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'Traffic''s Erika Christensen

Erika Christensen
"I guess if you didn't know me -- or even if you did know me -- the contrast is pretty real. It is something I am really proud of," Erika Christensen says of her role in "Traffic"  

March 14, 2001
Web posted at: 1:07 p.m. EST (1807 GMT)

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Erika Christensen is proof that you don't have to live through something to let others know what it looks like. She is, and always has been, against recreational drug use, and says she's never tried any illegal substance herself.

Yet on screen, say critics, the 18-year-old is utterly believable and shockingly convincing as Michael Douglas's drug-addicted teenage daughter in "Traffic." Her role, and that of others in the film, helped the cast this year win the Screen Actors Guild's award for best feature film ensemble.

CNN recently talked to Christensen about drugs, "Traffic" and her plans for the future.

CNN's Lori Blackman talks to Erika Christensen about her breakthrough role in 'Traffic'

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CNN: There are many reasons why your character in "Traffic" would appeal to an actress. What was it that appealed the most to you?

Erika Christensen: The challenge of (portraying) the drug aspects of the role, because I have absolutely no experience in the area. I just thought, "Oh, wouldn't that be cool if I could pull it off? Well, here goes nothing." ... It is a great role.

CNN: Michael Douglas was quoted as saying that when he read the script, he naturally assumed the actress would be someone who'd battled drug addiction in her life. Instead you walked in. How were you able to tap into something that you didn't know anything about?

Christensen: Research ... talking to people, interviewing people.

CNN: After doing your research and speaking with young adults who are battling addictions, what do you think is the best way to combat drug abuse?

Christensen: Prevention (and) education is the best way. And there is a whole generation of kids right now who would be starting young if we don't stop them.

There is a lack of information (about drugs), and they just need to know what happens ... to your body and to your mind. ... There is no way to stop the flow of drugs through law enforcement.

CNN: How did it feel to watch your performance on screen?

Christensen: At first, I just went, "Oh, that's me acting -- fine." It didn't strike me as anything unusual. But then people were like, "Oh my God, you look so real. You really look like you are on drugs. That was an amazing performance." And then I (said), "Well, let me look at this again." I have seen it a few times since. ... I guess if you didn't know me -- or even if you did know me -- the contrast is pretty real. It is something I am really proud of.

CNN: This film may mark the first time many viewers have seen you, though you've been acting for nearly a decade.

Christensen: I definitely got the (acting) bug when I was about 11 years old. ... I was on stage with kids -- we were singing and dancing, whatever -- and then when I was 12 years old, I just knew. I told my parents I wanted to act and that was it. They believed me and they've supported me the whole way.

Christensen plays Michael Douglas's drug-addicted teenage daughter in "Traffic"  

CNN: Can you remember your first acting job?

Christensen: My first thing was a McDonald's commercial.

CNN: Wasn't it a part in Michael Jackson video for a song called "Childhood"?

Christensen: That was the next thing. ... Hey, it was great; it was Michael Jackson, you can't complain. He sent me an autographed picture.

... And then I got "Leave it to Beaver" (1997), the big-screen version, which was my first studio film -- 13 years old and a film lead! I was out of my mind excited.

CNN: Do you ever consider that you've done a project that many people would consider a crowning achievement in a career? Where do you go from here?

Christensen: I'll continue doing good projects. ... I know I am eventually going to want to write or produce. ... If I can't find anything good, I am just going to have to get my butt in gear and start learning how to do everything.

CNN: You have another film that you recently wrapped shooting.

Christensen: After "Traffic" I did another movie called "Homeroom." It's about two girls who form a friendship in the wake of a tragedy at their school, a school shooting. It's also a very good role -- she (her character) is kind of losing her mind, but she covers it very well. And that should perform at Cannes (Film Festival) this year -- which I am excited about, because I have never been off this continent.

'Traffic' official site

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