Hayden Panettiere: The Heroes star is leading a far from ordinary teenage life

In the hit TV show Heroes she has special powers - but in reality Hayden Panettiere is just an ordinary teenager, right? Far from it, finds Kaleem Aftab

Hayden Panettiere is the poster girl of hit television show Heroes. The plot of the series about ordinary people who suddenly discover they've got superpowers could almost work as a metaphor for the life of the 18-year-old. Overnight she was thrown into the global limelight by the phenomenal success of the show. Every word and action of this girl from upstate New York became newsworthy, including her wardrobe, the men on her arm and, perhaps more surprisingly, her politics.

In Heroes, which returns to BBC2 tonight, Panettiere (pronounced Pah-nuh-tee-air-ay, like the Italian for "baker") plays Claire Bennet, a 15-year-old cheerleader, who, in the first episode, discovered that she could heal instantly from any injury. The indestructible high-school student is forced to hide her ability from her peers and maintain a relationship with her father, a man who is keenly interested in people with special powers.

The first series won plaudits and awards but the start of the second series was met with a backlash when it aired in the US. Fans complained that the show had become lacklustre, the new characters were uninteresting, the trademark episode cliffhangers were noticeable by their absence and the story was unfolding too slowly. Show creator Tim Kring even went on record to apologise for the mis-steps and just as the season got back on track, the writers' strike ensured that the second series only had 11 episodes rather than the expected 24. Arguably it was a blessing in disguise.

However, just as interest in the show was beginning to wane, media interest in Panettiere went into overdrive as it emerged that she was dating her co-star Milo Ventimiglia. The news was met with consternation among her fans, with a consensus that the 12-year age gap between the pair was too large.

The blonde teenager has complained about the judgmental attitude of the criticism, but believes that she is now mature enough to handle it. One of the reasons for this is a holiday to Europe that she took with Ventimiglia and fellow cast members Jack Coleman and Adrian Pasdar: "About five days after I turned 18 [in August 2007] I took off to Europe with them. It was the first time that my mother hasn't travelled with me and we went to Munich, Paris and London. It was such a different experience being on your own and it just changed me dramatically. My mom says that one person walked on that plane and another person walked off."

She talks of having a family at home and a family on set. She describes the cast of Heroes as being her surrogate fathers, brothers and sisters; revealingly, there is no room for a surrogate mother. Her mother is Lesley R Vogel, a former soap actress who put her daughter into her first commercial when she was just 11 months old. At the age of four, Panettiere had landed her first part in a soap, and by the time she was nine she had appeared on Jay Leno's talk show. Aged 10, she was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children for A Bug's Life Read-Along. She has sung songs for soundtracks including Bridge to Terabithia, and later this year her debut album is due to be available for download.

It seems that it's impossible not to talk about her wardrobe. When we meet she is wearing a blue Cynthia Rowley dress that, given its length, could easily be mistaken for a T-shirt. Her face is splashed with ready-for-television make-up and her hair is immaculately curled. She looks like the archetypal all-American prom queen. She is being spoken of in the same breath as Lindsay Lohan and Mischa Barton. However, unlike both those stars, who have both been arrested for drink-driving, Panettiere's arrest record is one that she is proud of.

On 31 October 2007, she was part of a group of protesters involved in a confrontation with Japanese fishermen. The group tried to disrupt the annual dolphin hunt in Taiji, Wakayama, by swimming towards dolphins that were being herded to a cove where they could be killed. In the confrontation, Panettiere paddled out on a surfboard before being forced back to shore as the fishermen used their boats' propellers and harpoons to block the protesters. On the beach, television cameras caught the actress in tears before the group of surfers headed straight to Osaka Airport and left the country to avoid arrest by the Japanese police.

The protest established her as the poster girl of the Save the Whales Again! campaign. She recalls: "I was absolutely beside myself the whole time. They wanted to arrest me, but it created such a wonderful stir in America and around the world that it was the biggest step forward we've ever had with the problem. At the end of January, I spent four days in Washington DC visiting the embassies of Japan, Norway and Iceland, the whaling nations. I spoke to the foreign minister of Japan and I think that they've lifted the arrest warrant, because I was at the embassy and that would have been interesting locked in a jail cell below the embassy in DC, but he welcomed me back so unless it's a trap I think I can go back to Japan now."

She recounts the tale with a glint in her eye: "He was so polite, respectful and kind and told me: 'You are the most welcome guest that I've ever had.' I was like, 'Shit, really! Thanks. I don't know how much I believe you, but thanks.' We spoke about how Japan looks at Sea Shepherd as if they are a terrorist organisation, and about how whaling can be stopped."

Whether she will turn out to be the Hanoi Jane of her generation or not, American politicians are as eager as the whaling nations to get her on side. I'm struck by how nonchalant the actress seems as she talks about being tapped by both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: "I've had conversations with both of them. Actually, it was with Obama and Chelsea Clinton rather than her mother. The reason I was having meetings with them was to ask about their opinions and views on whaling, which dramatically impacts my opinion on who I vote for." Only just old enough to vote, the actress would not divulge which of the two camps won her over.

The Heroes star is even turning the media infatuation with what she wears into a way of helping save the whales. She has set up a website (www.panettierecloset.com) that sells clothes and accessories from her wardrobe, with the proceeds donated to animal-rights campaigns. When purchasing from the site it will pay to remember that the actress is only 5ft 1in.

Her film career is about to take off, too. She will soon be seen in Fireflies in the Garden, in which she stars alongside Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds and Emily Watson. In the family drama, Panettiere appears in the flashback scenes playing the young incarnation of the no-nonsense character that Watson plays in the present. Fireflies' director, Dennis Lee, has no doubt about her star quality, "Hayden is spectacularly talented. People know her through Heroes but she is the real deal. I'd love for people to understand that and not lump her in with her generation of actors who tend, for a lack of a better phrase, to get themselves in trouble. She has her head on straight."

Whether or not she is the most talented actor of her generation is a moot point; what is in no doubt is that she is the most dynamic teenager to have come on to our screens in a long time.

'Heroes' starts tonight at 9pm on BBC2; 'Fireflies in the Garden' will open later this year

Arts & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit