Christensen Plays Super-Villan Darth

Half of Hollywood is playing a superhero these days, it seems. Hayden Christensen is more than content to play the super-villain.

Amid the current onslaught of heroes such as “Spider-Man,” “Batman,” the “Fantastic Four” and “X-Men,” Christensen takes ultimate bad guy Darth Vader to the dark side with “Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith.”

The last installment in George Lucas’ space opera about the Skywalker family, “Revenge of the Sith” completes the story explaining how a brash young Jedi knight was seduced by an evil mentor and became the venomous Vader.
After landing the role of Anakin Skywalker as a lovesick, discontented teen in episode two, “Attack of the Clones,” Christensen finally got to the moment he and every other “Star Wars” fan has been waiting for with “Revenge of the Sith.”

“I just really wanted to put the costume on,” Christensen told The Associated Press in an interview at Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch. “Who wouldn’t?”

The new film follows Anakin’s descent into evil and lust for power, which lead him to near-fatal injuries and a rebirth as the part-flesh, part-machine Vader behind the black helmet, mask and cape made famous in Lucas’ original “Star Wars” trilogy.

Christensen, 24, appears only briefly in the Vader get-up near the movie’s end, but those scenes electrified even those working on the film. The day he appeared in full costume, the whole team turned up on set to “bear witness to Darth Vader for the first time,” Christensen said.

“It was absolutely overwhelming, just from the aspect of getting to act behind a mask,” Christensen said. “That is a very freeing position to act from, and to have that mask be the mask of Darth Vader is extremely empowering.

“I almost got this sort of beastly sense when I was in it. What was really cool was watching everyone else sort of look at me, people I knew and was friends with, you know. Their eyes would light up with sort of a glimmer of fear, or there was a respect that needed to be paid. They had to step back and sort of lower their heads. It was a day I’ll never forget.”
Another such day came five years ago, when Christensen was hurled from relative obscurity to household name almost overnight. Lucas picked him from a handful of finalists to take over from child actor Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin as a boy in episode one, “The Phantom Menace.”

At the time, Christensen, who was born in Vancouver and grew up in Toronto, had only a few TV credits and some small film roles. The news hit him like one of the bolts of blue lightning shot from the fingers of Vader’s master, the evil emperor.
Christensen recalls “rushing out into my living room at the time and having a mock light-saber duel with my roommate. And he was a DJ, and he put on the `Star Wars’ soundtrack and blasted it. That was a fun time.”

After shooting “Attack of the Clones,” Christensen quickly followed with Kevin Kline’s small contemporary drama “Life As a House,” playing a petulant teen reconciling with his dying father.

“Life As a House” hit theaters months before his “Star Wars” debut, allowing Christensen to present audiences an early glimpse of his acting chops untainted by the Anakin persona.

Christensen then had the lead role in the acclaimed independent film “Shattered Glass,” playing a real-life journalist who went from wonderboy to disgrace after it was discovered he fabricated stories.

With “Revenge of the Sith,” Christensen surpassed his performance from “Attack of the Clones,” presenting a full-bodied performance of a willful man who succumbs to his fears and ambitions, said Ian McDiarmid, the veteran British stage actor who plays the emperor.

“The thing about Hayden’s performance is, I think he takes the audience with him every inch of that way, so that people will not be sympathetic to his actions, but at least will understand why he has done them,” McDiarmid said.

Playing to that dark side feels like an easy fit for Christensen, who said he gravitates toward dusky figures with secrets to hide.

“I guess I have a certain affinity with the more shadowy sides of life and people,” Christensen said. “I’ve always thought of personality as like an onion and having layers and layers of good and bad, good intentions and bad intentions, and what is ultimately at the core of someone.

“So I like playing characters who have a complexity. People sometimes presenting a face that they’re really not. But then, I’m doing comedy right now, so we’ll see.”

Next up for Christensen is the 14th century comic adventure “The Decameron,” based on the tales of Boccaccio. The film is now shooting in Italy.

The range of roles Christensen has earned hint he may avoid the typecasting suffered by Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, whose careers went downhill after the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

Christensen already figures “Star Wars” likely will be his career high point and Anakin the role he’s most associated with.

That prospect does not concern him so long as he can find challenging parts somewhere: “It’s fun for me if I go off and make small movies that nobody sees.”

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