Christensen on His “Star Wars” Experience and Transforming Into Darth Vader

On October 6th, 2005 Hayden Christensen made his way to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch just outside of Oakland, CA for a special day of visiting with the press in support of the November 1st release of the “Star Wars Episode III” on DVD. Looking relaxed and a little less bulked up than he was in “Episode III,” Christensen settled back in a comfy chair to field questions about playing Anakin Skywalker and taking a walk on the dark side as Darth Vader:
Hayden Christensen on Getting in Touch With His Dark Side: “Well, as an actor, I usually try to keep my motivation in the context of what my character is going through. So I don’t think of my dog that died when I was 8 years old and how that made me feel. I try to stay within the psychology of Anakin. It was really just letting his frustration seep in and how that would affect me.”

Hayden Christensen on Reining It in for “Episode II:” “It was challenging, honestly it was, because you are cast as this character that is the connective tissue to someone who represents all that is evil and so your natural instinct is to try to take him there. And George [Lucas] was constantly asking me to pull back from that and to make him someone who is struggling and someone who allows his frustrations to present themselves in ways that aren’t necessarily perceived as evil but may be in other ways. And to keep it at that and to not really show any sort of a character arc in ‘Episode II’ because it was more about who he was at that time in his life.

‘Episode III’ was about changing him and making him evolve into Darth, which was why I was very excited to get to ‘Episode III’ to finally get to do that. Which was something that I sort of built up in my head for so long.”

Hayden Christensen on His Approach to the Pivotal Moments in “Episode III:” “With great joy and glee. It came very easily because I just thought about it so much already. It was just an eventuality for me, you know? It was orgasmic (laughing). I don’t know. It was amazing. I was waiting and waiting and waiting and finally I got to take him to the dark side.”

Hayden Christensen on Convincing George Lucas to Let Him Wear the Darth Vader Suit: “I just very politely asked if it was possible. And George and Rick - and the kind of people that they are - allowed me that privilege. I just said, ‘Listen, I’ve read the script. Now I know he’s going to make an appearance at the end.’ And I think they were already in the process of meeting with basketball players and really tall people to do that job. I just said, ‘I don’t know if you guys can even make this happen but it would be really great for me if I could actually put the suit on.’”

On How It Felt to Become Darth Vader: “It was indescribable, you know? It was one) a completion of a job. And then my sort of five year journey was over coupled with the fact that it was just this incredibly powerful feeling, this beastly feeling that wells up inside of you when you’re playing a character that is Darth. You walk by and people see Darth and you know you watch the reactions on their faces. The days that Darth came out was quite the event on set. Everyone wanted to see what was going on. It was a one of a kind experience.”

It may have been a great experience to slip into the suit but the actual costume itself was anything but fun to wear. Christensen said it was really heavy and the logistics of actually being inside the suit weren’t that great. “It was very hot. They tried to make some air conditioning apparatus that didn’t work. It was just very claustrophobic and your vision is very limited. And as well they had to compensate for the height difference so they put these big lifts in the shoes so it was like walking around with, you know, 20 pound weights on your shoulders in high heeled shoes. (Laughing) Not that I practiced that way, but it was something like that,” explained Christensen.

Hayden Christensen Shares His Opinion of the Relationship Between Padme and Anakin: “I really like it in that it’s what drives him to commit these horrible acts. He’s doing it for, he thinks, the good of his love. Obviously she doesn’t see it that way so the relationship goes south. But no, I mean that’s what sort of makes it all hit home, I think for me and most audiences. That transformation is something that is driven by love, which is something that I like.”

Hayden Christensen on Anakin Skywalker: Asked if Anakin is a mask, Christensen said that’s not how he played him. “No, that was just who Anakin was. He’s sort of this un-emotive kid who has a hard time with his emotions. You know, there’s a lot obviously boiling under the surface, stuff that shouldn’t be there, so he’s very hesitant to show it. That’s just how I saw it.”
Hayden Christensen on Learning from the Veteran Actors on the Set of “Star Wars:” “I think I learned the most - from all the actors I’ve worked with - from Ian [McDiarmid], not because he’s here, but because it was just an eye-opening experience getting to sit in that opera scene with him and listen to him tell that story and watch the subtly and still everything that he’s able to convey within that subtly.
I’d just sit there and shake my head and [be] like, ‘Ohhh, I’m not supposed to be shaking my head. Whoops.’ He’s such a kind man and is willing to share his wisdom and help you when you ask for it. So, you know, I learned an awful lot.”
On Which was More Difficult - Preparing Mentally or Physically for “Star Wars Episode III:” “It was the physical preparation which was probably the most challenging. George asked me beforehand to put on some size – which I’ve since lost. But he wanted me to bulk up and to physically show the maturity that had taken place between the two films. And I did that over about a 3 month period before we started filming. That was just a very grueling schedule. Actually getting to execute it on set was just good fun. And working with Ian wasn’t really so much challenging as it was rewarding and easy, because it’s very easy when you’re acting with actors who give a lot and are as good as he is.”

