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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.
Among other accolades, Paquin has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her work on the 2007 television film Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and a Golden Globe Award for her work on the 2009 television film The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler.
Paquin was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, the daughter of Mary Paquin (née Brophy), an English teacher and native of Wellington, New Zealand, and Brian Paquin, a high school Physical Education teacher from Canada.
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.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.