Claire Danes Interview in "Daily Telegraph"

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Claire Danes Interview in "Daily Telegraph"

Post by Sascha » Aug 18th 2004, 8:31 am ... ixtop.html

Sense and sensitivity
(Filed: 17/08/2004)

Though she avoided the self-destructive tendencies of other child actors, Claire Danes was in therapy by the age of six, suffering from an overactive imagination, and still finds fame hard to handle. Yet it is just that emotional complexity which makes her such a compelling actress. Heather Hodson meets her

The day before we meet, Claire Danes had an unusually uplifting encounter with a fan. 'A driver of a garbage truck hollered out, "You're the best, Claire, you're number one!" ' she recalls, her dark eyes widening with amusement.

'It felt fantastic. And I thought, "Yes! Yes!" It made my day, it made me feel so good.'

The dustbin man sticks in her mind because fame, Danes has found, is profoundly disquieting.

'It's not really easy to cope with. It can be really abrasive,' she says in her soft voice. 'I've had people scream out horrible things. It's jarring and hurtful and sometimes I'm ill-prepared for it.'

We are sitting in the back bar of New York's fashionable SoHo Grand Hotel, a local haunt of Danes's just a few blocks away from the loft she owns. Danes, who grew up in Manhattan's SoHo district and is part of that elite club of neighbourhood kids who have become famous (the designer Zac Posen, the actress Julia Stiles; both friends), is the epitome of downtown chic in blue jeans, pastel flip-flops and an exquisite puff-sleeved blouse by the hip New York designer Jayne Mayle.

Cerebral and articulate, she hovers between intimacy and reservation; when the territory becomes too personal, she has a way of drifting off into silence. This, it must be said, happens a lot, but then her reticence is no doubt fuelled by the bad press she has received over her relationship with Billy Crudup, with whom she co-stars in her latest film, Stage Beauty, to be released next month.

She and Crudup became close last summer during the movie's seven-week shoot in London, and reportedly the 35-year-old actor left his girlfriend of seven years, the 39-year-old actress Mary-Louise Parker, soon after. The situation is complicated by the fact that Parker was pregnant at the time with her and Crudup's first child, a boy whom she gave birth to in January and has named William, after his father.

Crudup is a subject that is strictly off-limits during our interview, yet ironically, children are the first thing we talk about because I myself am noticeably about to have one.

'You're pretty preggers!' Danes says, giving my stomach a sideways look, and soon we're talking about two-year-olds and the tyranny of women's biological clocks. Having a family, Danes explains, is something she wants to do, in part because she grew up surrounded by tiny children.

'My mum ran a toddler school for 10 years, so from the age of four to 14 my house served as a nursery school and the place was just littered with kids,' she laughs. 'I shared my space with them and so developed relationships with them because of proximity… It was fascinating to observe their habits and behaviour. It was cool, so I'm very keen on the idea.'

Recently she found herself discussing egg-freezing with a girlfriend.
High drama: Danes plays a wardrobe girl who becomes a pioneering female actor

'It's so wild. I was talking to my friend who just turned 30. A lot of her friends who are in their early thirties and wanting to start families are not as fertile as they expected to be. And she's thinking, like, "Should I freeze my eggs? Is this a rational action?" And we decided it might be. And I was stunned in that moment. It was like, "How did I go from being an egg to talking about freezing eggs with my friend?" '

The problem is at 26 we don't necessarily meet the right person, I say. 'Right, right!' she says, growing animated. And men willing to have babies do not grow on trees, I add. 'Right, right, right! And they're certainly not 26 years old! But… anyway…' She hesitates, then trails off.

One of the reasons Danes brings such an emotional complexity to the characters she plays is that she herself is not straightforward. She grew up in SoHo during its bohemian heyday in the 1980s, before the boutiques and bankers moved in and it began to resemble a shopping mall.

Her mother, Carla, an artist from Vermont, and her father, Christopher, an architectural photographer, raised Danes and her older brother, Ada, in a loft, where they used crates for shelves, and the furniture was found on the street and re-upholstered and re-painted.

