New Again: Hayden Christensen
In 2001, a young Hayden Christensen appeared on the movie scene with a lead role in Life as a House, but it’s the character that followed directly after that drama that he’s now synonmous with: Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. In addition to sporting a memorble rattail hairdo in the film, and playing a—spoiler alert—young Darth Vader, arguably one of the most widely-known villains in filmic history, he soon after took on a different type of evil as the unethical journalist Stephen Glass in Shattered Glass (2003).
This Friday, a little over 15 years after the release of the second Star Wars prequel, Christensen will bless our eyes and the big screen once again as he stars alongside Bruce Willis in First Kill. The thriller features Christensen as a Wall Street executive named Will on a quest to reconnect with his son; their hunting trip turns south as they become involved with a gang of bank-robbing, murderous criminals.
But first, we look back in our archives at Christensen’s November 2003 cover story following the premiere of Shattered Glass, in which he discusses his sudden rise to stardom. —Rebecca Szkutak
By Richard Dorment
He wrestled with the forces of darkness in Star Wars, and now he’s taking on the dark side of journalism in Shattered Glass.
If Hayden Christensen has proven anything in the past three years, it’s that he isn’t afraid of the dark. From his goth teen in Life as House (2001) to his Darth Vader-in-waiting in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, this 22-year-old Canadian has explored the moral ambivalence and nuanced darkness that lurk in the hearts and minds of complicated young men. This month Christensen continues this streak with his portrayal of real-life reporter and fabulist Stephen Glass in Shattered Glass. The film was conceived and filmed before the New York Times‘ Jayson Blair made headlines and incited debates with fictional reporting of his own. Here, Christensen weighs in from the Australia set of the next Star Wars film.
RICHARD DORMENT: Tell me a little bit about your new movie, Shattered Glass.
HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN: I play Stephen Glass, who wrote for The New Republic magazine in the late ’90s. Stephen was so driven by his desire to succeed that his moral infrastructure became questionable. He wound up fabricating all or part of the facts behind more than half his stories. It ultimately led to his being fired from the magazine.
DORMENT: I understand you and your brother, Tove, were actively involved in developing the film [through their production company, Forest Park Pictures]. What about Glass’s story grabbed you?
CHRISTENSEN: Just the subject matter in general—journalism. I have always been an advocate of questioning what’s being presented to you, and this story illustrates that the nth degree. I don’t think things like trust should just be handed out. You have to earn that.
DORMENT: Which is in a lot of ways what this story is about—honesty, ethics, and whether we can believe what other people tell us.
CHRISTENSEN: But we’re not saying, “Watch out, this is something is occurring now!” For us, the Glass story was an isolated incident. It was, how does someone get to the point of being driven to do this?
DORMENT: Do you see something larger at work here, though? Not just in journalism necessarily, but in other professions as well?
CHRISTENSEN: Absolutely. I think the underlying moral of the story is that this behavior exists, in everything from journalism to athletics.
DORMENT: Tell me what crossed your mind when, eight months after Shattered Glass finished shooting, the Jayson Blair scandal broke. Do you see any similarities between Stephen and Jayson?
CHRISTENSEN: They were both people who obviously sought the spotlight. Doing that seems to be a journalist’s biggest downfall.
DORMENT: Do you look at journalists different now than you used to?
CHRISTENSEN: No. I still have a great respect for journalists, which is why I was enticed by his story in the first place. In fact, one of the strengths of Shattered Glass is that what Glass did, and why he did it, is juxtaposed with the novelty of the profession.
DORMENT: You and I are both in our 20s, as Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair were when they made up their stories. Is this a generational trend, in which the desire for fame supersedes the process to achievement for a lot of younger people?
CHRISTENSEN: Yeah, I think a part of it is fueled by a desire for fame and success. Trying to get yourself a level of recognition has become more of a priority for people in their 20s nowadays. Whereas before, I think life was just about doing one’s work for the sake of that alone.
DORMENT: Are you more cynical now when it comes to the news?
CHRISTENSEN: I think I’m more aware now of the writer than just the story being presented. I try to get a feel for how much of his own bias a journalist instills into his story. In much the same way an actor decides to play a character, a certain amount of projection on the part of writer is inevitable.
