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Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2004

Charm-school graduate

The term "drop-dead gorgeous" applies with a rather matter-of-fact accuracy to actor Hayden Christensen, a k a Annakin Skywalker of the "Star Wars" series and one of America's most visible teen heartthrobs.

News photo
Heyden Christensen

He sauntered into the interview room of the Shinjuku Park Hyatt Hotel ("My favorite place to stay in Japan!") with an easy, effortless grace before sinking into a chair and asking politely for a cup of tea.

He then turned to the interviewer and some subconscious inner switch seemed to light up inside him, unleashing a warm flow of charm, wit and natural, unaffected sophistication. The atmosphere in the room shifted perceptibly and all those present seemed to bask in the golden glow -- confirming for all of us what it was to be in close quarters with Hollywood glamour.

Christensen was in Tokyo to promote "Shattered Glass," a project he started and engineered through his own production company. His role is real-life journalist Stephen Glass, who completely fabricated over 20 stories while working as a reporter for The New Republic. The movie showcases the range and nuances of Christensen's acting ability and personality, hitherto mired in the digital netherlands of "Star Wars."

What got Christensen involved in such a project, which is a far cry from the movie that made him famous? "I got the idea from an article I read in Vanity Fair about Stephen Glass. I was fascinated by him. It's not that I recognized myself in him, but I got the feeling his life and the things he chose to do would make a great film."

Glass and Christensen do, however, share some qualities: They both had an irresistible, boyish appeal that works its magic on both men and women. (In the movie, Glass's colleagues defend him until his professional demise.) And Christensen is also more bookish than his Hollywood profile suggests: "I like writing and writers. . . . One of my favorite authors is Herman Hesse and I've always wanted to do a movie based on one of his books. I'm not trying to justify what Stephen did but at the same time I can recognize his talent."

What made Stephen Glass do it? "I think he had a deep emotional neediness and this was how he did tended to it. Despite his brilliance as a writer, there were parts of him that he just didn't bother to develop, and he had to pay for it later. Basically, his problem was family."

Indeed, in the movie Glass gets upset at the mere mention of his strict parents -- they were against him becoming a journalist and wanted him to go to law school. "To earn the support of his parents, he had to really excel at writing. I imagine the pressure was enormous."

And what about Christensen's own parents? "I'm very lucky. . . . My parents have always supported my career. I've been doing it all my life, practically."

Now 23 years old, Christensen has been acting since the age of 7 and made his movie debut with John Carpenter's "Into the Mouth of Madness." While "Star Wars" has brought him the Hollywood brand fame he had once only dreamed about, Christensen says he thinks he's at a time of his career when he "should be doing roles that are difficult and contradictory and real." And when it comes to challenges, "Shattered Glass" fits the bill. "Most of the shots were long ones, filmed without breaks and so everything depended on the delivery of the dialogue, the changing of facial expressions."

The crucial moment for him came in the scene where Glass is finally called on the carpet by The New Republic editor Chuck Lane for his fabrication of stories. "There I am, sweating through every pore and helpless and humiliated. Stephen is at his most vulnerable, life for him is ruined. And then, one minute later, he has the audacity to ask Chuck for a ride to the airport. I felt like the whole essence of both Stephen's character and of the film, was condensed into that one line. As an actor, it was a scene I'll never forget."

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