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With the 2006 MTV Movie Awards on the horizon, we thought we'd bring back some of our favorite interviews and features from the past year to remind us why we got so excited about these films in the first place. So join us as we take a fond look back — and then get on over to the Movie Awards site and cast your votes.

by Larry Carroll

The phone call comes in from the receptionist: "Jake is in the lobby." Not knowing what to expect, a door is swung open and the entryway to the building is scanned. A smiling mother stands up, extending her right hand; an agent hangs up her cell phone and does the same. Then, as they step aside, parting like the Red Sea, the familiarly dour gaze of a teenager takes center stage.

Barely offering a smile, clad in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, the owner of that gaze looks like your average, ticked-off 16-year-old. There's only a faint resemblance to the adorable moppet who once undertook the most high-profile role in the most anticipated film of all time.

 "None of us really understood exactly how much that film would affect us for the rest of our lives." — Jake Lloyd

This is Jake Lloyd's first interview in six years.

"None of us really understood exactly how much that film would affect us for the rest of our lives," he says of 1999's "The Phantom Menace," the prequel that ended nearly two decades of Star Wars inactivity while casting the then-8-year-old as a pre-pubescent Darth Vader. "I had some issues," Lloyd says of his post-Anakin Skywalker years. "When I first had to deal with being in Star Wars, you know, who wouldn't?"

"Menace" inspired people to quit their jobs and go stand in line. Fans slept on sidewalks for days to witness a cultural event that would earn more than $400 million in the U.S. alone. Lloyd, whose exposure made him arguably the most easily recognized child actor at the time, was positioned to follow up the role with any project he chose. Instead, the boy simply walked away.

 "I'm glad this is the first interview I've done in six years, because two years ago, I probably wasn't as well-equipped as I am now."

"As far as dropping off the face of the earth is concerned, thank God," Lloyd says, offering up one of those teenage smiles that simultaneously borders on apathy and sincerity. He is more animated, more willing to show a friendlier, engaging side, it seems, in the midst of the interview than he was when he first appeared in the lobby. "No one really goes through an easy growing-up period when it comes to middle school and high school. I'm just glad that I haven't had to do it in front of so many cameras. I'm glad this is the first interview I've done in six years, because two years ago, I probably wasn't as well-equipped as I am now. And right now, I'm still not quite at the top of my game."

While pop culture continued a grand tradition of transforming children like Macaulay Culkin and Haley Joel Osment into punch lines, Lloyd retreated to a middle-America state (he declines to say which, hoping to preserve his safe haven) and attempted a normal adolescence. It wasn't easy. As he walked down the locker-filled hallways of his school, "people [would] come up to me making lightsaber sounds. It just doesn't make much sense to me. I didn't even touch one in the movie."

  Be sure to join Elijah Wood, Mila Kunis, Good Charlotte and a galaxy of other stars for a special "Star Wars" edition of TRL, airing from George Lucas' legendary Skywalker Ranch on Friday, May 13.
The Star Wars experience forced the boy to grow up fast, and it put his teenage-rebellion period several years ahead of his peers. "I used to spend every morning in detention at my old school," he remembers. "It was 7:10 and school didn't start till 8:10, so [I'd] get in there and [be] in detention all morning. I used to go ... every Tuesday and Thursday, and it got to the point where I'd just go anyways, so I could make up for the one I'd be getting the next time around. I was in detention a lot."

The former child actor says he and his family decided to pull the disappearing act after suffering through a "Menace" publicity tour that found the youngster defending himself against an endless stream of acerbic reporters. "One interview I was doing, this guy, he came in," Lloyd shakes his head. "I had to do about 60 interviews in a day ... This guy comes in and sits down and says, 'So, what's it like to portray Jesus Christ?' 'Well, I'm 10.' "

That question, referring to Star Wars creator George Lucas' divisive decision to reveal Anakin as a Christ figure whose mother birthed him through immaculate conception, was simply a tumbling speck of dirt compared to the avalanche of criticism that would assail Lloyd after the film's release. Time magazine called the boy's line readings "flat, or flat-out wrong," while Variety dismissed him as a "standard-issue tyke hero."

Those were kind, however, compared to the vitriol spewed by fans disappointed in a film that couldn't possibly live up to 20 years of hype. With Lucas still coasting on his reputation and actors like Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman too critically respected to shoulder the blame, the eyes of the world focused on the little boy with the bad haircut.

"That bowl cut really drove me insane," Lloyd smiles, before getting serious about his critics. "I did my best. I walked out of there and I had fun. It's just like harshness for any other kid — yeah, mine was seen by a lot more people, but it's still the same basic concept. I don't really mind it. I find a lot of the stuff funny and I've learned to live with it because that's what you do. You can't go fighting everyone that's harsh towards you."

Although he still considers himself a Star Wars fan and speaks fondly of Lucas and of everyone else he worked with all those years ago, Lloyd's cinematic tastes — mirroring his former character's transformation — now lean toward the dark side. "I haven't watched ['Star Wars' movies] for a really long time. I've been busy watching other movies like 'Requiem for a Dream,'" he says of the controversial unrated movie about desperate heroin junkies. "I like the more cynical, darker films like 'Man Bites Dog' ... 'Fight Club,' 'American History X.' "

 "The most important thing to me when it comes to auditioning [is to be able to] say, 'I spent three months of my life and I created something that I can appreciate, that I'm proud of, that I enjoyed doing and I can enjoy the end result of.' "

Which brings Lloyd back to today's conversation, the first part of an intended career revival that has him auditioning around Los Angeles for the first time in more than half a decade. "The most important thing to me when it comes to auditioning," he says of his comeback, "is something where at the end, it's not going to be like, 'Oh, I wasted three months of my life making this movie, but at least I came away with cash.' That's not important to me. I'd rather go in and say, 'I spent three months of my life and I created something that I can appreciate, that I'm proud of, that I enjoyed doing and I can enjoy the end result of.' "

As he carefully considers the film that will reveal the new Jake Lloyd to the world, the former pod-racing youngster reminds himself that the impetus behind his self-imposed exile was learning how to deal with notoriety. Now, he insists, he's old enough to appreciate the fame — and young enough to have some fun with it.

"When I was on my way up here," he says of his arrival at the interview, "the guy who took my name down and let me into the building, I had to give him a photo ID. He looked at it and, as he was writing, his hand was shaking. He looked up and goes, 'You've grown up a little bit.' " Lloyd smiles. "I said, 'No, I've aged, but grown up? No.' "

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