A long time ago (last week), in a city far, far away (London), Hayden Christensen touched down to promote Jumper, his first sci-fi film since doffing Vader’s helmet. He plays David Rice, a young man who has the power to teleport himself, or ‘jump’, to anywhere he chooses. His co-star Rachel Bilson, playing Millie the college sweetheart he embroils in his dangerous world, joined him. They talked amiably about making the film, its sci and the fi and, of course, Star Wars.
The energetic Doug Liman directs, turning his hand to the new genre having reinvigorated the action movie with The Bourne Identity and Mr & Mrs Smith. From the off, it was clear that both Christensen and Bilson were full of praise and admiration for their kinetic director.
“Doug has really made an attempt to challenge himself and do something original,” said Christensen. “Every aspect of making this film was really unique and felt innovative, from Doug’s approach to telling the story to taking a genre that people are familiar with and trying to reinvent it. With the visual effects, we had the guys who created bullet time in The Matrix and they were developing new technologies for the film. From every aspect it really felt like we were doing something new.”
“It was definitely an adventure,” added Bilson. “With Doug you really don’t know what you’re going to get, he’s so of the moment, which is actually wonderful as you can create as you go. That was an amazing experience, especially for someone like me who has no experience whatsoever in a film anything close to this in this genre. The experience as a whole was a new journey and because it’s Doug it makes it that much more special and new and exciting.”
I was curious as to how Liman’s method of working differed from that of other directors. Christensen readily replied with a wry smile. “Doug’s approach to filmmaking in general is quite unique. He has a range of how he approaches his movies, from big scale production to literally showing up with a camera at my door and saying, ‘Let’s go walk around New York for the day!’ Or Paris for the day.”
Bilson explained further. “We even weren’t supposed to shoot there [in Paris]. We were shooting in Rome and Doug said, ‘Ok, we’re going to pop over on a plane and you two walk around the Eiffel Tower and we’ll shoot you’!” They were in Paris for a total of five hours.
She, too, was victim to Liman’s spontaneous lensing: “The shortest time he took from taking out a camera and shooting something was on the plane flying to Rome. We were sitting next to each other and the second we woke up from the eight hour trip he was rolling camera on me. That scene, that shot is now in the film. It doesn’t match continuity, but you don’t notice as it’s pretty short. That’s Doug, he has his own camera and that footage has now made it into the picture.”
“I think he likes down-and-dirty filmmaking,” said Christensen. “He likes to operate himself a lot of the time. He was working a lot with this thing called a ‘Red camera’ [an innovative, high-spec digital camcorder]. It’s new technology and a lot of the footage in the movie he shot on that, which gave him the ability to have a crew of two or three people and we could just roam around the streets and shoot stuff”. Such a near-guerrilla filmmaking style clearly had its appeal for Christensen. “Plenty of times people would recognise me or Doug working on what was clearly a very small-scale operation. Someone might think it was a student film or something. I look forward to those people seeing the movie and seeing what we were actually doing.”
Definitely not seen in standard student fare are the film’s groundbreaking visual effects that realise David’s ‘jumps’ as well as some crunching action scenes for Christensen to take on.
“There’s a physical part to my character, he takes some beating,” he said. “I got knocked around quite a bit. I didn’t mind it. I enjoy the physicality of acting and I like action movies so I was game to do it. Obviously they don’t let you do all of it because, you know, they won’t let you kill yourself. I try to do as much as possible.”
This was not without its toll, though, as Christensen explained. “I got a nice scar across my hand, I split my ear open and I knocked my head really badly in one scene and my pupil got stuck in an extremely dilated position, which was really disconcerting because I couldn’t see. We kept a list of injuries sustained and the list got pretty long by the end of the movie.”
As well as preparing himself for the physical aspects of the role, Christensen also had an opportunity to look into the actual process of ‘jumping’.
