We’re Hangin’ With…..Hayden Christensen

An actor can’t play more different roles than Star Wars’ Anakin Skywalker and tainted journalist Stephen Glass who was fired for making up most of the news stories he created. Hayden Christensen is thrilled for the opportunity. The young, Canadian-born actor started in the biz at age 7 in commercials then appeared in a soap and a t.v. series before landing the coveted Anakin role and receiving SAG and Golden Globe award nominations for his touching turn as a troubled teen in Life as a House. The soft-spoken, thoughtful actor finds satisfaction as a performer in both huge epics and smaller, more character-driven movies like his new film Shattered Glass.
When we sat down to chat with Hayden at L.A.’s posh Mondrian Hotel (where the famous Sky Bar is located), the actor was scruffy-handsome in brown tee and black jacket. His hair is blonde-tinged and longer than we’ve seen it in the past. He spoke about spending some downtime playing tennis and hockey, his fascination and difficulty with the Glass character, his respect for journalists, his joy at having more intense acting opportunities in the new Star Wars film and a role in a new, romantic period movie.

AGW: A lot of teens and young adults are faking reports in school and may carry this behavior out through their lives. So after having played this part, what kind of a message would you have for them?
Hayden: I’m not usually one to give advice. But it’s a danger. You’re going to cut off your nose to spite your face if you start. It might get you the grade, but that’s not what you’re there for, really. That’s the misconception I think. You’re there to get a grade to get into university, and everyone’s sort of got this convoluted idea that sort of has veered away from the fact that you’re [really] there to better yourself. By lying and cheating on a test, you’re really just doing yourself a disservice. Not saying I didn’t do it myself [laughter].

AGW: Did you ever meet with the real Stephen Glass?
Hayden: I never met with him. I never got to speak with him. So my interpretation wasn’t an imitation. I had all of his articles so I had an idea for the kind of storyteller that he was and how colorful his lies were. And I talked a little bit to some of the people that worked with him. He was perceived in the office as being this guy who lacked self-confidence, [always asking] ‘are you mad at me?’ There was a lot of pressure from his family put on him, and they weren’t really so happy with his chosen line of work. I could never speak with him about why he did it, so I had to come to those conclusions on my own.

AGW: Did you do more research on him?
Hayden: I spent some time in different news publications getting a feel for general banter in the pitch meetings and the sense of this ambition to always up yourself from your last one, which was I think really indicative to how Stephen got away with it. Maybe starting off with a very small lie and letting that land on people. Then it was required of him to come up with one that was even more creative and more elaborate.

AGW: Did you watch the interview with him on 60 minutes? And, if so, did it confirm to you that you nailed the part?
Hayden: That was all after we had done the film. But, honestly it was a bit of a sigh of relief. I was somewhat nervous about playing a real person and not getting to meet him. I had a couple of pictures of him that informed how I dressed and how he smiled. There was sort of a distant gaze in his eyes, and that made me think there was something pathological about him, that wasn’t quite right.

AGW: Did you ever feel sorry for him at all?
Hayden: All the time. When you’re playing a character that’s flawed, the first rule is you can’t be judgmental, otherwise you’re playing him with that bias, and you’re projecting onto your character instead of just letting him be. So I was very sympathetic. And that sympathy and that sense of insecurity by the end of the film really got under my skin and I was really eager to be finished with it all. It’s not the most confident place to exist as an actor. You go to work every day wanting to connect with something real and honest, and when your task is to lie through your teeth every day, and still gauge how people are reading this, it’s a little nerve wracking.

AGW: Have you ever told a massive whopper that you got in trouble for?
Hayden: Sure. Not recently. Actors feel like, to a certain extent all actors feel like a con man. We’re always wondering if we’re getting away with it, if people are buying our bull****. That was the insecurity that I let blossom in me to play the role. It’s been a while since I’ve lied. Honesty is important.

AGW: Do you know all the lies being written about you in the tabloids, or do you just ignore that?
Hayden: I catch a bit of it. I find out about people I’m dating. It’s all really amusing. My brother and I were renting this house. The guy who we were renting from wanted to sell it, and we didn’t want to buy it. We were like, ‘that’s all right, we’ll move, find a different place’ and now [I'm reading that] I can’t afford to pay my rent [laughter].

