After winning the Oscar for best supporting actress for The Piano at age 11, Anna Paquin could have gone the way of many child stars. Instead she built a career out of interesting, offbeat choices—ranging from blockbusters (the X-Men franchise) to smart independent films (The Squid and the Whale). But perhaps her most complex role since winning that statuette was not on the big screen but in HBO's epic TV movie Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
In this adaptation of Dee Brown's seminal 1970 book based on the history of Native Americans in late 19th-century America, Paquin stars as a schoolteacher and advocate for Native Americans who falls in love with a Dartmouth-educated Sioux doctor. In these early scenes, Paquin beautifully captures the excitement of young love, with all its possibilities. As she is accepted by the Sioux people on the reservation and works to improve their lives, we witness her determination and steely resolve. We then watch as this is slowly chipped away as she begins to realize they are fighting a losing battle.
It's grueling stuff—in an interview with New York magazine, Paquin called the book "the most depressing 500 pages of English words I've ever read. It's unthinkable that that actually happened. I mean, you can't wipe people out in that kind of numbers and dismantle a culture so completely and expect everything to be okay." Paquin also revealed her commitment to the role, for which she learned to speak Lakota, the Sioux language: "I was like, 'If I'm going to speak this language that a very small number of people understand, then damn it, I'm going to do it right.' " It would seem her fellow actors believe she got it right, indeed.
For this role, Anna Paquin was nominated for an Emmy and is nominated for a Golden Globe. She was nominated for a SAG Award as a member of the "Almost Famous" ensemble in 2001.