Flaunt- August 2006

Hayden Christensen with three new films to hit theaters by year’s end, Hollywood’s intergalactic heartthrob puts the light saber on ice.

Written by Shari Roman
Photographed by James White

Standing in the living room of his parents’ house, just outside of Toronto, Hayden Christensen is dressed in work boots, jeans, and a T-shirt, his tousled dark-blond hair flecked with topsoil. “I really love going fast. Take a drive with me sometime,” purrs Christensen. “You’ll see.” He points to a shiny red-and-white Bobcat compact excavator parked in the family’s backyard. “But not in that,” he laughs. “although I suppose we could race it around the block, scare the neighbors.”

When he was 4 years old, two years after Return of the Jedi (the final film in the Star Wars trilogy) opened in theaters, his older sister, Hejsa, would take coins and tape them to the garden leaves, convincing him, literally, that money actually grew on trees. Today, his handiwork with the Bobcat has transformed the once-magical backyard into a chaotic, torn up, vertiginous mound of loam. “I told my parents, if I began it, I’d see the job through.”

Last year’s rainfalls had caused massive water damage and he gave his word to restore the backyard to its former splendor. “And I will. I will. I will. I promised.” He cocks his head. “At the moment, it does look a little bit like that crazy mashed-potato-and-dirt mountain Richard Dreyfuss made in Close Encounters. What was it called, Devils Tower? My hopeless earth mountain,” he deadpans sorrowfully. “It’s just not as shapely. And,” he says, looking up at the gathering storm clouds, “soon may be completely out of my control.”

As a child, many years before director George Lucas would beckon the blue-eyed boy to become Anakin Skywalker, the young Jedi-knight-turned-dark-lord, Christensen had already witnessed untrammeled power of a different kind. Motoring with their parents, he and his three siblings would regularly journey to New York from their home in Toronto, Ontario, to visit their grandparents. The route they traveled always took them through Niagara Falls, where every second, 150,000 gallons of water tumbles 176 feet. The car vibrated, his skin prickled. Being surrounded by all that space and the thundering sheet of water unnerved him, but at the same time he was exhilarated. Christensen never forgot the sensation. “It was overwhelming,” he recalls, “but I loved the sound, the feeling, the beauty, the sheer power.” When his own larger-than-life future was set in motion, he says, it was like being swallowed by that waterfall.

“I was 19 years old. I had been out of high school no more than eight months before I was cast in Star Wars,” he says. He had been working in commercials and Canadian television since he was 7 years old, and had played small roles in features such as Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, and a leading role in Life as a House. “But at that moment in time, the enormity of a lot of what went on in a project like Lucas’s was so foreign to me,” he says. “To try and acclimate to a life that I was still vert, very uncertain about, it does age you, mature you, whatever you want to call it.

“You see the potential in the job and you expect so much of yourself, set such high standards that nothing, nothing, seems to be good enough. It took a while for me to play catch up. I couldn’t get my head around it. I didn’t want to get my head around it.”

Even though the films hadn’t even come out, he had become a lifetime member of the Star Wars cinema meta-hierarchy. Overnight, a nearly anonymous teen from Canada was the most talked-about man about town. “I was recognized, pointed at everywhere I went. Out of nowhere, masses of people would come up and shake my hand, or rush up to me in a crowd. There were girls screaming. I didn’t know what to do.” He grins. “I still don’t, but I’m working on it.”

Although he has only been in a handful of films, these days he has it all under control, career-wise. Aside from the final two Star Wars features, in between there’s been Shattered Glass, in which he played The New Republic writer/con artist Stephen Glass (produced by Forest Park Pictures, the production company that he runs with his older brother, Tove), and the aforementioned Life as a House, in which his protrayal of Kevin Kline’s rebellious teen son earned him a Golden Globe nomination.

Now, there are three new profects about to emerge in theaters over the next few months, opposite a series of eye-catching It girls. Angels and Virgins (the film’s other working title is Guilty Pleasures), a take on the Renaissance tales of the Decameron, with Mischa Barton; Awake, in which he plays a man trapped in a paralytic state, with Jessica Alba; and the Andy Warhol-inspired Factory Girl, wherein he is a “Bob Dylan-like” character to Sienna Miller’s Edie Sedgwick. (Weezer guitarist Brian Bell plays Lou Reed and the band’s drummer, Patrick Wilson, attempts to invoke John Cale.)

“When I try to describe what I do, the films I am in, I say, ‘I play, I inhabit…,’ but no matter how you try and put it, the work always sounds so funny, so unreal. One second you can be shooting a tender love scene. The next, you’re on fire, climbing up a hill.” And, although Christensen can be a somewhat impulsive person hoping luck will win the day, he no longer looks at the work as simply an organic process. In the beginning he wouldn’t have differentiated the way he “acted” from the way he played, but as he matures, he has grown more analytical, which, he says, has inadvertently changed his approach. In wanting to return to that state of “just letting it come out,” or one has to be free, yet completely self-aware.

