Flack star Anna Paquin on why she chose to play a crisis-busting celebrity publicist in new show
‘Aren’t you bored of seeing women being held to a completely different standard to men?’ Anna Paquin asks, entirely rhetorically. ‘Aren’t you bored to death of women on television making one bad decision then having to spend three episodes atoning for it? It’s bullshit. It’s an insult to our intelligence,’ she continues, crackling with consternation. ‘All hail the end of that era.’
We’re in a juice café in Venice, Los Angeles, a large block of rose quartz on the table between us, beside glasses of water to which chlorophyll has been enthusiastically added by our waiter (only in LA). Neither of us is as Zen as our surroundings. Paquin, who lives close by and confesses to be a fan of the café’s turmeric shots, nevertheless rolls her eyes at the carefully constructed bohemia of it all. She might have worked in Hollywood for 27 of her 36 years, and won an Oscar at 11, but she remains refreshingly no-nonsense.
“As a teenager I was doing loads of pretty full-on stuff on camera that I’d never done in real life”
Her latest on-screen iteration would no doubt go further, and eschew the turmeric shots in favour of tequila. In the much buzzed-about Flack (beginning this month on W) she plays Robyn, a celebrity publicist specialising in crisis management and keeping her clients’ indiscretions off the front pages with a wily combination of spin and steel. ‘She’s incredibly good at her job and unapologetic about the choices she makes,’ says Paquin.
Some of those choices are bad: having sex with her client — a celebrity chef incapable of staying faithful — and attending Narcotics Anonymous for her boyfriend, while continuing with her cocaine habit. ‘But a lot of them are for reasons you can understand,’ she explains. ‘Under all the gloss, she’s the child of an addict who was mentally unwell and killed herself. She keeps the plates spinning, but she’s ultimately very damaged.’
If that sounds a little bleak, rest assured the London-based show is anything but. Its satire is deeply meta – Robyn’s clients include a prickly, transphobic comedian, played by Alan Davies, and an arrogant, narcissistic actor, played by Bradley Whitford. The storylines, which feel pulled directly from today’s breakneck news cycle, are awash with drinking and drugs and fuelled by spiky, sweary, whip-smart dialogue; Robyn reminds me of a slicker, glossier Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It.
Armando Iannucci’s political comedy was, in fact, one of the reference points for Oliver Lansley, the show’s creator. ‘It’s the same machinations of the dark arts, but in a world that is more glamorous and accessible,’ he tells me. His inspiration for Robyn came initially from the book, Difficult Men, about the rise of the Hollywood antihero, such as Walter White, Tony Soprano and Don Draper.
‘Female protagonists have been apologised for and explained away, in a way that we never do about men,’ he says. ‘I wanted to write a character that could be on the cover of a book called Difficult Women.’
Paquin has been on board since the beginning, not only in the leading role, but also as an executive producer — the show is co-produced by CASM, the production company she has with her actor husband, Stephen Moyer. ‘There are not many jobs in which there’s no way to become more senior at what you do, but that’s the case with acting,’ she points out. ‘It’s like, okay, I’ve been doing this for 27 years — give me more responsibility.’
Born in Canada, Paquin was raised in New Zealand by teacher parents and has the hybrid accent to show for it. A casting call in the local newspaper led her to audition at age nine for The Piano, which won her a best supporting actress Oscar at the age of 11 — the second-youngest person ever. She consequently had her own PR person long before other children knew what one was. ‘As a very shy little girl, having to do press was scary and weird,’ she recalls. ‘I’m sure there are some kids who are very precocious and very chatty — that just wasn’t who I was. My mum hired a publicist to make sure it was as contained and controlled as possible — more like a traffic cop than anything else.’
She continued working through her teens, mainly in edgy, independent films, before joining the X-Men franchise. She met Moyer on the set of HBO’s sexy vampire series True Blood, where, for seven years, he played her vampire lover, Bill. In 2012, she gave birth to their fraternal twins. ‘They were born in the middle of True Blood — it was a zoo,’ she says. ‘If you were Robyn, creating a PR story to be really juicy, actor plus actor plus raunchy show plus wedding plus babies would be it.’
Moyer also has two older teenage children from two previous relationships. Paquin politely declines to go into details about their family dynamic, suffice to say: ‘One of the things I think is really beautiful about blended families is there are more people who love the children. It’s a village and that can only be a good thing.’
While careful to protect the privacy of her family, Paquin is not afraid to compromise her own to speak out. In 2010, a few months before she married Moyer, she came out as bisexual, as part of the Give a Damn campaign to support LGBT equality. She tells me how, in signing up to make a statement in support of the project, the form asked for her name and sexual orientation. ‘I was just like, “Well, I’m not heterosexual, so we’ll cross that out and enter the correct word. I’m not big on labels, but if we must use them, here you go.”’ Her video statement features the actress saying: ‘I’m Anna Paquin. I’m bisexual, and I give a damn.’
‘Everybody in my life knew, it wasn’t like it was some secret… but evidently, I crashed the website,’ she grins. Much of the speaking out in Hollywood over the past 18 months, of course, has involved the #MeToo movement. One concrete change it has already brought to Paquin’s working life is the addition of an intimacy co-ordinator, to protect actors in scenes involving nudity or sexual content. For Paquin, who is currently filming the fifth and final season of The Affair, it was the first time working with one.
‘I worked on HBO for years and years and everyone gets their tits out,’ she shrugs. ‘And before that, as a teenager, I was doing loads of pretty full-on stuff on camera that I’d never done in real life. I can look after myself, but how wonderful that there’s going to be a generation of actors who go through that with some support.’
Her role in The Affair, playing Joanie Lockhart, Alison and Cole’s now-grown-up daughter, appealed largely because it now films in Los Angeles. ‘The kids started proper school last September and we’re not looking to be uprooting them any more,’ she says. ‘Maybe there’ll be some really exciting jobs that I might not get to do, but I’m going to have kids who know they are the top priority and I don’t think you can trade that.’ But that, of course, is where producing one’s own material comes in. ‘Controlling your own destiny,’ she nods. ‘I know it’s a wanky expression but it’s totally true.’
Moyer has also directed a film they produced together, The Parting Glass — is that something she’d like to have a go at, too? ‘Oh, absolutely, I just haven’t found what I want to direct yet,’ she enthuses. ‘And it’s a very long time commitment. I’m sure there are people who are comfortable handing things to other people. But if it’s mine, my footprints and handprints will be all over it.’
‘Flack’ premieres on the W channel (available on TV packages including Sky and BT) on Thursday 21 Feb at 10pm