AGW: The real Glass is sort of enjoying the press now. He wanted to be famous for the sake of being famous. Do you feel you are now aiding that?
Hayden: I struggled a bit at the beginning when I was deciding if I wanted to do the film. Putting all of someone’s lies, the worst times in their life and committing that to film for someone to go to a video store and rent whenever they so please. I was like, can I really do this with a good conscience? But then, you need to be held responsible for your actions. I came to the conclusion that there was a large part of Stephen that sought the spotlight, and that’s what motivated him to do all these sort of misdoings. And I think it’s become even more clear when he’s come out with this book now, and he’s doing all this press for his book. I don’t really feel so bad about it.

AGW: Do you have any desire to meet him at this point? Would you dread meeting him?
Hayden: I wouldn’t dread it, I’m not gonna try to make the introduction either. I’ve played the part now, and if I saw him at a party absolutely [I would walk up to him]. The one thing I could never really get around was intent. I never got to ask him why. I’m really curious. I’ve made up my own reasons and then there were opinions floating about. But I don’t really know, and I’m not saying he would give me an honest answer.

AGW: Do you ever think about being a journalist? It’s so competitive. Do you ever see why a journalist might do something like Glass did?
Hayden: Definitely. It’s a difficult line of work to report on something accurately without instilling your own bias. The line between journalism and newsworthy stories and entertainment is sort of getting blurred a little bit, and that’s something obviously that you guys have to compensate for. There’s a fine line. I have a great respect for what you do.

AGW: Okay, the Star Wars questions. Can you talk a little bit about the differences between doing something as small as this and something as large as Star Wars?
Hayden: Day and night. A film like Star Wars, you go and live in your imagination and for three months you’re in fantasyland. Blue screen, a majority of the film is done in entirely blue set. You go to work every day and it’s the exact same environment. It’s almost like Groundhog Day only you’re saying different lines [laughter]. The cameras are in the same place, everyone’s kinda looking at the exact same thing. When you get to do a film like Shattered Glass everything that is going to motivate you, all your stimulus is provided for you. When you’re on a big budget movie that has so many different aspects involved that are digital, the focus is a little scattered at times, and it can often get a little chaotic. They’re each their own demon, and each their own blessing. I think I’ve learned the most from those [Star Wars] films, in all honesty, I do feel very privileged to be a part of it just because there won’t be very many other films made the way they made those.

AGW: How are you dealing with being a part of a huge cult phenomenon? There are thousands of kids with light sabers running around.
Hayden: I get such a kick out of that. When the little ones come up, when you have ten year old kids, nine year old kids that can’t differentiate between Anakin and the actor who’s playing Anakin, then you bring [that] to life. You make their fantasyland tangible, and to be a part of that is a privilege. Star Wars obviously has had quite an impact on popular culture, and to have my name associated with that is …neat.

AGW: Do you have your doll/action figure?
Hayden: Honestly, I do have the doll. They send you one of everything that’s made to do with the film, so you get these boxes every few months. But the dolls are something that will stay in the boxes for a while, because that was like, I’ve got my own action figure, that’s the coolest thing. And the thing doesn’t look anything like me!

AGW: You mentioned that one of the things about doing these films is that they’re so big that sometimes the performance is not the primary focus in making it. Do you feel like the third film, with Anakin’s transformation to Vader will be an exception?
Hayden: I hope so. There’s no question that there was an excitement on this film that wasn’t as prominent on the last. Particularly, George [Lucas]’s approach was much more hands on this time, And just the inherent art of what Anakin’s journey is, is more enthralling than the last [film], and there was more for me to sink my teeth into. And that final transition is one for the books. It’ll be a neat film, definitely.

AGW: What is next for you?
Hayden: I’m gonna do a romantic period fable piece. Early 20th Century. It’s like a bit of an homage to the “Princess Brides” of filmmaking. It’s a Jillian Armstrong film that will go sort of middle of next year. So I still have a bit of time before that starts. I hope to do another film in the interim.

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