Sometimes Claire Danes is compared to Jodie Foster. She's just as talented, she started at an early age and - important - she is really intelligent. That's why Claire Danes will go to university instead of making the most of her Romeo & Juliet bonus. The last star to be that courageous was... Jodie Foster.
In 1994, when her face was seen on TV nationwide for the first time, TV audiences gave a sigh of relief: Millions of US teenagers finally found a public voice to speak for them: Claire Danes. In My So-Called Life she played Angela Chase, a common teenager. The decisive factor wasn't the role itself, but the way she played it. Claire alias Angela wasn't one of those 90210 models but down to earth: clever but not a genius, pretty but not too pretty. TV producer Winnie Holzman was very careful when trying to tell Claire's parents their daughter would become a star very soon, so that "the poor couple knew what to expect in the future". Claire was 14 years old.
1997: MSCL went into TV hell long ago because there weren't enough wealthy adults who watched it. Since then, Claire Danes virtually grew up in front of an audience: She starred in ten films within three and a half years. A heavy workload. "Yeah, fame kind of crept up on me from behind", she says, not quite happily. "I'm not quite sure if I understand how it all works. Yesterday I agreed to go to a showbiz party with some friends of mine. There were a lot of autograph hunters who followed me with photos of me in their hands. How did they know I was coming? Sometimes it's all really overwhelming."
She shakes her chemically died-blond bob and tells a story: "When I went to the hairdresser, he said: 'You have to be aware of what you're doing, tomorrow a lot of teenagers will wear their hair like this.' What can I do? I can't let my life be determined by the way other people look at me. Why does society admire actors instead of hairdressers or people who construct spaceships?"
It isn't difficult to see why she is admired: Whether she plays a confused American suburban teenager or Juliet, the most legendary of all romantic lovers, she plays them with intelligence and freshness. Jodie Foster, director of Home For The Holidays, described her as an actress of "such intelligence and talent that she puts her whole generation in the shade." Steven Spielberg hailed her as "one of the most exciting actresses to debut in the last ten years", although he hasn't even worked with her yet. Nevertheless it was him who got her career going.
Spielberg offered her a role in Schindler's List, but couldn't have provided a tutor during the shooting in Poland. So family Danes said "No." But since they were in Los Angeles already, Claire took the opportunity to audition for MSCL. Winnie Holzman: "She was the second applicant, and I knew we had found our Angela." Danes: "In school, I wasn't one of the popular girls. I hated high school because of all those nasty little intrigues. Little mean girls who wrote mean notes on little sheets of paper were as time consuming as learning for school."
It's obvious that she wasn't very popular within the rough, infantile and anti-intellectual US teenage culture. Claire Danes seems to have an aura of an older woman about her. When she talks of herself, it is like an aunt talking about the life of her niece. Sitting straight, folding hands and looking upon the world with a sphinx-esque smile is part of that impression. On the other hand she is "still a baby", as Jodie Foster puts it. She agrees with this assessment, laughing: "I'm constantly torn between being an adult and going crazy." She failed to get her driver's licence four times. "I live in a far too adult world. It's sad that I don't have any friends like other teenagers. It's been three weeks since I've seen a person of my own age."
This will change, though. She has decided to attend college for four years in order to harmonize the different aspects of her life. She is hoping for a place at the NYU: "I mean, L.A.'s really cool, but I prefer to be at the more substantial side of the continent." She thinks her chances of actually getting a place at NYU aren't very good: "I registered for the Film Department, and they wanted some samples of my work. So I sent them a tape with excerpts of films. In every scene of 'Romeo & Juliet' you saw a caption saying 'To be shown to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences'. It looked really pretentious."
But the influential people in Hollywood aren't too happy about her academic ambitions: "It seems that apart from my family everybody wants me to stay dumb. They want me to just make more movies and more money." But Claire is convinced: "College is a must!" After all, her grandfather was a dean at several universities and she has been prepared to go to university all her life. Nevertheless, to her parents creativity has always been more important than discipline. Her father has been a photographer for many years and is now working as a computer consultant. Her mother is a painter and teacher.
Claire Danes attended the famous Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute at the early age of ten.. When she was 12, she declined a part in the TV soap One Life To Live to avoid being type-cast. Comparisons to Jodie Foster are inevitable. Both are highly intelligent, both started at an early age. Both are pretty but not conventional beauties like her colleagues Ryder or Tyler. Is it a burden to be compared with Foster? "Oh, not at all, it's a nice compliment. I mean, who doesn't want to have a career like Jodie's? She always just did what she wanted to." But isn't that exactly the burden? "Well, it's a goal that's hard to achieve, but at least I'm quite confident about my professional competence. I don't know how to find a boyfriend, but I've learned quite a lot about acting."
Claire Danes also has a plan about how her academic career doesn't mean the end of her acting career: "This year I'll shoot as many films as I can so that people won't forget me." She will be in Oliver Stones U-Turn, with Sean Penn and Jon Voigt. She can also be seen in Francis Ford Coppola's The Rainmaker. And eventually she even has enough ambition to play the part of the bride in Theresa Conelley's low-budget directing debut The Polish Wedding. "And I want to make at least one film a year during the summer holidays." Doing so, she will have to give up three months in which the rest of the American students are in their mating season, but she doesn't care. She simply has different priorities: "I can't imagine to stop acting for four years. I'm emotionally addicted to this job."
Originally translated by: Jan Fischer
© Allegra 1997