The first films that Anna Paquin and Keisha Castle-Hughes appeared in have left lingering memories in my mind. “Whale Rider” was uplifting and inspirational while I remember “The Piano” as being one of the bleakest films I have ever suffered through.

In the years since these films were released, Keisha and Anna’s careers have taken remarkably similar paths. Both have become international TV stars appearing respectively in two of the most successful TV series in recent times.


In the 1990s, I was living in London and my English flatmates had been to see a Kiwi film and told me how much they had enjoyed it. I was not a fan of New Zealand films as they had mostly been badly acted with poor scripts and depressing stories. However, after convincing me “Whale Rider” had an entertaining story and the girl playing the lead was great, I decided to make a trip to the West End and see it for myself. I was surprised. The story was uplifting and was executed in a professional way that I’d not seen in a Kiwi film before. I was particularly impressed with the convincing performance from Keisha’s Castle-Hughes as she attempts to break from Maori tradition and become the first female tribal leader. The 13 year old’s performance in the 2002 film impressed the critics so much that Keisha was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. This made her the youngest actress ever to be nominated for this award. It was another 10 years before her record was broken by a nine year old in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”.

Keisha was actually born in Western Australia 27 years ago but her Maori mother brought her to New Zealand when she was four. Since then, she has become a naturalized New Zealander. After her international success in “Whale Rider” Keisha appeared in the Prince music video “Cinnamon Girl” which caused much controversy in the USA after the Kiwi actress played a Muslim girl who dreams of blowing up an airport. It was described by American media as the most tasteless video ever made. Check it out here and make your own decision.

I guess all publicity is good publicity because Keisha next appeared in “Star Wars: Episode 111- Revenge of the Sith”. In 2006, her performance as Mary in “The Nativity Story” drew a lot of praise for the way she handled the delicate job of playing the most revered female in Christianity. If nothing else, Keisha was definitely choosing controversial characters to portray as her career continued to make headlines.

Over the next few years, Keisha appeared in 10 screen productions including the 2011 Japanese horror film, “Vampire” before hitting the headlines again as Obara Sand, the formidable warrior in the hugely successful “Game of Thrones”

Like many other young performers, Keisha’s life has not been all roses. She has had booze issues and also suffered from depression and eating disorders, largely brought on by the pressures put on performers to appear at promotional events and to always appear smiley in public. With her recent marriage, Keisha is more at peace with life. Her next performance is in “Thank You for Your Service”. In this American film, she plays a mother dealing with post traumatic stress after her son returns from service in Iraq. She certainly chooses meaty roles to play!

Keisha chats about her role in “Game of Thrones” in this clip:


Anna Paquin has followed a remarkably similar path to Keisha. She was also born out of New Zealand (in Canada) and like Keisha, moved to New Zealand with her Kiwi mother when she was four. She was educated in New Zealand and again, like Keisha, she moved to the USA as a young woman.

In 1992, young Anna was one of 5000 who auditioned for the New Zealand film “The Piano”. Although I found it an unrelentingly depressing, bleak, dark, anti-male film, the critics liked it and “The Piano” was awarded a Palme D’Or at Cannes. In 1994, the 11 year old Anna won Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards for her performance.  She was the second youngest actress to win the award.

In 1996, Anna Paquin got her American break when she played the young Jane in “Jane Eyre” This international co-production directed by renowned Italian director Franco Ziffirelli also starred William Hurt and Joan Plowright so young Anna was in top company with the cast of this landmark film. The following year, Steven Spielburg directed Anna in his historic epic “Amistad” It had to be a good title to have on her CV and established the young actress as an international celebrity.

After “Amistad” Anna was offered numerous scripts and has since appeared in 28 American films including a major role in the 2000 Hollywood hit “X-Men” as Rogue/Marie. She has repeated this role in the two “X-Men” sequels. Apart from all this work, Anna has acted in 10 stage productions and 10 TV shows. Again, like Keisha, she was lucky to land a major role in a huge international TV hit when she played Sookie Stackhouse in 80 episodes of “True Blood” between 2008 and 2014. This role has established her as a truly successful international screen star.

Doing research for this blog, I had to wonder why Keisha and Anna, who were both born outside New Zealand and moved to the USA as young women, are  referred to as “New Zealand actors”. I decided it is because both have kiwi mothers and both were given their acting breaks in New Zealand films. It is also nice to know they still publically refer to themselves as Kiwi performers.

Anna talks about life after “True Blood” in this interview clip:

Anna’s latest project is a Martin Scorsese film “The Irishman”. She will star with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Not bad for co-stars!! After winning the role, she posted on social media: “Fine line between crazy excited and insanely nervous #workingwithidols.”


As I’ve already mentioned, in my opinion, New Zealand films have historically been pretty awful with bad scripts, wooden acting and poor direction however, with Kiwi directors now among the best in the world, (Peter Jackson, Roger Donaldson, Taika Waititi and Andrew Adamson) the standard of local films has improved dramatically. New talent is continually being introduced in these films so it will just be a matter of time before another young actor wins an award and becomes an international screen star.

Ceidrik Heward


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