“When we started I didn’t feel that was necessarily going to inform my performance. Then I got really interested in it.” He went on: “Doug and I actually got to go to MIT and sit on this panel with two professors who are experts in quantum teleportation, which is a form of teleportation that actually exists. They spoke very intelligently, I wish I could do the same, about the actual science of it and it got me excited. In a very limited context they have managed to teleport a photon particle of light over a distance of a couple of kilometres, which I think is pretty amazing.”
Unfortunately, actually teleporting the cast and crew around the world to the film’s numerous locations was not an option so soon the air miles were stacking up during the shoot. The irony of science fact versus science fiction was not lost on the actors, though.
“We spent a lot of time on planes, in transit. Wished I could teleport,” Christensen rued. “When Jamie [Bell, starring as another jumper] and I were travelling from Toronto to Rome we were on the same flight, just the two of us. After a couple of beers we decided that it would be fun to make a little mockumentary of what it would be like for jumpers who couldn’t jump, having to travel on a plane and deal with all the nuisances of regular transport. So I’ve got footage of Jamie wreaking havoc on this airport, poking fun at everyone on the plane. He’s got an amazing sense of humour.”
Another co-star is Samuel L Jackson, seeing Christensen re-united with his old Jedi colleague once again. Jackson plays Roland, a Paladin, one of a secret society dedicated to assassinating jumpers, claiming they are dangerous, an abomination and an insult to God. Jackson’s character brings strong religious overtones to the action and is so driven some have called his pursuit of jumpers fanatical.
“I don’t think he plays a religious fanatic,” countered Christensen. “I think the religious comparisons are there to be made. I think what Doug tried to explore was the ambiguity of that conflict. He wanted to present a scenario where both sides were ones that you could reason with, but I don’t see him as a religious fanatic. He’s a man on a mission. There are religious comparisons but I don’t think that that’s blatant in the movie.
“Doug’s a really intelligent man and he makes some smart movies. I think they work on many levels. I think there’s the popcorn value that will appeal to a younger audience. For people like yourself there are other more intellectual ideas to explore there and that hopefully people will be aware of.”
With Jackson’s presence inevitably highlighting their shared Star Wars heritage, I wondered how both Christensen and Bilson felt about having such well-known characters on their CV. He’s got Vader and she’s globally known for starring as Summer Roberts in nearly 100 episodes of The OC.
“The TV series that I was on did bring me everything that I’ve gotten this far,” said Bilson, “which is amazing when I look at how far I’ve come. It’s harder, I think, when you are known for a TV series as a character because people really feel like they know you in the name of that character. So it’s been important to me to break away from that as much as possible and go against the obvious typecast roles. I’ve been lucky, even though I’ve only done two films since then they have been so different.
“Even though Doug was involved in The OC [Liman was executive producer and then consultant for two years] he cast me off of The Last Kiss, which felt good to be acknowledged for something else. Even though I’ve loved my experience on the TV show and my character, it was special to know I was branching off of it and people were noticing.”
“I don’t think Doug cast me off of Star Wars,” said Christensen. “He was more interested in Shattered Glass and that’s what he spoke to me about and certain aspects of my performance in that.”
So, go on then - how does he feel about his Star Wars legacy? Does he think he’ll ever overcome it?
“The Star Wars movies have opened a lot of doors for me and have given me the ability to be a part of a movie like this.
“I don’t know if I have overcome it. I think that is something that will follow me for the rest of my life. There will always be people out the front of the hotel waiting with Star Wars pictures. I had a great experience making those films and am very fond of everything that that brought, but I don’t think it’s ever something that will leave me.”
Nor will the sci-fi genre by all accounts. Not only has he signed on as the lead in an adaptation of William Gibson’s Neuromancer next year, with Jumper’s conclusion so obviously open-ended, surely a sequel is a foregone conclusion?
“Don’t know too much about it,” replied Christensen cagily at first, but then added: “[We’re] very open to it. We’d love to do it actually. I think the story lends itself to continuing. We had a lot of fun on this movie and I think there’s a lot of fun to be had with the concept of teleportation. The scientist was talking about all the possibilities and I think that got Doug excited. He said in the press conference in Rome that he already had the next four stories planned out. We’ll see.”
I’m sure we will.