Hayden Christensen on Seeing Kids Dressed as Anakin and Darth Vader: “Now I’ve got two characters that people can dress up as. I don’t know. I was expecting a different reaction, to be honest. Kids still are enamored with this hero and I would have thought it would have changed now they saw Anakin [change], and maybe they would have been a little shy at first. But it really hasn’t changed anything. If anything, they’re just more drawn to him.

I still get little kids coming up to me wanting lightsaber training and I play along with it. I love it. But at Halloween…I sit home at Halloween now. I don’t go out. But when my mom calls me that there’s someone dressed up as Anakin, I’ll go to the door and give them their candy, which is fun.”

Hayden Christensen on How He Feels About His Involvement in the “Star Wars” Franchise: Some actors distance themselves from their “Star Wars” experiences while others wholeheartedly embrace it. In the years to come, how does Christensen think he’ll feel about his time spent working on the “Star Wars” saga? “It will always be very dear to my heart, without question. This has been like a wild ride for the past five years and, you know, has just dramatically impacted my life, 90% for the better. I don’t know. I cherish that and feel forever indebted to George for giving me the opportunity,” said Christensen.

Speaking about actors from past “Star Wars” films, Christensen said that although they may have appeared together in Vanity Fair, the older cast and the newer version weren’t actually together for that photo shoot. Christensen said, “That’s the magic of the computers they use. …Our shoot was on our day off and everyone who was working on ‘Episode III’ was obviously there, but Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford and that lot were not there. Through the magic of technology they were in the picture.”

Hayden Christensen on Becoming an Action Figure: Christensen said one of the attractions to signing on to “Star Wars Episode II” and “III” was the fact he’d become an action figure. “It was exactly that. The fact that I was going to have my own action figure. I was going to get to play myself in a video game and how cool was that? I mean, I personally have an older brother who was a fanatic and had all the action figures and memorabilia and so I was very aware of the merchandising aspect of being involved in these films, and at the time was very excited about it. Now you know you can walk into a convenience store and see your face everywhere when the film is out – it’s a different story.”

Hayden Christensen’s Involvement in the Video Game: “It was just sort of good fun. They invited me up for a couple of days to help sort of shape the character in the video game. It was a fun group of guys all very excited that they make video games. And Nick Gillard, the fellow who choreographs the fights, came out as well. We just, you know, fought with lightsabers for a couple of days and it was fun.”

Hayden Christensen on the Order in Which He’ll Someday Show His Kids the “Star Wars” Films: “At ‘Episode I’ as the storyteller has intended it. But yeah, that will be the day. I’ll have to preface it with the fact that it’s just a movie and wait to see their reaction. I don’t know. I’m looking forward to it.”
On His Personal Stash of “Star Wars” Props: “I keep them in my closet just because it would be a little weird if they were out on display, like on a mantel or something.”

On Which Deleted Scene from “Star Wars Episode III” He’ll Check Out First: “I don’t know. I mean there are lots of scenes that are cut.

George films a lot and then through post-production, pares them down, truncates the story and gives it more focus. But I think for me…we spent a couple of days in a big vat of water. They made this big water tank for this sort of water sequence, or sequence in which we were supposed to be in fuel, and that on the page and as we were doing it seemed like it was really cool so that’s something I’m looking forward to seeing first because it’s not in the movie.”
Hayden Christensen on What He’s Looking for in Future Roles: “Ones that I haven’t done before. Ones that are going to challenge me and hopefully make me grow more as an actor and all that good stuff. I don’t know. I just finished a film called ‘The Decameron’ which was very much a departure from what I’ve done in the past. It was more like a comedic thing. I’m about to start work on a film which is a psychological drama/thriller and it will be challenging as well. Just, to be honest, honestly it’s less about the character and more about the story. If I’m drawn to the story, then I’ll find a way to play the character.

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