Skywalker comes down to earth

Hayden Christensen is looking slightly apprehensive as he contemplates a life without lightsabers. For almost five years, he has been involved in the Star Wars saga, with little time for anything else. Now, in a flash, it is over, and the young actor is facing a future in which he will be acting with real people rather than puppets and looking at real scenery instead of blue screens.

For the young Canadian, it is the equivalent of exploring a whole new galaxy, because he was a relative unknown when Star Wars creator George Lucas picked him to play Anakin Skywalker in the final two films, Attack of the Clones and the soon-to-be-released Revenge of the Sith. He has grown up in the role, and to Star Wars fans everywhere he will always be the heroic young Jedi knight who, in Lucas’s saga, is lured to the Dark Side and becomes the evil Darth Vader.
“To be honest, I’m not really sure how I feel,” he says. “I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that it’s over. It’s been such a huge part of the last five years of my life and it’s been all-consuming. I’m excited to now have the time to go on and play other roles and be a part of other films, but I’m going to miss it. Absolutely. It’s changed so much of my life.”

Hayden Christensen, 24, is talking on a flying visit to Los Angeles from the Italian film location where he is currently filming The Decameron, a comedy very loosely based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th-century literary classic.

A personable, polite young man, he got on well with George Lucas because both are shy and prefer to fade into the background once their work is done. Christensen blushes easily, and earnestly attempts to answer questions to the best of his ability although he is clearly uncomfortable talking about personal matters. (He acknowledges that sexually he was a late bloomer, is anything but promiscuous, and does not have a girlfriend at the moment because he has just come out of a long relationship.)

Raised in Toronto, he began acting when his actress sister’s agent spotted him and persuaded him to appear in television commercials. The exposure embarrassed him, and when his schoolmates challenged him over the commercials he denied it was him. It was only when he went to high school and a teacher encouraged him to consider an acting career that he began to embrace the idea.

He worked extensively in Canadian television films and series. His first feature film role was in Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, and then he was chosen by George Lucas to play Anakin Skywalker, beating Leonardo DiCaprio and others to the role because of his on-screen chemistry with co-star Natalie Portman.

Yet, while the Star Wars films have made Christensen an international star, they did little to showcase the acting abilities he has shown elsewhere, as the pill-popping disaffected teenager in Life as a House, and the rogue journalist in Shattered Glass. He is hoping that The Decameron will allow him to spread his acting wings after Star Wars ’s strange technical constraints. “For example,” he says, “I’d been looking forward to my scene with Yoda, but when I arrived on the set there was a blue box for me to sit on and they propped up a green puppet on another blue box. There was an assistant director off-screen doing a Yoda imitation… and that’s what you’re given,” he says, laughing.

The Decameron will have to manage without him for a few days as he prepares to do the rounds of the European premières for George Lucas. When he finally gets home, he is not sure where it will be. He has houses in Toronto and Los Angeles and a flat in Brighton, which he is using while he hunts for a place in London - a city for which, thanks to a well-received West End run in This is Our Youth and his Star Wars work at Elstree, he has developed a firm affection.

Christensen has several other projects in mind for when he finishes The Decameron but he is not yet telling what they are. Nor is he the slightest bit worried that the fate of his predecessor, Mark Hamill, may befall him, too. (After appearing in the first three Star Wars films as Luke Skywalker, Hamill’s big-screen career nosedived.)

“It’s out of my hands,” says Christensen with a shrug.

“All I can do is focus on the work that excites me, and if it excites the people who go to see the movies I’m in - and I think I can accomplish that - then hopefully I can avoid that syndrome.

“Fame is a bizarre thing. You have to take it with a grain of salt and laugh about it because we are just actors. The machinery of Hollywood can build you up into something and dispose of you very quickly, so I’m trying to really enjoy this time in my life - and milk it for all it’s worth.”

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