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Swimming Lessons with Erika Christensen

From TRAFFIC to SWIMFAN, the actress puts the "bad" in very bad girl

By Pamela Harland     September 06, 2002

Erika Christensen has gone from bad to worse. First she played a drug-addicted spoiled brat teen in Steven Soderbergh's Academy Award-winning TRAFFIC and now, in SWIMFAN, an obsessed and possibly homicidal high school student named Madison Bell who can't get enough of swimteam classmate Ben Cronin (Jesse Bradford). But playing two kinds of addicts might already be enough for the 20-year-old Christensen.

"For the first four or five years of my career I was really getting the nice girl next door parts," says Christensen. "So TRAFFIC was almost a rebellion. It was perfect. It was exactly what I wanted. I couldn't have asked for better. It was my dream. And now after doing SWIMFAN I'm looking to play some nicer people."

Be careful what you wish for. Christensen says after TRAFFIC came out she was bombarded with offers to play a stripper. "I guess people thought, 'Oh she'll go there,' " explains Christensen. With SWIMFAN's release it is likely she will get offered more psychotic girlfriend roles. And although she enjoyed "going there" she isn't likely to go there again any time soon.

"Playing somebody that's that far off into the extreme is an actor's wish just because you want to explore that and it's a lot of fun," says Christensen.

Jesse Bradford and Erika Christensen in SWIMFAN

Another route she isn't likely to cross is the teenage romp comedies we are riddled with each and every summer. She is a fan of the films but not a fan of being in them.

"It seems like a mutual thing," says Christensen. "They didn't take to me and I have been more drawn to different things. As an audience member I love them so I have great fun going to the movies and seeing those kinds of movies but I also really like a movie to have something to say. I don't want to say "socially relevant" because that's a tall order but just say something that I can just put myself behind."

Born in Seattle, Washington and raised in Los Angeles, Christensen's dreams of acting started in her adolescence. She quickly landed roles on TV shows for years before getting her big break in TRAFFIC. Excited to be in a Soderbergh film she had no idea the fame it was about to launch her into.

"It has really been amazing the reaches out into the world that film has made," says Christensen. "I was in the Caribbean and I met this guy on a little island of somewhere and this guy was like, 'Were you in TRAFFIC?' He had a satellite or something."

Losing her anonymity isn't a worry of Christensen's, even in some far off place. She says it keeps her focused and on track to being a good girl.

"It's good," says Christensen. "It keeps me in line. I don't really drink so that's not usually a problem. People probably look at me and think I'm drunk because you get me on the dance floor and I kind of go crazy. But it's good, a nice way to have you be forced into becoming the person you would like yourself to be."

Besides dancing, Christensen counts singing as a favorite hobby, even occasionally frequenting the clubs and doing a little karaoke.

"It's a blast," says Christensen. "I definitely get a high from that. I really love it."

Playing a seductress in SWIMFAN wasn't too hard for Christensen who says being "comfortable in your own skin" is what connotes sexy to her and she tries through her wardrobe and her attitude to live up to her own understanding of the word.

The one sheet for SWIMFAN

"I just feel like there are things about me that I'd like to change but are impossible to do that and whatever I can't change just be happy with," says Christensen.

Her biggest fault she says is procrastination.

"I'm really dedicated and focused and I have a lot of self discipline but then there are those times where I really side step things," reveals Christensen. "And I don't think that's how to deal with things."

And she certainly knows a thing or two about dealing. Dealing with the comparisons SWIMFAN has had and will have with the 1987 Glenn Close thriller FATAL ATTRACTION, also starring her TRAFFIC co-star and SWIMFAN co-producer Michael Douglas, is unavoidable. But she likes to think of this film as a tribute to the classic and not a rip off of.

"You know the FATAL ATTRACITON connection is undeniable," says Christensen. "The thing I really admire about Glenn's performance 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 vulnerability in this character. She's got her own world going on"

Besides taking notes from Close, Christensen says she researched stalkers from the Internet to get to know what really motivates them.

"Interestingly enough, I think of it as kind of being comparable to addiction which is basically what this girl has, is an addiction for this guy," says Christensen. "She's very needy and she'll go to any length to get what she wants. It's in that way, very comparable to a drug addiction."

Helping to convey that "addiction" on screen, Christensen toyed and flirted blatantly with her co-star Bradford.

"I was playing footsies under the table with him and some people are thrown off by that kind of thing and some people just roll with it," says Christensen. "He rolled with it. He was like, 'Whoa, okay, cool. This is good.' It just makes you pay attention."

Erika Christensen stalks her prey in SWIMFAN.

Pay attention he did. Christensen says it was easy to work with Bradford because of his incredible ability to focus and look her dead in the eye while acting.

"That's necessary for an actor," says Christensen. "Jesse can definitely do that. He is really intense. You can see in those scenes where he is looking right at me and saying, 'Leave me alone.' "

A wise young lady for her age, Christensen also hasn't gone the way of spoiled young starlet. She is grateful and thankful for these recent opportunities in her life.

"Career wise, I think these have been the most exciting years of my life, the last two or so years," says Christensen.

Noting the incredible experiences she's had working on film, Christensen says playing these extreme roles are exciting for her, especially going to places she would never dare go in real life. But she wants to make it clear that she is not these characters she portrays on film

"I'd like to be known for who I am," says Christensen. "But I do really enjoy playing those characters that have lives that are so different from my own because then it really requires acting and that's what I love to do. Particularly on TRAFFIC I had a great experience. I had so much fun when it looks like it may be to the contrary. It looks dramatic but it was so much fun for me. It's all a game. There are barriers to overcome and goals to achieve and every step of the way is fun."

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