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It’s a good thing she’s feeling so at home in Manhattan these days, since the young actress — perhaps the only one for whom winning an Oscar is a sore subject — has become the go-to girl for playing disaffected youth on stage. Paquin made her off-Broadway debut in 2001 as a teenage murderess in Rebecca Gilman’s “The Glory of Living,” and played a drug fiend in Paul Weitz’s “Roulette” earlier this year.
Now, she’s in previews for Neil LaBute’s “The Distance From Here,” a fly-on-the-double-wide look at what happens when kids start having kids, opening at The Duke in Times Square on May 6. Simply uttering the date aloud makes Paquin giggle uncontrollably, throwing her head back, tossing her hair and smiling wide in one smooth take. The play’s subject matter, however, is anything but light.
Paquin stars as a troubled single mother — her wardrobe all leggings, T-shirts and beat-up sneakers — though she can’t imagine being one in real life. “I have two dogs,” she says. “That’s plenty of responsibility.” She can still empathize with her character: a girl looking for love in all the wrong places. “She has trouble differentiating between caretaking love and sexual love,” Paquin says. “Everyone just wants to be loved. This is emotionally treacherous material and it’s hard to navigate.”
Which may explain why the 21-year-old would-be Hollywood ingenue is spending more time away from Tinseltown these days. “I love movies,” says Paquin — who won that trophy at age 11 for “The Piano” and reprised her role as Rogue, the ultrasensitive superhero, last summer in “X2” — “but sometimes the material is better in theater.” (She’s currently reading several movie scripts, but is a signature away from announcing her next project, another play.)