No cyberspace for British star of Internet thriller

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Aaron Johnson, the young upcoming British actor who stars in "Chatroom", a cyberspace thriller playing at Cannes, is no fan of the virtual world. His real world is enough of a challenge.

"I'm not stuck in that sort of world, I grew up very differently," he told AFP, as "Chatroom", blurring reality and cyberspace, screened Friday at the Cannes film festival.

Johnson, who plays the villain in the movie directed by Japanese horror master Hideo Nakata, also stars in current teen superhero spoof "Kick-Ass", a box-office hit.

And he has already picked up a best newcomer acting award for his performance as the young John Lennon in "Nowhere Boy".

At only 19, he is also about to become a father, which to his annoyance has made a splash in the British press. His partner, renowned contemporary artist Sam Taylor-Wood, is a celebrity at home and is 24 years older.

"Why don't you press ask Michael Douglas why his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is 20 or 30 years younger?" he said. "If you're in love you're in love, you know. It doesn't matter about race or what age you are."

In Cannes briefly for the release of "Chatroom", Johnson talked at length on the other hand about his character in the emotionally devastating "Chatroom", based on a play by award-winning Irish playwright Enda Walsh.

"My character is this insecure guy who goes online and tries to be this sort of charismatic guy who people look up to."

In the pyschological thriller, five unhappy teenagers meet in virtual space but one dysfunctional member -- Johnson's character -- singles out the most vulnerable to manipulate him.

"What sort of drives him," Johnson added, "is to get one over on them."

Nakata, maker of the iconic Japanese "J-horror" genre "Ring", did not show up in Cannes for the release of the movie, which screens in a section of the festival showcasing movies with a difference, "Un Certain Regard".

But in production notes, where he cites multiple cases of Internet violence that also feature in the movie, Nakata says the virtual world is "increasingly amplifying negative emotions: anxieties, fear, envy, hatred and anger."

"It is now proven that this can result in the most extreme acts, either of killing yourself or other people," he said.

Playwright Walsh told AFP he penned the story back in 2005 because "I felt the Internet is a tool for drama, an unusual stage."

"As a writer you're always looking at the world for things that are interesting dramatically," he said. "But I don't think teenagers are in a bigger mess than previously."

"Today's world makes everything quicker, and broadcasting somehow makes everything more lasting. An insult in a school playground is something kids can get over but once it's engraved on the Internet it's there to stay," he added.

"People die but their Facebook page still exists," he said. "It can be a cemetery of souls."

© 2010 AFP

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