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As the missing link between the cute kid in Attack of the Clones and one of the most iconic baddies in cinema history, Hayden Christensen has his work cut out. He tells The Eye’s Ed Potton how he stilt-walked Anakin Skywalker over to the Dark Side.For more behind-the-scenes coverage of Star Wars Episode III,
read The Eye, in The Times on Saturday January 29,
What are your personal memories of the original Star Wars trilogy?

At 23, I’m a little young to remember when the first trilogy came out, but my older brother is 31 so he was the perfect age. He was fanatical about the films and had every action figure and item of memorabilia imaginable. I have very early memories of my brother pushing me away from his Millennium Falcon to ensure that I didn’t break it.

How did it feel to be cast as the man who becomes Darth Vader?

It was really hard to grasp the concept of playing such an iconic role. I was over the moon about being offered the part, didn’t hesitate for a second, and from there it was just a matter of how I was going to figure out doing it.
Why do you think Vader has become such an iconic character?

Because there was such a mystique there: the greatest fear is the fear of the unknown. Nobody knew about the beginning of who this guy was, which is what makes this next film so exciting. It depicts the events that lead to Anakin Skywalker becoming the man we know him from the original trilogy.

What was it like donning the famous mask and suit for the first time?

The feeling is really hard to articulate. There was such a surreal, glossy quality to the two days when I got to wear the mask and the whole Darth Vader suit. It really capped what has been a very prominent part of my life.

The job I was given was to be the connective tissue between Jake Lloyd (young Anakin) and Darth Vader. Getting to put on the mask and everything, it was like, wow! The job is done.

You’re four inches shorter than David Prowse, who played Vader in the original films. Is it true that George Lucas was originally planning to use another actor in the suit?

Yes, but I begged and pleaded and they were kind enough to build a suit that fitted me, and then they built on what was necessary to make my physicality the same as the original Darth Vader’s. They had me in stilts under my heels to give me an extra four inches.

Are there any differences between your Vader and Prowse’s?

Physically, because it’s a brand new Vader suit, I think it’s a little more symmetrical. My Vader is also a little more rigid - obviously he’s brand new to the suit, so he’s still getting acclimatised. There’s a sense that he’s finding his new skin, and not quite as comfortable with walking. Which was very important for me because - on stilts and with a twenty pound costume - I wasn’t very graceful.

What’s it like to be the fifth person to have played Anakin Skywalker, following Prowse, Jones, Sebastian Shaw and Jake Lloyd?
When I was given the role it was specified that I was to be playing Anakin at a very specific point in his life. This is not the Jake Lloyd role and this is not the monotonal Darth Vader that we know from the original trilogy. I had a very contained concept of what I was doing. There is some disconnection between the Vaders, because they’re all played by different people.

But you’ve since been inserted, in place of Shaw, at the end of the Return of the Jedi DVD.
I got a real kick out of that. They told me, “By the way, you’re in Return of the Jedi and sent me a copy and there I was! It was neat - there I am next to Alec Guinness and Yoda.

Some critics saw your performance in Episode II: Attack of the Clones as whiny and annoying. How did you handle that?

It’s what you subject yourself to when you sign up for the profession. You take the good with the bad and all of it with a pinch of salt.

Did you agree with some of the criticisms?

Sure. It’s not something I like to talk about too much, but I agreed with some of it and disagreed with some of it, and had a laugh at the expense of almost everything else. Ultimately, you’re reading someone’s opinion, which is valid, but you’re making movies - you’re there to have fun.

If anything, I think this film will put a lot of those criticisms to rest. They’ll almost seem like necessities. Some of the criticisms, as far as my portrayal of Anakin goes, are of qualities that are essential to his downfall. The ambition, the sense that there’s an injustice to life, wanting to right those wrongs, wanting to have that sort of control. That frustration lends itself to a whiny quality: why can’t I get my way? Why aren’t things the way I’d like them to be? That evolves, and matures a little bit in this film, but it’s still very much present.

So what can we expect from Episode III?

It’s a much darker film. I think it really gets back to a lot of the roots of what made the films so successful and so popular. It’s all built upon very basic, mythological concepts. The inner battle of good versus evil is very prominent.

After this one, the movies really become a generational story about wanting to right the wrongs of your predecessors. In this film you see all the decisions that Anakin makes and how similar his choices are to the choices that were presented to Luke, and how Anakin makes different choices, which lead him down another path.

