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She studied at Columbia University for one year but has since been on a leave of absence to continue her acting career.Director Jane Campion was looking for a little girl to play a main role in The Piano, set to film in New Zealand, and a newspaper advertisement was run announcing an open audition.Paquin has two older siblings: Andrew (born 1977), a director, and Katya (born 1980), Paquin's family moved to New Zealand when she was four.

Paquin played the lead role of Sookie Stackhouse in the HBO vampire drama television series True Blood (2008–2014).

For her performance in the series, Paquin won the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama in 2009 and was nominated for an additional Golden Globe Award in 2010, as well as three Saturn Awards and a Screen Actors Guild Award in 2010.

The film is made by Paquin Films, a production company formed by her and her brother, Andrew Paquin.

In November 2006, she completed the film Margaret, which was released in 2011.

Paquin was a successful child actress, receiving multiple Young Artist Award nominations for her roles in Fly Away Home (1996), The Member of the Wedding (1997), and A Walk on the Moon (1999), and was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture for appearing in Cameron Crowe's comedy-drama film Almost Famous (2000).

She played mutant superheroine Rogue in multiple films of the X-Men franchise and was nominated for a Saturn Award for her performance in the first installment.

She also participated in gymnastics, ballet, swimming and downhill skiing, though she did not have any hobbies related to acting. Having begun her secondary education in Wellington at Wellington Girls' College, she completed her high school diploma at Windward School in Los Angeles, after moving to the U. with her mother following her parents' divorce (1995).

She graduated from Windward School in June 2000 and completed the school's Community Service requirement by working in a soup kitchen and at a Special Education Centre.

When The Piano was released in 1993 it was lauded by critics, won prizes at a number of film festivals, and eventually became a popular film among a wide audience.

Paquin's debut performance in the film earned her the 1993 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress at the age of 11, making her the second-youngest Oscar winner in history, behind Tatum O'Neal.

On 1 April 2010, Paquin came out as bisexual in a public service announcement for the Give a Damn campaign as part of the True Colours Fund, an advocacy group organized by Cyndi Lauper dedicated to LGBT equality.

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