'It seemed so makeshift and so chaotic to me,' Danes remembers. 'I just wanted something infinitely more conservative.' Her ultimate fantasy, she says, 'was to live in the suburbs, have carpet on the floor, be some member of some country club'.

At the age of six she entered therapy when she began to see gargoyles in the loft piping.

'There was one who… chased me around and made me sit in really bizarre positions for half an hour at a time. I really thought I saw them; I had a pretty active imagination,' she laughs. She has been in therapy ever since and finds it a great support.

'It's a really valuable resource for me and it's been great for self-awareness, hopefully not self-obsession. I'm fearful that it's an indulgent practice, but it doesn't keep me from doing it.'

For all the peculiar pressures of her lifestyle, Danes blossomed like a rose under the creative influence of her parents. At the age of four she enrolled in modern-dance classes, and by six was appearing in 'very avant-garde, off-off-off-Broadway Lower East Side productions. I didn't really get what was going on but was thrilled to be performing in some way.'

By 10, she was studying method acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute ('I tried to feel the wind blowing, and all that business'); by 11, she had an agent, and had appeared in her first film, a student production called Dreams of Love in which she played a molested child.

'I was really ragingly inspired and was totally guileless and innocent, so didn't know what the consequences were or what the hazards of the industry were - thank goodness.'

In 1994, the family relocated to LA when Danes landed the lead in MTV's My So-Called Life, the critically acclaimed teen drama in which she played the world-weary narrator whose cynical reflections ('I can't even look at my mother without wanting to stab her repeatedly') made the show cult viewing.

She went on to win critical acclaim for her roles as Beth in Gillian Armstrong's Little Women, and Holly Hunter's daughter in Jodie Foster's Home for the Holidays, and by the time she was 18, she had won a Golden Globe award, an Emmy nomination and widespread praise for her performance as Juliet opposite Leonardo DiCaprio's Romeo in Baz Luhrmann's audacious Romeo + Juliet.

This breakthrough role established that she could telegraph fragility, budding sexuality and a rich inner life all at the same time.

'She radiates intelligence and wit; it's in everything about her,' says the director Richard Eyre, who determined to cast her in Stage Beauty after seeing her play Meryl Streep's daughter in The Hours, in what he regards as the best performance of the film.

'She shows her feelings very clearly. She has that film actor's great ability of appearing to slow down her thoughts, so that you can follow an emotion across her face, like watching a shadow move across a landscape.'

Adapted from the Jeffrey Hatcher play Compleat Female Stage Beauty, Eyre's film tells the story of the celebrated Restoration actor Ned Kynaston (played by Billy Crudup), a bisexual and cross-dresser who was famous for his exceptional beauty and ability to play the heroines of the English stage. As Maria, Kynaston's lovestruck dresser who later becomes his professional rival, Danes had a lot to reckon with.

'I was intimidated by the material,' she admits. 'It was from another time. I had this period to contend with, it's another culture and accent, and I was playing the first actress of the British stage. Bleuch.' She laughs. 'I had to act very badly, and then I had to act very persuasively, and to redefine an entire acting style. I mean, are you kidding?'

What saves the film from slipping into art-house opaqueness is the tangible on-screen chemistry between Crudup and Danes. Eyre tells me, 'They're both very, very intelligent, they're both quick-witted, they're both very accomplished actors. There's nothing in the film that they do that is an accident and so there was just a lot of mutual respect - like when musicians get together, they sort of sniff each other out, essentially to ask, "Can you play the instrument?" '

At 25, Danes has spent almost half her lifetime working in the movie industry. Young actors are fragile creatures, easily wounded in such a tough old business, and while she has avoided the major pitfalls associated with what her mentor, Jodie Foster, calls 'the child actor thing', you sense the peripatetic lifestyle has taken its toll.

In LA she missed the stimulation of New York, and although her parents had settled in California - 'They've become quite sandblasted and have got this low-key sensibility that they've acquired over the years over there,' she says - for Danes, the desire to return to her roots proved too much. She moved back to Manhattan 'as soon as I was legally able', buying a million-dollar loft in her old neighbourhood where her brother Ada, now a corporate lawyer, also lives.