What is it that moves Anakin to the dark side?
I don’t know if I can say that! It will be revealed in the movie. There are a few contributing factors. It all stems from an unhealthy lust for power which develops into delusions of grandeur. A desire to attain powers that will allow him to seek certain loves of his life. He’s presented with an obstacle and, in trying to figure out how to overcome it, is seduced to the dark side.

A key figure in his fall is Palpatine, played by Ian McDiarmid.
He’s the puppetmaster, if you will. He’s pulling at all of the right strings behind the scenes, with such charming yet evil precision, that it really plays to the core of what Anakin is struggling with. That’s when the seduction begins. Anakin, ultimately, is making a pact with the devil: I’ll sell my soul if you give me what I’m asking for. There’s a touch of the Dr Faustus about him.

The set piece the fans are most looking forward to is Anakin’s long-awaited light sabre duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor).

There was an immense pressure to meet certain expectations, because there was such importance placed on that fight. It’s an intricately choreographed fight that surpasses the longest duration of any other fight committed to film, in time and geography.

How much preparation did you do?

It was such an involved fight sequence that I was out in Australia for three months prior, trying to learn it. You want to get to a point where it becomes like muscle memory. It’s so quick when you’re doing it - adrenalin’s rushing through your veins - that there isn’t a cognitive sense of what you’re doing.

After three months of repetition, you go on set, they call action, you do the fight sequence and your light sabre is swirling all around you. You’re not really sure what the next move is, but somehow you seem to find it.

Did you and Ewan get competitive?

Oh yeah. But it was a shared competitiveness - we were each trying to get one up on the other, seeing how fast we could go. It was just so much fun. We had a real laugh with it.

How will it differ from previous light sabre battles?

We’re taking it to another level in so many ways. It’s longer for a start, the geography that we cover is so diverse: we’re fighting in different environments that affect the way we fight. The fighting styles evolve throughout the fight, depending on where we are. It’s also a bit of a throwback to the original trilogy, with some of the more epée-influenced fighting styles from the original Obi-Wan/Darth Vader fight in Star Wars.

There’s a lot of one handed light sabre fighting. It’s just a more fierce, emotional fight. I don’t think, in any Star Wars film, you’ve seen two comrades having a fight to the death. It’s all fuelled by really raw emotion, which makes everything that much more exciting. It was really thrilling for me, one of the more exciting aspects of getting to do the film.
This is your second film with George Lucas, following Attack of the Clones. What’s he like to work with?

There’s a bit of a misconception that George just hangs back behind the monitors, but he very much likes to be a part of things. He likes to get in there, especially because on this one as he was really excited by the story he was going to get to tell. You could see him being extremely passionate about certain choices we were making.
What was the most useful piece of advice he gave you?

That the function of my role is to make the entire saga work in a linear fashion, so that the people who see the film 20 years from now will believe that Jake Lloyd as a young boy grows up to be the Anakin that I played in the last film, who then is believable in this next film, then suffers the kind of downfalls that we know Darth Vader is consumed by.

We hear that you and Lucas had some animated discussions about the way Anakin would look.

There were a few different incarnations of Anakin’s physicality, but ultimately it all lands on George. Every decision regarding every aspect of the film comes down to him. At the same time, he is aware of and appreciates that it’s a collaborative process and he likes to hear other people’s opinions and take thing on. But at the end of the day, it’s his film and his story. We’re there to help him realise that. That’s all I can hope to do: show up and do my job and hope I keep them happy.

What was the biggest challenge that you faced?

The most difficult part was having to say my goodbyes; putting the boots and wearing the coat and being part of an environment that is so positive and pleasant, for the last time. It’s such a massive production, a very complex organism at work, with everyone milling about and so much happening. But at the same time there’s this common thread of contentedness. Everyone’s genuinely excited by what they’re creating - you go to the different departments and they all have something to show you.

Millions of people are hoping this film will be worth the wait.

I’m there hoping with them! I have faith, having been part of the re-shoot process and getting to see different parts of the film put together. I was over the moon. Aside from the fact that they’ve brought the technology to an even higher level, the story’s there. The fundamentals of good storytelling are so prominent in every aspect of this movie. It’s just a fun, thrilling ride. I really am confident in this one. I think it’ll turn out in a way that we’ll all be happy with.

Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith, will be released in May.

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