Erika Christensen for “Swimfan”

Erika Christensen is rapidly emerging as one of Hollywood’s major new talents. From Traffic to The Banger Sisters and now Swimfan, Erika is excelling at not exactly being the nice girl next door, and she’s having a blast, as she tells Paul Fischer.

20-year old Erika Christensen looks uncannily like Julia Stiles, both on and off the screen. It’s easy to confuse the two, and Christensen doesn’t seem to mind. “She’s beautiful, a good actor, and we get to take credit for each other’s work, but that confusion doesn’t happen as much as it used to, as we were establishing ourselves more.” Christensen is certainly doing just that, and cheerfully admits that “these last two or so years have been the most exciting years of my life.”

Her career skyrocketed with her powerful portrayal of Michael Douglas’ drug-addicted daughter in Traffic, a film that began to establish the young actress as a soon-to-be major player and it was a film that defied her own expectations. “I knew it was going to be really, really big from the beginning but I didn’t think, maybe it will win best picture. It really has been amazing the reaches out into the world that it has made.” While the actress has, recently, played a trifecta of bad girls, including the rebellious older daughter of Susan Sarandon in Banger Sisters and the evil stalker in Swimfan, the actress recalls that prior to Traffic, “I was a regular TV sort of girl next door kind in the roles I was playing,” she explains. While “Traffic was like my own rebellion and was kind of proving myself as an actor. Here I was able to work with a cast, director and story that I could really put myself behind, and drug rehabilitation, education and prevention is something that I really feel passionately about now. But, after Traffic, I was offered a lot of these roles, and I was just like a kid in a candy store, so I got to snap some of these up.”

The latest being that of Madison in Swimfan, the new girl in school, who soon develops a crush on Ben (Jesse Bradford), a popular swimmer. But Ben has a girlfriend (Shiri Appleby), and when he doesn’t return Madison’s feelings, after inadvertently having sex with her in the school pool, bad things start to happen to him. Christensen says that she was attracted to this movie because it gave her the chance to play “somebody that’s that far off into the extreme.” She says that a character like Madison “is also on an actor’s wish list just because you want to explore that and it’s a lot of fun. Plus there’s sex and violence and it’s a beautifully shot movie so hopefully we can kind of justify all of that by saying ‘and we’re discouraging teenage boys from cheating on their girlfriends’,” she adds laughingly. The actress happily admits that Swimfan is the Fatal Attraction of the teen set. “The story obviously borrows a lot and is very inspired by Fatal Attraction, and then even takes it even further over the edge. This is not like a teen movie, all bright and happy and smiley. But you know that connection between the two films is undeniable and the thing I really admired about Glenn Close’s performance in Fatal Attraction was the vulnerability that she portrayed. You think that she’s so strong but she’s really not. She’s so vulnerable. I wanted to emulate a vulnerability in this character,” explains the actress.

Coincidentally, Christensen has another nautical sex scene in The Banger Sisters, but is quick to point out “that’s pure coincidence.” Starring screen veterans Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon, Erika describes Banger Sisters as “a comedy which makes it different from Swimfan and Traffic. Working with Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon, was just wonderful as I was able to watch them work and to discover their senses of humour because they both have great senses of humour. They really know when to stay focused and when to have fun.”

Erika is often being hailed as one of Hollywood’s next big things, and as far as she is concerned, she doesn’t mind. “To be entirely honest, I am an extremely confident person, and I don’t think I would have gotten into this business if I felt that I wasn’t going to succeed,” she says candidly. Christensen admits to being very ambitious “and I intend to be in this business, for the rest of my life. So, it’s nice to have an acknowledgement from other people – I really like it and I don’t ignore it.” Nor does she concern herself with the possibility of fame and recognition. “I’m hoping that I don’t have to deal with that, per se and that I don’t have to become secretive or anything. So far, the people that I’ve talked to out on the street, in restaurants or public places, have been just really great – really friendly, so I’m hoping it will continue along in that fashion.”

Happily single at the moment, Christensen says that she has no time for guys “but I do fall in love way too easily. That’s why it’s great to concentrate on the career.” And clearly, there is a lot for her to concentrate on.