“They’re a very passionate fanbase”: Thornhill’s Hayden Christensen on playing Vader and feeling the love from fans

“They’re a very passionate fanbase”: Thornhill’s Hayden Christensen on playing Vader and feeling the love from fans

Twenty years ago, Hayden Christensen was an unknown actor tapped to fill the shoes (and eventually the shiny black helmet) of one of Hollywood’s most iconic characters. Earlier this month, the Thornhill native—and sometime Uxbridge resident—returned to the screen in the new Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi, a sequel to the prequel of the original ’70s classics. In advance of tonight’s finale, he talks fan intensity, how he managed to look so young in those flashback scenes and why, even in his darkest moments, Darth Vader is just a misunderstood boy in a mask.

Welcome back, Anakin. Or do you prefer Darth?
I’ll take either.

In Obi-Wan Kenobi, you appear in flashbacks as Anakin Skywalker, but also as the great Sith Lord himself. How does one prepare to act under a mask and voiced by James Earl Jones?
It’s a team effort, and this character has always been that way. As Vader, it’s very much about the physicality of the character, the way he walks and moves, and making sure we get that right. It’s about adhering to continuity from the original series and embracing the mechanical nature of the character.

He’s not exactly a loosey-goosey kind of guy.
Right. And the costume kind of lends itself to that because it’s very cumbersome and challenging to move around in. But, really, it was such a unique opportunity to get to come back and revisit this character at this stage in his life. And also to do the flashback sequences where we see Anakin in Episode 2 era and Episode 3 era.

So that’s present-day you in the flashbacks? I thought it might have been footage from 15 years ago. Clearly the years have been kind.
It is me. But I think I had some help from our friends in the digital department.

You often hear actors talking about looking for the good even in villains. Is that your approach playing Darth Vader, or is this guy just pure evil?
I very much look for the humanity. I’m very aware of Anakin throughout all of this. He’s just in a very dark place in his life.  

Your name was trending on social media after your surprise return to the role. It must have been nice to feel the love.
The support from the fans has been incredible. Over the last few years, I’ve been going to these fan conventions and getting to meet them and interact and hear their passion for this character—it has been heart-warming.

Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen) in Obi-Wan Kenobi

Star Wars fans are known for their intensity. Are you getting mauled by the crowds? Followed into the bathroom?
They’re a very passionate fanbase, but I don’t know if I have any weird bathroom stories for you.

Let’s go back to the late aughts. You’re a young actor coming off one of the biggest, maybe the biggest, film franchises of all time—and you buy a farm in Uxbridge? How come?
I’ve always had an affection for that rural environment and wanted to be close to home. I grew up in Thornhill, and a lot of my family and friends are here. At the time, I was really into dirt biking, so I was looking for some property where I could ride my bike around. And Uxbridge is a beautiful town.

You gave an interview at the time where you said you did the farming yourself. Is that still the case?
I used to keep animals, more as pets. I had sheep and pigs and goats and chickens, but more as pets. I don’t do any active farming. When I had my daughter, in 2014, my priorities got rearranged and I wasn’t spending as much time there, but the plan is to get animals again in the future.

A farm in the outskirts of Toronto is a pretty good place to hide out during the pandemic. Were you there at all?
I did spend some time there. The first time I met [Obi-Wan Kenobi director] Deborah Chow, she came to the farm and we spent the day together. She is also from Toronto, so we bonded over that. She’s a really cool woman, and I think she’s done something special with this series.

The last movie I saw you in was Little Italy, a rom-com that takes place in the iconic Toronto neighbourhood. Is it true that you went undercover as a pizza delivery guy to prep for the role?
I did. I play a character who works at a pizza shop, so I spent some time working at a pizza shop in the city—I forget the name of it now, but I did a few deliveries.

What other GTA neighbourhood would you like to immortalize in your next project?
Maybe the suburbs of Toronto. We’ll go north of the city.

What about Uxbridge?
Sure, we could do Uxbridge. There are already quite a few shows that shoot there.