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Anna Paquin as Peggy Sheeran in the Irishman

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is three and a half hours. So one would imagine all the actors would be given a lot to say, right? Except Anna Paquin only says seven words in the entire movie as the daughter of the titular “Irishman," Robert De Niro’s Frank Sheeran. It’s been a subject of controversy since the release of the 10-time Academy Award nominated Netflix film. Now, the director has touched upon why Paquin was chosen for the role. In Scorsese’s words:

There is guidance on the set, but mostly it’s in preparing and in the casting. For example, I wanted Anna Paquin to play Peggy. She has maybe one line, but I knew she could make it work; with the look in her eyes and the body language, she tells so much. I do preparation with the actors, but part of the enjoyment is seeing what they bring. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great men and women.

The Oscar-winning actress’ role in The Irishman has stirred controversy about being perhaps underutilized, but Martin Scorsese explains that he cast her because he knew could pull off the role with little to say. He worked with Anna Paquin a lot to communicate the emotion of her character through body language and eye contact.

Martin Scorsese also talked about how balanced the playing field is between men and women in Oscar-nominated roles. Here’s what he said to Variety:

If you look at the Academy as a yardstick, the number of women who’ve gotten nominations in my films is about equal to the men.

If you don’t count repeated Oscar nomination from the likes of Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Joe Pesci, the performance Oscar nominations between men and women in Martin Scorsese’s films are neck and neck. Cate Blanchett’s role in The Aviator, Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, and Sharon Stone in Casino are just a few of the female recognition brought upon by Scorsese’s direction.

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But, seven words is seven words. And it’s tough to argue that Anna Paquin didn’t deserve better. Maybe if Peggy was played by a less-established actress we wouldn't be having this conversation. When Robert De Niro was asked about his on-screen daughter’s lack of dialogue, he said there could have been more but said the performance she had was “terrific and it resonates."

When The Irishman cast introduced their movie at the SAG Awards, the controversy resurfaced the moment Anna Paquin went on stage with some of the cast to talk about the movie. Here was the general reaction among viewers:

Yep, not tough to beat seven words. But, here’s how Anna Paquin sees it:

I auditioned for the privilege of joining the incredible cast of The Irishman and I'm incredibly proud to get to be a part of this film.

Despite her short amount of dialogue, the actress has still been praised for her performance. Her role as Peggy Sheeran has been called the “heart” of the Oscar-nominated drama. The movie is packed with talent between Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Ramano, Harvey Keitel, and Jesse Plemons. The Irishman is streaming on Netflix right now.

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