Interview: Hayden Christensen

IGN DVD talks to the once and future Darth Vader on the eve of the release of Episode III.
November 1, 2021 - In many ways, the phrase ‘overnight sensation’ may have been expressly created for Hayden Christiansen. The young actor, perhaps best known as one of the co-conspirators who plotted to sweep the Lisbon girls off their feet in Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, became an international celebrity almost immediately when George Lucas announced that he would play the adolescent and young adult version of Anakin Skywalker, a/k/a Darth Vader, in the last two films of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Since then, he has gone on to star in such critically-hailed dramas as Shattered Glass, in which he plays a journalist who fabricated his biggest stories; but after appearing in Episodes II and III, Christiansen’s own biggest story may already be told, and his legacy as an actor permanently assured.

During the recent press day for the DVD release of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Christiansen sat down with a roomful of journalists - none of whom, it must be noted, ever make up their stories - to discuss his participation in the most successful films series in the history of Hollywood. Perhaps still a bit ill at ease with his recently-acquired fame, Christiansen answered questions with gracious but wary enthusiasm, and offered further insight into the psychology of the once and future Darth Vader.


IGN DVD: When you have kids and it’s time to show them Star Wars, where will you start them - Episode 1 or 4?

Hayden Christiansen: 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.

IGN: You seem to really dig deep in Episode III with your character. Personally, where did that come from?

Christiansen:Um, 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 eight 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.

IGN: How difficult was it to hold back everything you knew was going to happen in Episode III while you were filming Episode II?

Christiansen: 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 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 to Darth, which was why I was very excited to get to Episode III to finally get to do that. That was something that I sort of built up in my head for so long.

IGN: Having built that up, how did it feel when you got to those last scenes? How was it to get to that point and how did you approach it?

Christiansen: 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 (laughs). 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.

IGN: How did you convince George to let you wear the Darth Vader costume, instead of another actor as originally planned?

Christiansen: 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.”

IGN: How did it feel?

Christiansen: It was indescribable, you know? It was one completion of a job. And then in 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 were quite the event on set. Everyone wanted to see what was going on. It was a one of a kind experience.

IGN: Was it heavy?

Christiansen: Very heavy. I mean the logistics of actually being in the costume 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 - not that I practiced that way (laughs). But it was something like that.
IGN: You share the screen with so many accomplished actors - Christopher Lee, IanMcDiarmid. What did you learn from them?

Christiansen: I think learned the most from all the actors I’ve worked with from Ian, 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 what the subtly and still everything that he’s able to convey within that. I’d just sit there and shake my head and be like, ‘Ohhh, I’m not supposed to be shaking my head. Whoops.’ And 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.

IGN: Are there scenes you’re excited to see on the DVD? Did you keep any props from the film? If so, where?

Christiansen: 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. 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.

IGN: How do you feel about the fact you now not only have an action figure, but can play yourself in a video game?

Christiansen: [I was excited about] the fact that I was going to have my own action figure. I was going to get to play myself in a video game - 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.

IGN: How doe the choreography you did for the game compare to what you undertook for the film?

Christiansen: 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 light sabers for a couple of days and it was fun.

IGN: How do kids react when they meet you? Any plans to dress up as Vader from now on at Halloween?

Christiansen: Now I’ve got two characters that people can dress up as (laughs). 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 how they saw Anakin 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 light saber 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.

IGN: Talk a little bit about preparing mentally versus physically for this role.

Christiansen: 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.

IGN: What kind of roles are you looking for now?

Christiansen: 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. 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.

IGN: Actors have different reactions to how they carry Star Wars in their careers - some distance it, and some embrace it. Where do you think as the years go by Star Wars is going to fit in your heart?

Christiansen: 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.

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