Hayden Christensen: 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 a 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.
RD: I understand you and your brother, Tore, were actively involved in developing the film [through their production company, Forest Park Pictures]. What about Glass’s story grabbed you?
HC: 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 to the nth degree. I don’t think things like trust should just be handed out. You have to earn that.
RD: Which is in a lot of ways what this story is about–honesty, ethics, and whether we can believe what other people tell us.
HC: But we’re not saying, “Watch out, this is something that 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?
RD: Do you see something larger at work here, though? Not just in journalism necessarily, but in other professions as well?
HC: Absolutely. I think the underlying moral of the story is that this behavior exists, in everything from journalism to athletics.
RD: 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?
HC: They were both people who obviously sought the spotlight. Doing that seems to be a journalist’s biggest downfall.
RD: Do you look at journalists differently now than you used to?
HC: 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 nobility of the profession.
RD: 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 supercedes the process to achievement for a lot of younger people?
HC: 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.
RD: Are you more cynical now when it comes to the news?
HC: 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 the writer is inevitable.
RD: 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.”
HC: 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.
RD: 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?
HC: 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.
To photograph cover subject Hayden Christensen, Matthias Vriens flew 25 hours, from Paris to Sydney. “I had this idea of Sydney as beach, sharks, and sun,” says Vriens, “but I forgot I was arriving at the beginning of spring–it was totally cloudy.” The concept behind the photos, Vriens explains, “was a hybrid between Mad Max and Blade Runner. Hayden was completely comfortable, even wearing thigh-high boots.”
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