Funny, He's Darth Vader, but It's Us Breathing Heavy

By Cory Ohlendorf
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 10, 2008

Our theory on The Roles of Hayden Christensen goes something like this:

An angry, misunderstood boy-on-the-verge-of-manhood seeks respect and attention and has a fantastically affecting crying scene along the way to his eventual enlightenment and/or vindication.

Really, this happens in virtually all his films -- from the Goth teen in "Life as a House" to a cub reporter in "Shattered Glass" to his eventual turn to the dark side in "Star Wars." (And no one cries like Christensen. He's even the cover face on "Crying Men," fine art photographer Sam Taylor-Wood's book, which also features the teary cheeks of Jude Law, Ryan Gosling and Ed Harris.)

We explain this theory to the actor at lunch at the Georgetown Four Seasons, where he's just come from a panel discussion at MIT on quantum teleportation -- the basis for his latest film, "Jumper," out Thursday. The 26-year-old Canadian seems relieved to learn (after inquiring) that we, too, are 26, and that we want to talk about acting rather than physics.

"You're right," he says of our theory. "There is an underlying theme. I like characters that have an interesting growth, when there's change, and they're affected by the elements of the story. I've always believed that conflict is the essence of drama."

But now he's breaking the formula; the trembling man-child character is growing up. In the recent thriller "Awake," Christensen plays a rich businessman who undergoes heart transplant surgery, but begins to suspect the doctors are trying to do him harm. (Critics and moviegoers were not impressed.) In the action movie "Jumper," he plays the ultimate wayfarer, a man who can teleport himself around the globe and becomes a reluctant hero in a secret war.

If you only know Christensen as the young, pre-scary-breathing Darth Vader, here's a little H.C. catch-up class (we're kind of a fan, if you hadn't guessed).

He started acting at 7.

"I did a few commercials. Growing up it was a means to get a day off of school, and more money than you could earn with a paper route, but at the same time I profusely denied it, and -- "

Denied it?

"Yeah, like if someone said they had seen me in a commercial, I'd say, 'What are you talking about? That wasn't me.' I was playing competitive hockey, and the kids I was hanging out with weren't really the theater crowd."

When he was cast as Anakin Skywalker, the flawed Jedi knight, suddenly being Hayden Christensen meant magazine cover shoots, look-alike action figures -- and your face on a bag of chips.

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