When IT comes to on-screen romances, Anna Paquin has found that true love hurts. It can even be deadly.
In the "X-Men" franchise, Paquin played Rogue, a mutant superhero who absorbed the life force of anyone she touched -- a condition that made just holding hands a lethal proposition. And now in HBO's new drama "True Blood," which premieres Sunday, the 26-year-old actress stars as the plucky, upbeat Sookie Stackhouse, a virginal waitress who has a potentially fatal attraction to a mysterious, brooding vampire (Stephen Moyer).
It's not that Paquin, who at 11 surprised Hollywood by winning a supporting actress Oscar for the "The Piano," has an appetite for playing heroines with troubled love lives. It's simply that her new role fits with her desire for complex dramatic characters that swim outside the mainstream.
"I only want to go where the material is interesting," Paquin said, in town at the Four Seasons Hotel last week to promote the series. "This was just a perfect situation where the quality was so high that it was an easy decision. Sookie is very complex, and the whole show just clicked with my sensibilities."
With its healthy doses of southern-fried Goth, kinky sex and, of course, blood, the HBO series, based on "The Southern Vampire Mysteries" by Charlaine Harris, represents one of Paquin's most unusual project choices. Barefoot in a colorful summer skirt, the petite actress said she wasn't terribly concerned about the series' moments of intense sex and violence.
"I don't really care about that," she said. "People need to lighten up."
She took the central role as well to work with series creator and executive producer Alan Ball, who also created HBO's hit "Six Feet Under."
"Getting to work with Alan is the most exciting part of this," Paquin said. "What he does appeals to me so much, it's so funny and dark and beautiful all at the same time."
Ball said he was initially surprised when Paquin wanted to be in "True Blood."
"She came and read the role, and was absolutely phenomenal," he said. "She brings a real vulnerability to Sookie. You get the sense that this is a woman who has always been able to read the thoughts of others, and that this has been a real burden for her. It's also made her strong, but has set her apart from everyone."
Paquin said she has been so consumed with working on "True Blood" for the last year that she's hasn't had time to think about other projects. She did, however, produce a film, called "Blue State," with her brother last year.
As the Hollywood cliche goes, she said she'd like to try directing. But she knows whenever she goes she'll always carry "The Piano" with her. Sometimes, for the better. At others, it seems for the worse.
"I was lucky in the way I started my career," she said. "It allowed me to cut the line a little bit." She called the Oscar "an incredible piece of luck."
After her Oscar, Paquin avoided the youth-flavored romantic comedies and horror movies favored by her peers. She gravitated toward more offbeat fare such as "Almost Famous," "Finding Forrester" and "Hurlyburly." Last year, she was nominated for a supporting actress Emmy for HBO's film "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."
Still, she added: "I don't know when acting came to be more about awards than about the work. Judging who's better than the other person shouldn't be part of why we're doing this job. It should be about entertaining people."
Paquin saw "The Piano" in its entirety for the first time only in the last few years. Her agent sent her a copy.
"I have no objectivity about it," she said of the film that came out 15 years ago. "I hope that's not the biggest thing that ever happens to me."