue-tied little girl from New Zealand gasping for breath at the podium three years ago after winning an Academy Award for "The Piano."

"Oh, I look pretty much the same, except for my hair," she deadpans, proud of the hip, short blocky style that has replaced traditional flowing girlish locks.

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Except for her cherub's face, she couldn't look more different, wearing a tight, all-black outfit and Adidas sneakers fit for a downtown fashion model lounging between shoots in New York -- overwhelmingly innocent, yet still betraying a hint of danger.

At 14, she's far from being all grown up. Within minutes she's twirling her swivel chair like a merry-go-round, making faces at silly questions and giggling at the dumb ones, then leaning forward to whisper conspiratorially when one hits a nerve.

Her answers are littered with teen-speak, rapid-fire thoughts punctuated with "like," "totally," "you know" and "Oh, my God." Still, she's incredibly self-possessed, with the refreshing openness and honesty of a natural talent. Apparently someone forgot to tell her she's going through her awkward years.

In the United States for the opening of "Fly Away Home," a charming tale of a girl's devotion to an adopted flock of Canadian geese, Paquin is enjoying a break from her "normal" life in Wellington, where she goes to public school and attends to household chores like anyone else her age.

"If I haven't done my homework I'm still going to get detention like the rest of the kids," she says. "At home, it's not, like, if there's dishes to be done they say, 'Oh no, Anna, you can go relax in your room. You don't have to.' Of course I have to do it."

The only unusual treatment she gets is occasional, fame-related schoolyard venom.

"If there's something in the newspaper or something, they'll try and sort of make it, even if there was a nice picture, they'll come up and say, 'Your hair looked way better when you didn't do it that way,' " she says. "They'll try and be mean about it, so that they can, I don't know, put you down or something.

"Or maybe people will come up to you and ask totally nosy questions that you would never ask somebody that you don't know. And then they'll go around calling you a snob if you don't tell them how much money you make, or something like that."

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Still, she's far from defenseless.

Loyal friends

"That kind of thing can be hard and I've gotten used to it. I've also got lots of good friends I've had since before any of this ever happened, so we just stick together," she says. "They stick up for me whenever anybody is being a pain about something."

Being normal means normal teen-age rebellion, or at least attempts at it. During filming of "Fly Away Home" outside Toronto, Paquin gave it a try by pretending to get her nose pierced.

"I went to this old funky jewelry store and found this little clip-on nose ring. I was with a friend who knew the shopkeeper and he gave us each one," she says, head bent, whispering, suppressing giggles. "We thought, 'OK, this is going to be cool. Let's see how many people we can scare.' So first we, like, totally terrified her mother.

"I decided I would wear it onto set, leave it on and see how many people noticed. And so we were just about to shoot and [director] Carroll [Ballard] said, 'Anna, what is that thing on your nose?' And I said, 'What does it look like?' He said, 'I know you didn't put a hole in your nose. You're not quite that stupid. How is it attached?'

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"Uhhh," she moans, making a fist and pounding the table. "Like, no one freaked out at all. I was expecting somebody to say, 'Oh my God, she's gone and pierced her nose.' Totally nonresponse. Then Carroll said, 'I like that. Let's use it.' And I'm like, you're

supposed to freak, not say, 'I want to use it in the next shot.' "

She wore it throughout the final part of the film, the ring becoming a symbol of her character's personal growth and her renewed bond with a previously estranged father.

"It was my idea," Paquin says simply, happy with the progress of her own personal life. She can't yet boast a real pierced nostril, but things are coming along nicely.

"I was getting kind of sick of people coming up and saying, 'Oh, you're that sweet little girl from 'The Piano,' " she says, putting her feet up on the table. "I got really tired of braids and little girl clothes. I was getting worried that I was going to keep getting that until I was 90."

Paquin, the beneficiary of astounding circumstances, is on intimate terms with fate, with accidental synergy. The most amazing example is how she landed the Oscar-winning role in "The Piano" without really meaning to.

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"Zero," she says of her previous acting experience. "It was an open-call audition. Someone I knew saw an ad and they started talking about it. I thought there were probably a lot of people going, and, well, maybe I'd come along too. I just thought it might be fun. I didn't know exactly what we were going to. I didn't even know what acting was.

"They were older kids and I, kind of, in the younger kid syndrome, said 'I want to come, too.' Didn't care where they were going. It was more the point that I got to come. But then, of course, I got the part. I guess it is just my fate. I stumbled into a perfect situation."

The secret of her success, she says, is never trying to find the secret.

"I just do it. I don't know how or why it is that what I do works, or whatever, even if it does work," she says, shy for the first time. "If you think about things too much, you know, it's all going to go to your head. You're going to think, 'Am I doing it right?' and it's all going to go wrong."

Act of faith

Life remains very uncomplicated and being an actor is an act of faith.

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"I like acting and I want to do it heaps more," she says. "But not all child actors get to be adult actors. I know that."

Being an Oscar-winner has its privileges.

She insists on having the final say on any career moves.

"If I don't want to do it, I don't do it." she says. "I get a lot of advice, but ultimately, it's up to me."

After "The Piano," she co-starred in "Jane Eyre." She recently finished her fourth film, "Member of the Wedding," with Alfre Woodard, for the USA cable TV network.

Beyond that is anyone's guess. All Paquin knows is that she isn't afraid of success spoiling her leisurely waltz toward womanhood.

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"You can't actually change the amount of time it takes to grow up," she says wisely. "You never really know if I was going to grow up quicker or slower without the acting, or the Oscar, you know. I'm growing up normally."

OK. Now define normal.

Pub Date: 9/15/96



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