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The younger generation of Hollywood actors carries the family heritage in their names but they are often unfamiliar with their background. Sometimes all it takes is a trip to the country the ancestors came from to really understand the culture they are part of.

Hayden Panettiere is only 24 but she’s one of the most gifted actors of her generation. She’s been in front of the camera since she was a child and she’s been able to navigate all the temptations of the entertainment business that often corrupt somebody at such innocent age. It’s all thanks to the strong support of her parents. Her father Alan, first a policeman then a firefighter, set high standards of morality and her mother Lesley Vogel, a retired soap actress, knew very well the traps of the job; hence they knew how to shelter their daughter while nurturing her talent.

Hayden did her very first commercial when she was only 11 months old and she started acting in tv productions at the age of five. A girl that beautiful and talented is hard to miss. I first noticed her when she was still a teenager in the family movie Racing Stripes, in which Dustin Hoffman provided the voice of the mentor zebra and she played the barn girl who helps the young zebra become a racehorse.

After filming wrapped in South Africa, Hayden chose to stay to complete her freshman year of high school. By the time the movie came out she was back in Los Angeles and it didn’t take long for her all-American girl looks with golden locks to win her the role of Claire Bennet, a cheerleader with self-healing powers in the series Heroes.

  Panettiere playing the role of Amanda Knox

  Panettiere playing the role of Amanda Knox

That show gave her massive popularity all over the globe and led to a best supporting actress win at the Saturn Awards. It was in fact at one of those Awards ceremonies, the 2007 Emmys to be precise, that we met and she could not have been any sweeter and warmer. Her face literally lit up when we talked about Italy. Flash forward two years to the Cannes Film Festival, while posing for pictures on the red carpet, she shows her freshly made tattoo, the Italian phrase “vivere senza rimipianti”, which translates into live without regrets.

The press was quick to notice how the word rimpianti was misspelled, a mistake on the artist’s part or from the actress herself, nobody knows but she later explained to Glamour magazine, “It’s not that you don’t regret things in life, but you at least try to learn from them. It’s misspelled too. So I literally have to live by that advice!”

Ironically a few years later, after an unflattering picture from the paparazzi surfaced, a rumor began to spread about the actress having the tattoo removed. It got everybody wondering if it was due to the spelling error or that she actually regretted the “live without regrets” motto. It turned out to be just makeup and the usual malicious speculation by gossip media. Hayden finally got the chance to connect with her Italian roots when she shot the tv movie Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy.

Playing the main role in the controversial picture was not an easy choice. All the people in her circle advised her against it since it was, and still is, a hot topic between the two countries. Panettiere on the other hand firmly wanted to test herself in a different and more dramatic role that would stir away from her cheerleader image. She dyed her hair brown and dove headfirst into the role. The film was filmed in Rome for several weeks, after officials refused to grant permission to shoot in Perugia.

As she recalls that’s when she truly learned the correct pronunciation of her last name and picked up on words and expressions thanks to her local co-stars who would constantly tease her. Albeit the movie failed to draw big ratings, she still cherishes the experience that brought her closer to the Italian culture.

She regained success in 2011 when she took part in the fourth installment in the Scream series. Her character Kirby Reed received praises from both critics and audiences and was saluted as the best addition to the saga.

Hayden is also very sensitive to social issues and animal rights. In 2007 she went to Japan and joined other activists protesting the slaughter of dolphins by the Japanese fishermen. They witnessed first hand the killing of the mammals and tried to stop them, in return the fishermen went after them, effectively forcing them to leave the area. The fishermen don’t take lightly any attack to their culture.

It all ended up in the powerful documentary The Cove, which documents such terrible practice of dolphin hunting. As for her Italian traditions, Hayden keeps visiting the old country and getting acquainted with her roots as her most recent appearance at the Milan Fashion Week seems to prove.

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