Actress Erika Christensen counts Tom Cruise among her mentors.
But superstar Cruise doesn’t give the 22-year-old career advice or tips about technique.
They discuss Scientology.
Christensen is now in “The Perfect Score,” opening Friday, says she has been a Scientologist since she was 8 years old.
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“Perfect Score” is a caper comedy about six high school seniors out to steal the answers to the SAT. It co-stars Scarlett Johansson (“Lost in Translation”) as the funky chick, and Christensen as a good girl who learns to act bad.
Like Cruise and equally famous Scientology disciple John Travolta, Christensen considers the faith one of her secret weapons.
She says she has spoken to Cruise about their shared beliefs, and has bumped into Travolta the Scientology center in L.A.
“I’ve talked to Tom less about acting than I have about the church,” she says, “because he’s been studying for a long time, and he’s studied a lot that I’m looking forward to.
“So I’ll say to him about studies, ‘How is it?’ And he says, ‘Oh, it’s incredible!’ And I go, ‘I’m so excited!’”
And she is quick to credit her study of Scientology for her success.
Christensen shrugs off Scientology’s reputation as a cult, preferring instead to focus on what she says she’s learned from prolific science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard’s spiritual books, which her parents have studied since before she was born.
“Scientology helps me in acting to focus on communication,” she says. “You can also develop and awareness of yourself.
“It’s almost a safety precaution when you’re an actor, because some people can be traumatized by characters, and I don’t have to worry about that.
“It’s a study [that helps] see people as spiritual beings. And in Hollywood, that’s more stable than being a hunk of meat.”
Christensen has other assets, of course.
One is her toughness. She played Michael Douglas’s drugged-out daughter in 2000′s Oscar-winner “Traffic.”
“I look like a sweet, corn-fed kid,” she says. “My roles are my rebellion.”
Another is her figure.
Christensen is the first to admit she’s not exactly waifish.
“I love my body,” she says, slapping one of her thighs heartily. “Got me some meat on my bones!”
She played a psycho-stalker high schooler in the 2002 thriller “Swimfan,” which required Christensen to get hot-and-heavy in a pool with hunky co-star Jesse Bradford.
“Love scenes feel very mechanical,” she says. “But our whole job is to make it look real.” So how real is she willing to go, since she’s comfortable with her appearance?
“If it’s appropriate and necessary to the story, I’d do nudity,” she says. “The movie that I think of in that case is ‘Shakespeare in Love’ – there, it’s so appropriate.
“But there are plenty of nude scenes that are distracting.”
Playing hard as spiritual quest
Christensen grew up outside Los Angeles, and says that when she was 8, she asked to study Scientology.
At 12, her interest in dance led to acting, and soon after, her parents – an insurance agent and an office manager – began home-schooling her.
She has already made another movie, “The Upside of Anger,” with Joan Allen, Kevin Costner. She’s one of Allen’s daughters, along with Evan Rachel Wood and Keri Russell.
As she throws her red scarf around her neck, Christensen offers up another lesson Scientology has taught her.
“I don’t have a ‘Life’s short, play hard’ type of philosophy,” she says. “That’s about fear. I tend to think that life is very long – but you should still play hard.”