Hayden Christensen is playing with fire. As Anakin Skywalker in the next installment of George Lucas' Star Wars prequel, he's about to flip a coin and find out whether it comes up huge-name-to-be or sci-fi-footnote, i.e., the next Harrison Ford or the current Mark Hamill. Christensen, though, should be fine. The twenty-year-old Canadian has the poise and depth to make it in the big leagues portraying characters more rounded than Lucas' archetypes. In Life as a House, out this fall, Christensen portrays Sam, a doomed-out goth-rock sixteen-year-old who finds himself and bonds with the father he had always hated (Kevin Kline) when the two build a house. "I really wanted to play the insecurity and vulnerability that comes along with the uncertainty of being sixteen," Christensen says. "One drawing point for me when I read the script was that my character is introduced in the film through a failed attempt at autoerotic asphyxiation. I thought it would be a great way for everyone to see Anakin Skywalker for the first time: falling over in his closet, masturbating." Playing with a different type of light saber wasn't the only difference in the two films. "It was more fulfilling than Star Wars, " Christensen says. "I felt much more a part of the creative process. In Star Wars, you pretty much do your best to appease George Lucas, because he's telling the story." Christensen was born in Vancouver, raised in Toronto and started acting at nine. He attended a performing-arts high school and afterward landed a role on Higher Ground, a "short-lived one-hour teen-angst drama." His contractual agreement to that show nearly kept him, schedulewise, from a meeting with the Star Wars casting director and an audition with Lucas. "I was really nervous when I went out to Skywalker Ranch," he says. "I threw up on the plane both times."
This story is from the August 30, 2001 issue of Rolling Stone.