When hormones invade boyhood, they set in motion a physical change whose outcome is unpredictable. Noses, jaws, lips, brows, Adam’s apples and eye sockets all grow larger and not in unison. As a result, all teenage boys spend a couple of years looking pretty homely. But not Hayden Christensen. No, sir. Christensen won the genetic lottery, transforming seamlessly into a darkly dashing young man by the age of 17. This, in turn, helped him win a second lottery – the most anticipated casting call of the last hundred years – when George Lucas chose him to play Anakin Skywalker, a.k.a. the young Darth Vader, in the last two Star Wars prequels, garnering him a staggering amount of fame and fortune.
When Fame = Having Your Face Plastered All Over Junk-Food Packaging
The truth of the matter is that fame doesn’t really come with a price; it just grabs you, throws you off the deep end and watches to see if you can swim. “I remember the first time I went into a convenience store after Star Wars II came out,” Christensen recalls. “I walked in and saw my face on a bag of chips. Then I realized my face was on every bag of chips in the store and on every pop bottle. I had to turn around and leave. I didn’t even buy the thing I’d gone in to get. It startled me.” This from a guy who’d started acting in commercials at age seven but kept it a secret from friends well into his teens. “I was a hockey player and then a tennis player,” he says. “I was embarrassed about the acting. I felt it wasn’t jock enough.”
So perhaps it’s no surprise that he has been keeping a pretty low profile since Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith was released in 2005. To make matters worse (well, at least for other men), he’s grown even better looking. Now 26, he has shed the last of what little baby fat he carried, leaving him with perfectly chiselled facial features and a lithe, lean body that moves with more grace now than when it was caught up in the frenetic action of light sabre duels. He has two films slated for release this year and another one in 2008. (His most recent, Factory Girl, has already come and gone from theatres.) But what has him most excited is a new personal project.
A Boy and His Farm Implements
“I recently acquired a farm north of Toronto,” Christensen announces, “and I just bought a big excavator and a dump truck and a bobcat – construction toys. I plan to start building soon. I can’t wait to go out there and move dirt and get my hands dirty.” He bought his heavy-duty vehicles at an auction in Southern Ontario, where to his immense pleasure the people were far more intent on ogling gear than celebrities. “It’s currently a hay farm, but I want it to be a working farm. I want to fill the barn with livestock. First pigs, then cattle and horses.”
The property features an old red brick farmhouse that he describes as a “heritage building.” He intends to keep it but also wants to build a new residence. He’s had plans drawn up for a library, a home movie theatre and a kitchen with a fireplace. “I think I’m responding to a desire to have a place that is personal, serene, away from the beaten path,” Hayden says. “And I’ve never had a place of my own for collectibles and things I’ve acquired in my travels.” (He had been keeping stuff in his parents’ basement, but they ran out of room.) “My work keeps me transient. I spend a lot of time in London. I hermitize when I’m in Los Angeles.” Even though he won’t be able to spend much time at the farm, it will be somewhere to call home. “My family and I are going to put a bunch of time into it, and it will be a place where we can convene for Christmas and the like.”
His enthusiasm strikes me as completely genuine and also very odd. When I was his age, I was out raising hell most nights. Hayden Christensen is a good-looking 26-year-old guy with lots of disposable income, and the last thing I’d expect him to be doing is “hermitizing.” He assures me that he knows how to have a good time. It’s just that if he has managed to stay out of the tabloids these last couple of years, it’s because he hasn’t been drunk and disorderly in public or getting into fist fights with paparazzi or checking himself into rehab or shaving his head in front of cameras or doing any of the other things young celebrities do when they can’t handle fame’s pressures. “Lifestyle has a lot to do with how often you end up in the tabloids,” he says. “Daniel Day-Lewis went to Italy and became a cobbler. I went out and bought construction equipment.”
A Good Canadian Boy Playing the Good Ol’ Hockey Game
Christensen learned to stay afloat in fame’s waters quickly, and he credits his family with keeping him well-adjusted. His mother certainly isn’t starstruck by her own son. She treats him the same way my mother treated me when I was 26 and living away from home: She shows up in town a couple of times a year to make sure his eating and sleeping habits haven’t gone out the window and that he hasn’t fallen prey to any serious vice. He has two sisters: Hejsa and Kaylen. His older brother Tove lives in Los Angeles, where he runs their production company, Forest Park Pictures.
When he looks back now on his role in the Star Wars films and on that day in the convenience store, he compares it to his first love – hockey – and sees it for exactly what it was. “In hockey, you invest tons of time and effort into specific, technical skills,” he says. “As you develop your skills, you advance to a higher level; that’s how you progress. That’s not how it happened for me.” His arrival among Hollywood’s elite “came from this one role that was part of a huge phenomenon and really had nothing to do with me.” Meaning it had less to do with his talent and more to do with the fact that he fit George Lucas’ vision of the young Anakin Skywalker. “That it happened that way is probably fortunate because I’ve managed to see it for what it is and keep it off to the side.” At age 26, Star Wars has made Hayden Christensen rich and famous. Now he’d like to try some acting.
From Boy to Man – Sort Of
“An actor won’t last as a leading man unless he plays characters who want something passionately,” wrote New York film critic David Denby. “Gary Cooper and James Stewart seek justice; John Wayne and Clint Eastwood seek revenge. Humphrey Bogart and George Clooney demand candour from a duplicitous world.”
So what does Hayden Christensen want? It’s an important question because these days Hollywood chews up and spits out leading men as quickly as it does leading women. In all of Christensen’s early films, his characters want, more than anything, to be taken seriously. It has been a fertile theme for all his man-child characters (the young Anakin’s voyage toward the Dark Emperor, the fraudster reporter in Shattered Glass), but this persona has run its course. It’s fine when you’re a teenager, but grown men who want to be taken seriously are just plain grating, and they have no place in the movies outside of Woody Allen films.
So the real question becomes, what does Hayden Christensen want now? Judging by the three films slated for release, the answer would seem to be, he’s not sure yet. In Virgin Territory, a comedy based on the 14th-century collection of novellas The Decameron, he plays a wayfaring vagabond who falls for Mischa Barton. In the thriller Awake, he plays a rich young businessman married to Jessica Alba who, during surgery, suffers “anaesthetic awareness,” a horrifying condition in which he cannot speak or move but can hear and feel everything his surgeons say and do. In Jumper, he plays a regular guy who discovers he has the uncanny ability to teleport himself anywhere on Earth and decides to use his powers to, um, rob banks – until he realizes he is not alone and is dragged into the secret war that rages among the world’s teleporters. Taken together, these three roles look like Hollywood’s version of throwing spaghetti at a fridge: Let’s try Hayden in a period comedy, then Hayden in a horror thriller, then Hayden in a dystopian sci-fi adventure – and see what sticks.
Christensen claims the choices are deliberate. The director of Jumper, Doug Liman, single-handedly reinvigorated the tired spy genre with the rivetingly stylized The Bourne Identity. And he says he has suffered no professional stigma from being so closely associated in the public imagination with the young Darth Vader. But beyond that, he approaches his career much as you’d expect for a 26-year-old guy: He doesn’t have a master plan, and he’s not too worried about it either. “I take it job by job, and I enjoy my time between projects,” he says, frequently travelling during his time off to London and throughout Europe. “I want to still be acting 10 years from now, but then again I don’t know… We’ll see how the farming works out.”
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