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Anna Paquin on Gay Rights, an ‘X-Men’ Return, and Her New Film ‘Tell It to the Bees’

Tell It to the Bees” may be set in a small British village in the late 1940s, but it deals with issues that are still stubbornly topical. The drama about two women (Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger) who are drawn together and then ostracized by their local community touches on issues such as LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedoms.

That’s part of what attracted Paquin to the indie drama, which will screen at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. In “Tell It to the Bees,” Paquin plays a doctor named Jean who falls in love with Lydia, a struggling single mother (Grainger) and invites her and her young son Charlie to live in her home. Their friendship quickly becomes a source of controversy. Paquin spoke with Variety about making the low-budget drama, the #MeToo movement, and whether or not she’ll reprise her role as Rogue in the X-Men franchise.

What interested you about the project?

The complexity of the relationship of Lydia and Jean and Charlie and having the chance to explore what I think is still a hot topic. The film is set in a period when being part of the LGBT community was unacceptable. One of the things it highlights is how much stigma and lack of understanding there was. We’ve still got a long way to go in that movement, but it was exciting to see the origins of the push by people to say we’re proud and we’re not going to hide in a corner.

What’s at the root of the relationship between Lydia and Jean?

Neither one fits into a mold. They both live in this small town and they feel trapped by that, but they have an instant humorous and lighthearted friendship. Their relationship isn’t just sexual. It’s about finding a human connection.

“Tell It to the Bees” is directed by a female filmmaker, Annabel Jankel. Given that this is the story of two women’s sexual relationship, were you glad to see it handled by a female director? Would it have been different if a man directed it?

As an actress I’m attracted to good material and to talented filmmakers, whether they’re male or female. I’m always happy to see more women behind the camera and it’s upsetting to think that 10 years ago the best person for a job might have been overlooked because of their gender.

But the notion of “the male gaze” is unfair to lots of incredibly talented male filmmakers who are respectful and not looking to be exploitative unless it was on something like “True Blood,” which was blatant sexual exploitation. That’s what it was supposed to be and that was what it was at its finest. Personally, I’m not going to do things on camera unless they feel right to me and it doesn’t matter the gender of the director.

The movie isn’t just about gay rights. It also dramatizes a dangerous illegal abortion. At a time when many fear that Roe v. Wade may be overturned, did you want to make people think about the consequences of having abortion rights go away?

Absolutely. It’s depressing how timely this is. I am very openly pro-choice. What this film shows is that making abortions illegal is not going to stop them. It’s going to make them less safe. Women will make desperate choices and they may end up dying.

Would you ever do another X-Men film?

If there was a way that it made sense for my character to be in the world, of course. I feel like that’s my film family, because I’ve been making those movies since I was 16. But there’s been so many spinoffs and reboots and TV shows, so I’m not sure where Rogue or the other original characters fit into the current plotlines, so it’s probably not going to happen.

Over the past year, women in the film industry have been speaking up about sexual harassment and abuse in the business. Where would you like to see that movement go from here?

It’s been so validating to see all these amazing women stand up and use their voices to encourage change. I hope that we create more stories and make more movies with women at the center of things. We need to stop only being offered the boring wife or girlfriend roles.

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