DORMENT: That’s an interesting point because watching the film, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between journalism and acting. [Christensen laughs] In the opening sequence, Stephen says, “It’s the people you find—their quirks, their fears, what makes them funny, what makes them human. Journalism is just the art of capturing behavior.”
CHRISTENSEN: They are similar lines of work: Both rely on observation. I think that was why I could relate to Stephen—it made me think, I might not know much about journalism, but I can still understand how his story evolved and what was behind those misdeeds. It made me feel like this story was universal.
DORMENT: In journalism, one knows where to look for the truth. But when you’re approaching a character, where do you find the truth that makes it real to you?
CHRISTENSEN: You look at circumstance and situation, draw your own conclusions, and then ask yourself, “What was it that pushed this person in this direction?” It’s a bit like solving a puzzle with no sort of definitive guide, so you’re left up to your own druthers. In terms of Stephen, we sought his involvement, but he wanted nothing to do with the film. In general, though, I think I do approach acting with some of the same integrity as a good journalist.
DORMENT: What do you think about the fact that Glass is a lawyer now, and has even been offered a writing assignment from a magazine?
CHRISTENSEN: It blows me away that anyone would trust him to report again. I don’t see how you can give someone who lied to the extent that he did a second chance in the same line of work.
DORMENT: Would you ever hire him as your lawyer?
CHRISTENSEN: [laughs] No! He’s dishonest, and that holds a lot of significance for me.
DORMENT: Were you wary of glorifying him or turning him into a sympathetic figure?
CHRISTENSEN: I was afraid of glorifying him, but I was also afraid of villainizing him.
DORMENT: Let me ask you about another aspect of my profession—celebrity journalism, of which you are increasingly a subject. You were 19 and virtually unknown when you were cast in the Star Wars movies. Was it a baptism by fire with the press?
CHRISTENSEN: More or less, yes. I have read articles about me where a reporter has exaggerated something that I communicated, but I wouldn’t say there’s ever been a lie told about me.
DORMENT: Yet there was a lot of gossip about you and Natalie [Portman] dating during the filming of the previous Star Wars. You both denied it, but still rumors persisted.
CHRISTENSEN: [laughs] I take it all with a grain of salt. I don’t want to make it a part of my business to have who I’m dating and what I’m doing outside of my working life be a part of my profession.
DORMENT: Did you have any early ambitions before you knew you wanted to be an actor?
CHRISTENSEN: I was competitively involved in hockey from a very early age, but then I started playing tennis pretty seriously. Even when I was studying acting I took a real liking to creative writing, and I also toyed with architecture—when I was seven or eight years old I’d draw plans for houses that I wanted to build. It wasn’t until about a month before I was meant to apply to university that I decided I wasn’t going to go into it.
DORMENT: How did acting enter the picture?
CHRISTENSEN: When I was around eight, I got asked by my sister’s agent if I wanted to do commercials. From that point on I did one or two a year. I was a great excuse to get a day off from school. When they aired I denied that I was ever involved with them, because I was almost embarrassed by it. Acting wasn’t something I took very seriously.
DORMENT: You were the envy of nearly every young actor in Hollywood when you were chosen for Star Wars. What was that like for you?
CHRISTENSEN: It was exhilarating. At the time, I was naïvely fearless. I wasn’t a huge Star Wars fan and I didn’t know all the movies inside out, so I started to watch them religiously. And I had never been outside of North America at that time, so flying to Australia and going on location around Europe was very exciting.
DORMENT: Can you gives us a preview of the next Star Wars? Is it darker?
CHRISTENSEN: It is darker—a lot darker. But it is still intended for the same audience.
DORMENT: We all know your character, Anakin Skywalker, eventually becomes Darth Vader, who is pretty much the be-all and end-all of villains. It seems, at least on the surface, that you often play dark characters.
CHRISTENSEN: That’s a fair observation. I feel the roles I’ve chosen thus far were the ones that seemed the most exciting and challenging to me, the ones that would make me grow more as an actor.
DORMENT: So you’re 22—you’ve been on this amazing three-year journey. What’s next?
CHRISTENSEN: I like to take things as they come and, as much as possible, not force anything. I think I could wind up somewhere completely different five years from now, something completely removed from acting—I could be perfectly content studying photography or English literature. At the same time, I love what I’m doing right now and could see doing this for a very long time.
THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE NOVEMBER 2003 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.
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