The Star Wars universe was buzzing when George Lucas announced that a Canadian, Hayden Christensen, was chosen to be the new Anakin Skywalker in the two upcoming prequels to his trilogy.
Almost instantaneously, the cyberworld risked being overloaded as the online debates began to rage. Fans from all corners of the globe logged on to analyse, philosophize, critique and scrutinize this virtual unknown.
Can he pull it off? Should Lucas have chosen someone more experienced for such a key role? Valid concerns, after all, we are talking about THE Dark Lord himself, Darth Vader.
Hayden, now 21, was born in Vancouver and later moved to Toronto where he went to school. "Star Wars has always been big for my generation," Hayden said. "When Episode I came out my entire high school went to the theatre for the first showing. It was a big event, and to be a part of that now is very special."
Hayden broke into acting in an unusual way. His sister was already doing commercials and when she went to get a talent agent, "there was no one to baby-sit me and I went along for the ride and they asked me if I wanted to do some commercials and I said sure," recalls Hayden. When he was 12 years old, Christensen had a continuing role in the first Canadian television soap opera, the daily hour-long Family Passions.
Since then, Hayden has been busy with both TV and movie roles. He is probably best known (that is, if a virtual unknown can be best known for something) for the Fox Family Channel series Higher Ground, the Sofia Coppola film The Virgin Suicides and, of course, more recently, Life as A House.
Casting director, Robin Gurland, is confident in the selection of Christensen, "Hayden has those special qualities you hope to find in an actor. He pops off the screen," she says. "There is something so interesting going on behind those eyes; you just want to know more. He has the vulnerability, and he has the edginess that's needed. We really had to have that combination, and it's rare to find an actor who can go back and forth so well," and adds, "But, besides that, to me, he is just an amazingly seductive and intriguing actor."
Hayden was chosen from hundreds of potential Anakins hailing from as far away as Iceland. The field was whittled down to 442 candidates, down to 25 and then down to the final four. Gurland said that the ultimate decision was not easy, because all four candidates were so talented. "It's always a difficult process, but part of it is chemistry and how someone fits within an existing ensemble, and also how you picture his character as the future father of already established Star Wars characters."
Perhaps Hayden was meant for this role, after all, he says, "My brother Tove and I have always been big fans. We used to play some of the early video games religiously, for an hour at a time, to make sure we became Jedi Knights."
The process culminated at the Main House at Skywalker Ranch. "It was really a very relaxed situation," Gurland said. "George, Natalie [Portland] and I would sit down with whomever we were testing and just chitchat for a while. Then the actor and Natalie would rehearse and George would give notes. When everyone felt comfortable, we'd go to where we were shooting, do a blocking rehearsal and then tape until George felt he had gotten what he wanted."
Then, finally the big day. "I was just waking up and my roommate walked in and handed me the phone and it was my agent and manager, and they were pretty excited, so I knew as soon as I got on the phone," Christensen said. "I walked outside just stunned and in disbelief. I called my mom first thing, and my roommate started blaring the Star Wars soundtrack in the background. I didn't want to tell my mom right off, but of course she heard the music and started flipping out," he laughed.
As a true Canuck, Hayden loves pizza, Our Lady Peace and played competitive Triple A hockey. He says he also played tennis competitively and hoped to get a scholarship to university, "but I got a bit sidetracked with acting," he said.
Regardless of what the sceptics are saying, Hayden has already established himself as a credible actor capable of distinguishing himself from the crowd. Having been chosen for the coveted role of Anakin Skywalker, Hayden has now been propelled into the stars - and it is where he will most likely remain.
FROM THE CHATROOMS:
This [Hayden] is a great choice. If it was someone we knew too well like Leo DiCaprio, then you wouldn't be seeing Anakin, you would be seeing Leo playing Anakin. Just like Mark Hamil WAS Luke Skywalker, Hayden will BE Anakin.
You may have already decided you'll love Hayden as Anakin and others may have decided they'll hate him. I personally will withhold judgement till I see him in action.
The ONLY reason Lucas wants unknowns is because name actors want a big salary and/or a piece of the profits.
I don't believe casting a big name actor brings baggage to their role. Back during the original trilogy, Harrison Ford was playing Han Solo and Indiana Jones at the same time. Nobody complained about that.
For me casting a proven actor (a proven movie actor) would have made more sense cuz you know what you're getting. Basically you know whether or not they have the movie acting skills to portray the role and you know they have big screen acting experience.
I swore a long time ago I would not go see Episode II if Lucas cast a Canadian ... If this kid is really gonna be Anakin, then please someone come to DC and kill me.
This kid is going to kick ass as Anakin! His performance [in Life As a House] runs the gamut from heartbreaking vulnerability to brooding sullenness to tempestuous anger with nimbleness and aplomb. He displayed all the qualities that Anakin is going to need. Hayden will deliver the goods.
I think that Lucas did the right thing by casting an unknown. No preconceived notions going in.