“with all the things going on in the world, I do wonder,” says Christensen, “am I doing enough, am I doing the right thing? I keep asking myself those questions and it keeps driving me forward. I think that’s one of my greatest struggles - finding that truth. Which is why, at the very least, doing this job right and doing it well is so important to me.

“Preparation, research, sinking into character - I love all that. What I hate is watching myself afterward. I’m hyper-critical of the flaws. I see all the mistakes. One would have to be really self-involved to enjoy looking at yourself in a film all the time. Then there would be people watching you watching yourself watch yourself in a movie theater. That is so surreal. It’s why taking care of the backyard, doing stuff like this for my family…withdrawing, coming home, getting away from the film business has been necessary at times, mentally…emotionally. I’ve spent so much time feeling almost like a stranger in my own body.”

It’s a scientific fact, Christensen says, that one cannot observe something without affecting it, and the effect that follows ultimately becomes a new point of view. It exists as an exponentially ongoing ritual of experience and observation. Even though he didn’t offer the following information, it has also become a mathematical corollary that people are very keen to keep looking into reality of being Hayden Christensen.

Though the number of results varies daily, should you type his name into Google’s search engine, in about a tenth of a second you’ll see that there are between two and four million sites linked to the actor’s life, work, desires, and passions. These sites reveal that his father, who is of Danish and English ancestry, is a software developer; his mom, whose family hails from Sweden and Italy, writes speeches; and his sister, Hejsa, is a former trampoline champion. Furthermore, it is written that Hayden is an alpha male - a competitive sportsman who was a top junior tennis and hockey player. He was a ball boy once at the Canadian Open (He jumped out match with John McEnroe, causing a pause in the game) and learned tae kwan do for Star Wars fight scences. He has been linked romantically to the actresses Sienna Miller and Natalie Portman. He celebrated his twenty-fifth birthday in April at Tao, the splashy Las Vegas nightclub made famous by Paris Hilton’s many indiscretions. And supposedly, his favorite Star Wars character is Lucas’s prankster Buddhist master, Yoda.

Recent favorite films will have to remain a mystery. “Maybe it’s how intense flim has become to me,” he says, “but I can’t remember the last time I went to the movies just for fun.” The last thing that really spoke to him was Ron Fricke’s 1992 documentary, Baraka. “The filmmakers juxtapose tribal living with modern society and present it in such a way to show how civilized tribal life is and how, even with all of our technology and modern ways, how discombobulated and chaotic our lives are.” In one swift loop, he indicates the Bobcat and himself. “As with most things, thet manipulate things a bit to prove their point. But they do it in a very, very effective way.”

What keeps him sane, he says, are two old-school pursuits: music - he listens Arcade Fire and Outkast (“I’ve also really been getting into this musician called Micah P. Hinson. He’s got this great kind of folky-melodic sound, really beautiful.”) - and books. One that he keeps coming back to is The Rebel Sell, by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter.

“They are a couple of Canadian professors. It’s about the birth of counterculture and how society is based on conning people into consumerism. I’m also trying to finish something I picked up a long time ago called Flatland, by Ian Stewart, the same author of Flatterland. It touches on physics, celestial mechanics, and quantum theory. Quantum physics really promotes the intangible…I dont pretend to understand all of it, but I find it exciting to let my head go to those places.

“I like the tangibility of the intangible,” he says. “When I think of the people I love, what’s real to me is the way the smile comes into the eyes. I think of fire. The way it jumps, snaps, colors, and catches the underside of a log. I think of air, the way that you can see it move. There is so much of life in science and nature that we are aware of, but we can’t really grasp. More and more, I often feel the day-to-day can sometimes be a preoccupation and we are unaware of the things we are really meant to be doing.”

He regards his mound of dirt and repeats the mantra, “I told them, promised them, I’d see the job through. And I will. I will. I will.” Sheets of rain begin to pound the ground. “Damn! Oh no,” he laughs, looking up at the sky, “it’s starting to pour!” Massive plonks of water bounce off the Bobcat and onto Christensen’s mountain of earth, which is rapidly melting into a drooling pool of mud and good intenstions. “Look at this mess. What a disaster.” He escalates a quick scheduling equation. In a few days, he heads to New York, then to Europe, then back to the States to begin a new film.

“I feel like tossing in a few Milk-Bone dog biscuits and calling it and archeological dig site. I don’t know how I’m going to take care of this in time.” He sighs. He turns his back on the storm and heads into the kitchen to make a sandwich. “Ok, then. I just will. There is always a way.”

Typed by: Tina J

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