"Why? Why? Why haven't you called Jo?"
Those seven words are the sum of Anna Paquin's lines in Martin Scorsese's latest mafia opus The Irishman. The Oscar-winning actress speaks just one line that totals seven words in the three-and-a-half--hour-long film, and appears on screen for about 10 minutes—but it seems she and co-star Robert De Niro don't see any problem with that. To quote the film, it is what it is (only this time it doesn't signal anyone's about to get whacked).
Paquin plays Peggy Sheeran, daughter of De Niro's real-life mafia hitman and union head Frank Sheeran. The character internally wrestles with her father's frightening temper, moral bankruptcy, and devious employment, and I say internally because, as noted, she never says much of anything. The entirety of her performance is reliant on anxious stares, knowing glances, and angered brush-offs, though she does an excellent job at saying a lot with almost nothing.
As one of the key characters in the film, and one of the few women, many criticized her lack of dialogue and presence in the hours-long epic. In a November interview on The Director's Cut podcast, director Spike Lee chats with Scorsese about the film. When the subject of Paquin's role came up, Scorsese told Lee "I kept asking [screenwriter] Steve Zaillian if we could layer her in the story. I decided that she doesn’t have to say anything." He added, "'She has one line in the film. There’s something you can’t talk about. She knows it. She knows who he is. He knows she knows."
Paquin, however, has never seen an issue with the few words she speaks in the film. In October, during the UK premiere of the film, she told the Daily Mail that she believes "a lot can be said without words," noting that Peggy's lack of dialogue is a character choice that speaks to her relationship with her father.
"I think sometimes a look is worth a thousand words and the internalized judgement that she has passed on her father is not something that she would be able to verbalize, not at that stage of her life. She'd need 20 years of therapy to be able to explain to him why he was a problematic parent. But it was really interesting, it was a bit of a challenge but one that was incredibly exciting for me," she said.
De Niro also defended Scorsese's choice, telling USA Today, "She was very powerful and that’s what it was. Maybe in other scenes there could’ve been some interaction between Frank and her possibly, but that’s how it was done. She’s terrific and it resonates.”
Paquin further defended her lack of screen time in the film on Twitter. In response to tweets of a Daily Mail article around the backlash, she tweeted "Nope, nobody was doing any 'ordering'. I auditioned for the privilege of joining the incredible cast of .@TheIrishmanFilm and I’m incredibly proud to get to be a part of this film."
So it seems she's fine with it, even if others aren't. It is what it is.