|April 19, 1981|
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Hayden Christensen was born on April 19, 1981, in Vancouver, British Columbia. He grew up with two sisters and a brother outside Toronto, Ontario, where he was an accomplished hockey and tennis player. When he was seven, Christensen accompanied his sister to a meeting with a talent agent (she had done some commercials) and was asked if he was also interested in doing some acting. Christensen could not turn down the chance to miss a few days of school and make some extra money, so he began appearing in commercials, though he generally denied his theatrical outings to his athletic buddies. By the age of 12, however, Christensen could not deny that he had a regular role on the daily Canadian soap opera "Family Passions." Christensen became more serious about acting, joining a local dramatic arts program and attending the Actor's Studio during the summer while visiting his grandmother in New York. Commercial auditions led to TV and film auditions, and the handsome new face found extensive work in projects lensed in his home country, including the direct-to-video release "Street Law" (1994), and John Carpenter's eerie thriller "In the Mouth of Madness" (1995).
Christensen continued with TV movie work, taking featured roles in the sci-fi satire "Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron" (Showtime, 1995) and the heady romance "Danielle Steele's 'No Greater Love'" (NBC, 1996). He also racked up credits with guest roles in preteen programming like "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" (Nickelodeon, YTV, 1990-2000) and "The Famous Jett Jackson" (The Disney Channel, 1998-2001). Meanwhile, as Christensen approached his graduation from Unionville High School, he was faced with the decision to either pursue acting or go off to college on a tennis scholarship. He chose acting, and landed a starring role on the Fox Family Television show "Higher Ground" (2000). Christensen arguably had the juiciest part on the series, giving an emotionally jarring performance as a drug-abusing delinquent and victim of sexual abuse in the otherwise lackluster series. The short-lived show earned the actor his first legion of fans, who responded to his strong and emotionally credible performance as a troubled teen. The role also led to Christensen's supporting performance as the glue-sniffing, pill-popping, disaffected teenage son of Kevin Kline in the effective tearjerker "Life as a House" (2001). His intense performance earned Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations and had directors scrambling to snap up this handsome actor with the unexpected depth.
Sofia Coppola was next to tap Christensen's appeal, casting him in her directorial debut "The Virgin Suicides" (2002) as an academic achiever granted permission to escort the lovely but cosseted Lisbon sisters. Christensen built on his reputation for dangerously misunderstood adolescents with a supporting role in "Trapped in a Purple Haze," ABC's gripping horrors-of-heroin addiction telepic. George Lucas was suitably impressed by Christensen's resume of youth-gone-bad roles and his ability to completely change his look from angelic to indecent with a flash of his eyes, so he cast him in the much-coveted role of Anakin Skywalker in "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" (2002). Filling the boots of a character as steeped in American popular culture as Darth Vader would be a challenge for any up-and-coming actor, and as much as Christensen might have seemed able to handle the transformational requirements, he was not able to portray the complexities of the character's inner struggle. His performance was criticized as wooden, whiny, and one-dimensional, but the film reached huge box office numbers anyway and ultimately earned better reviews than the earlier prequel.
The role of Anakin had thrust Christensen into the spotlight, and at the end of the day, most of the public was forgiving of his Vader portrayal and more interested in his physical attributes. People magazine concurred by including him in their Most Beautiful People issue. But Christensen avoided the pretty-boy in Hollywood route by maintaining his residence in Toronto and launching Forest Park Pictures, along with his brother Tove. The pair's first effort was a solid one and a marked departure from Christensen's earlier roles. "Shattered Glass" (2003) told the true story of Stephen Glass, a hotshot New Republic journalist who fell from grace following the discovery that his facts, quotes and sometimes his entire stories were fabrications. Christensen's highly praised performance as Glass was full of self-deprecation, puppy dog insecurity and hard-working earnestness on the surface but fueled by ambition, arrogance and a desire to make a name for himself at any cost. Indeed, it was a real-world version of the Darth Vader story and one ultimately more engaging than Christensen's prior performance in the franchise films.
And when Christensen returned to the role of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader for "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" (2005), his portrayal of the fallen Jedi was also more compelling than the first time out, although the actor was only slightly better served by the script as Skywalker at last gives in to the Dark Side. Christensen was ready to put the role and the entire persona to bed, and in 2006, enjoyed a supporting role as a Bob Dylanesque singer in "Factory Girl." George Hickenlooper's fictionalized account of 1960s socialite and aspiring actress Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller) was unfortunately not well-received by critics. Nor was Christensen's follow-up, the thriller "Awake" in which he played a heart transplant patient who overhears a plot to kill him while under poorly-administered anesthesia. "Jumper," the 2008 sci-fi release which starred Christensen as a man able to teleport through space and time, hit number one at the box office but again failed to interest critics, who were left scratching their heads over the lackluster career of the once-promising Golden Globe nominee from "Life as a House."