I ask her if she wishes in retrospect she had a more conventional education, instead of the mish-mash of Manhattan schools, private tutoring on movie sets and a not altogether happy stint at the Lycée Français in LA.

'Well, that was what I was trying to achieve by going to college and that was a really productive choice for me, it was really helpful,' she says, referring to her decision to go to Yale in 1998. 'I made lots of friends there and I wasn't shackled by the kind of responsibility I had had from a very early age, and it was a relief to just be responsible for my homework and not an entire $60 million production.'

It was a bold move, because her career was just heading into orbit with the release of Romeo + Juliet, but Danes regarded it as a gift.

'It wasn't just about studying the canon, it was about relating to kids my own age, which I hadn't done.'

She didn't complete her studies, leaving Yale after two years, something she still tortures herself about, because she couldn't resist the gravitational pull of films.

'It had been three years since I'd acted and I was homesick for it.'

'Claire is very thoughtful and, I would say, compassionate,' Eyre says. 'She cares about people.'

Ironically, the qualities that make her so compelling to watch as an actress - emotional accessibility, self-awareness, a kind of heightened intelligence - are the same qualities that leave her struggling to deal with carrying a public persona. But she is learning how to carve out more privacy for herself. She will no longer, for example, talk about her ex-boyfriend of seven years, the Australian rocker Ben Lee.

'I really shouldn't get into that, it's too dangerous, too fresh; but we're still friends,' she says. Nor will she discuss losing her grandparents, who chose to die together in a double suicide. 'I talked about these things when I was really young and in a really open way and I kind of have a greater awareness now of the impact it has on others.

'So I have to be more cautious these days. I'm learning slowly that sometimes it helps to protect myself and my family by not discussing everything in such a public format.'

For all her anxiety, she does not lack a sense of humour. 'I'm a great whiner,' she admits cheerfully. Towards the end of our meeting, I ask Danes what she feels are the biggest hazards in her life.

'I think that the lack of continuity in my life is the most challenging aspect, and I have to work really actively and forcefully at maintaining my connections, my habits, my routines while I'm relocating.'

Long pause. 'I'm getting better at it but it's really stressful and I always feel abandoned, when I'm the one leaving. It's kind of backwards, but I often feel excluded from my community here in New York. My friends don't do anything to make me feel that way, it's just a consequence of my lifestyle.'

She doesn't want to live and die in SoHo - 'that would be way too provincial' - but for now she's glad to be home. 'I did an exercise the other day,' she tells me. 'I was in a cab and I closed my eyes and I knew where I was going. I know the streets so well.'

She sighs, then gives a bright smile. 'It's really reassuring when my life can be as fractured as it often seems.'
# 'Stage Beauty' is released on September 3. Readers can claim free preview tickets in 'The Daily Telegraph' from August 20

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Post by starbug » Aug 18th 2004, 9:41 am

MTV's My So-Called Life
Tsk. I would have expected better research from the Daily Telegraph.

I also didn't realise she had that much therapy...


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Post by Megs » Aug 18th 2004, 6:05 pm

I didn't know her grandparents committed suicide.
"I have all these dreams where I know exactly what to say. And you tell me, you know, that you forgive me."

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Post by Sascha » Aug 19th 2004, 8:06 am

Megs wrote:I didn't know her grandparents committed suicide.
Claire mentioned it years ago in an interview. Her grand-mother, the artist Ilse Getz, had the Alzheimer's disease and both grand-parents had made an agreement about committing suicide together in case Ilse's body wouldn't work anymore. Gibson Danes (her grand-father, a Yale alumni) was 81, Ilse Getz was 75 when they died in 1992. I only remember this because I wrote once a german biography about Claire and was surprised how openly she talked about her grand-parents death and the effects on her father.

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Post by MyLifeIsBrians » Aug 28th 2004, 10:57 pm

wow...thats really sad to have your grandparents commit sucide. I think she is smart to not go into detail about her life. Acting is her job and I would`nt go into detail about my life at my work so i don`t think she should be obliged to eithier....although I have to admit, I`d love to her her reasoning behind Billy Cudrup.
There`s Something About My Life....

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