Living

11 heart surgeries later, he's still remembered for Darth Vader commercial

Jeff Gritchen/Orange County RegisterActor Max Page, 11, shows off Harrison Ford's signature on a Darth Vader helmet that's full of Star Wars autographs. Page was the darling of the 2011 Super Bowl when he played mini Darth Vader in a Volkswagen commercial.
Jeff Gritchen/Orange County RegisterActor Max Page, 11, shows off Harrison Ford's signature on a Darth Vader helmet that's full of Star Wars autographs. Page was the darling of the 2011 Super Bowl when he played mini Darth Vader in a Volkswagen commercial. TNS

SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. -- When you're Max Page, you get to talk with Harrison Ford.

In December, he was hired as the special correspondent for the television show "Inside Edition" for the red-carpet world premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

"I asked him how 'Star Wars' changed his life," said Max, an 11-year-old from San Clemente, California.

"He said it allowed him to do the thing he loves to do: act in movies."

And then Max looked at the star and smiled.

"How did I do?" Max asked, inquiring about his interviewing technique.

"You did great, kid," Ford said with his trademark grin. "I see bright things in your future."

The future didn't always look so bright for Max Page.

He became famous in 2011 when, at age 6, he played Darth Vader in one of the all-time great Super Bowl commercials.

He starred in the Volkswagen commercial in which he wore the villain's mask and walked around his house trying, unsuccessfully, to use the Force.

Nothing worked until he went outside and stood in front of the car. He put up his hands and the car suddenly started.

His reaction -- he jumped back like he was surprised his powers actually worked -- made him an instant sensation.

When news organizations unmasked the mini-Darth Vader in the week after the Super Bowl, they found that Max had a heart-wrenching story. He was born with a congenital defect called Tetralogy of Fallot, which meant he had four ailments in his heart at the same time.

"It's a silent killer," said his mother, Jennifer Page, who has become an advocate for heart awareness. Recently, she spoke in Washington, D.C., about the importance of a national registry for heart patients and increased funding for long-term research.

At 3 months old, Max had open-heart surgery. He's had 11 surgeries in his young life, including two, in which a valve and a new pacemaker were inserted, in 2015. Now he's healthy enough to play baseball. He's in a hybrid home-school program with Heart Christian Academy in San Juan Capistrano in which he splits time at home and at the campus.

"Both his surgeries became the best-case scenarios," Jennifer said.

When he meets actors like Ford or James Earl Jones, who signed an autograph saying "May the Force Be With You," Max doesn't get nervous. Max has a Darth Vader helmet with autographs from the cast of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

"I never get star-struck," Max said. "I have more things in my life to be scared about."

Today, he plays baseball in the Dana Point Pony League. He talked about the time, when he was 9, that he stole home. "I slid under the catcher's glove," Max said with a giant smile.

Jennifer said his poise is what got him acting jobs.

"He was so directable at an early age," she said. "I think it came from being in hospitals. He's used to bright lights, having adults above you and tons of chaos. He's never rattled."

As an actor, he's in demand.

Max appeared in 72 episodes of the soap opera "The Young and the Restless." He's been in the FX series "The Bridge," which his parents said he couldn't watch because it's too scary. He was in the NBC show "Prime Suspect," but it was canceled after one season. He recently shot his first starring role in "Secret Summer" for a family TV network.

He and his mother have lobbied before senators and representatives in Washington, D.C., four of the past five years.

"Max leads the meetings," Jennifer said.

Why not? The Force is with him.

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