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Forget "So-Called"; Danes has found show-biz good life
by Jennifer Weiner (Knight-Ridder Newspapers - November 1, 1996)

Miami -- Claire runs a hand through her newly blond bob and laughs. "What's up with my hair?" she repeats mockingly. "You're asking me? Like I'm in control of it?"

Of course, she isn't in control of her own hair. Danes' locks, like so much of her life, belong to directors now, and PR types and managers, and prying journalists eager for her to spill her guts -- or at least a few beauty secrets -- for the delectation of every 14-year-old girl in America. ("I'm really popular among the 14-year olds" says Danes, with a resignation few 17-year-olds could muster.)

Danes stars in To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, which opened last Friday, and in Romeo and Juliet, which opens today.

As any of her 14-year-old fans could tell you, Danes was the star of the ABC series My So-Called Life. The girl who announced her career intentions at age 3 and was enrolled at New York's Strasberg Theatre Institute by age 10 won raves for her angsty, observant teen Angela Chase, but it wasn't enough to keep the edgy drama on the air for more than the '94-'95 season.

But Danes was on her way. She played the saintly, doomed Beth in Little Women (1994). She had supporting parts in last year's Home for the Holidays and How to Make an American Quilt. And now, with starring roles in the maudlin Gillian"and Baz (Strictly Ballroom) Luhrmann's bawdy, bloody bash of a Romeo and Juliet, she is far and away the best thing in two absurdly different films.

As Rachel, the level-headed daughter of Gillian's obsessed and possibly deranged dad, she laughs, grieves, falls in love for the first time, gets drunk for the first time and is completely convincing at each.

Her Juliet -- in an amped up film that uses Mexico City as the setting for the mythical Verona Beach -- is perfect and perfectly believable as a sheltered rich girl who just happens to speak in iambic pentmeter.

"I had such a phobia of Shakespeare, as every actor does," Danes says. You're always told it's the hardest you'll ever do. But for me, Juliet was probably, well, maybe not the easiest, but the most joyous thing in terms of work. The characters are so drawn, you don't have to be at home filling in blanks, because there are no blanks."

In person, it's surprising how regular Danes is. Sitting on a balcony, her opaque startlet shades in place, she wears clunky heels and a clingy blue-and-red dress that looks like it came from a thrift shop but actually came from Prada's Miu Miu line. ("They give me lots of stuff to wear," she says with a little grin. "It's their young line, because I'm young and hip, if you can't tell.")

On the college front, say Danes, the possibilities include Harvard, Yale, Brown, Vassar, Columbia. Barnard and Sarah Lawrence, which she likes most. She's a senior now, working with a tutor after stints at New York City's competitive Dalton School and Los Angeles' Le Lycee Francais, Jodie Foster's alma mater.

Her plate is full to overflowing. She has a small part in Oliver Stone's Stray Dogs which se begins shooting next month. She'll play an abused wife in Grisham's The Rainmaker to begin filming later this year under the command of Francis Ford Coppola. And Company of Angels, a Kathryn Boigelow remake of Joan of Arc, is a possiblity for the spring -- if, she says, she can find time.

© Knight-Ridder Newspapers 1996