Claire Danes is the only actress whose stardom stems from a failed television show. After being cancelled by a major network, My So-Called Life became a cult hit with teenagers after the reruns aired on MTV. Since then, the 19-year-old Yale freshman has worked with the absolute best people in Hollywood. Francis Ford Coppola cast her opposite Matt Damon in The Rainmaker and she flirted with Sean Penn in Oliver Stone's wacky comedy, U-Turn. She was Michelle Pfeiffer's daughter in To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday, Holly Hunter's daughter in Jodie Foster's Home For the Holidays, Gabriel Byrne's sexy daughter in Polish Wedding and Susan Sarandon's doomed daughter, Beth, in Little Women. But, her most successful hit film, William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet cast her as the eternal lovesick teenager, Juliet opposite white-hot Leonardo DiCaprio. In the fall, she'll star in Brokedown Palace. Claire Danes is poised to be the next big thing.
Recently, you've been working a lot. How did you hear about The Mod Squad?
I came back from Sydney -- I was living there for a month -- and I had a bunch of meetings for The Mod Squad. I met with [executive producer] Aaron Spelling for an hour in his office, which was the most amazing experience of my life -- aside from making this picture, of course. I was living across the street from a beach, and walking around with no shoes on for a very long time. So, to be blasted with all of this glamorous, sophisticated stuff involving films is really kind of jarring.
Do you get to play a hippie in this modern-day version of The Mod Squad?
They were never hippies... they were too cool to be hippies. It takes place in modern times, but it definitely has that flavor of the '70s. It's shooting in L.A. so we won't be able to avoid incorporating a '70s feel, because the architecture never evolves from that era.
Were you familiar with the TV series at all? Had you ever seen reruns?
No. But the title sounded so cool, just the two words combined: Mod Squad. I was compelled to check it out. I saw one episode while shooting another movie in the Philippines in my rickety trailer, and I was turned on by it. I thought it was really cool. It was really groovy, as you know, Julie would say.
You just happened to see an episode there?
No. They sent me a tape. My agents sent me a tape and I really dug it, you know? It's just the opening sequence, when they're all running and then it pauses, you know? That was exciting to me.
Tell me what you thought about the script.
I thought it was great. I mean, the main thing that surprised me, and I was really thankful for, was just that Julie -- in the new version of The Mod Squad -- is much stronger and much more aggressive and confident than the Julie in the television show. So, that was exciting to me. 'Cause when I first saw the television show, it's like, "Hmmm. Peggy Lipton's not saying very much, you know?" She's doing a lot of pouting and that doesn't interest me as much as somebody who is very active and takes responsibility for what she does in her life.
What do you think is different about Julie in the new version? I mean, she's still a pretty undercover cop.
It's a little vague. That's not where the emphasis lies, but they're juvenile delinquents. My character, specifically, was what they call a coke whore, which is pleasant. She was a drug addict and they all got up to no good, you know? I think the crimes were pretty petty. I don't think nobody's a murderer in the group. But they were caught and they were arrested and they cut a deal with the police to work undercover. It's kinda miserable, but they're also, you know, involved with getting their lives together and getting their act together.
What's led her to this place?
I mean, she was very poor and grew up in L.A. Her father deserted her and he was probably abusive to her mom, so she was kind of a stray dog and not really nurtured or cared for. She has all these trust issues. She's been taken advantage of countless times. And she's hot, you know? She's this total California girl. And that was really cool to play. You know, because she's a punk.
Let's talk about the style of this film. Did it end up being cool, in your words?
Yeah. It's youthful, it's slick, it's sexy, and it's cool. It doesn't try hard at all. I just said it's slick, but there is an element of rawness to it at the same time and I guess that does stem from the youth, you know, that it's talking about and celebrating. So, there's a lot of energy and it moves very well.
Where does the coolness come from?
From me. It all comes from me. (laughs)
Does it come from the dialogue?
Yeah. It's almost Shakespearean. The dialogue, it's so crazy. Everything's in... it's in the total other language. It's like a code. You know: solid baby, dig this, blah, blah, blah. So, they're not words that we normally use, but we wanted to retain some of the flavor that existed in the original series and that's one really effective way that we did that. So, yeah, it's very groovy, the whole thing. And the styling -- that's wonderful. The set design was great, the clothes area amazing, the makeup's really tough....
Was this your first action film?
It was my first action film, but it's weird, 'cause it's like this low-tech action movie. And we do a lot of talking. So, it was like, "Let's run already! Let's kick some ass." So, I did in the end, you know, get a fair share of that. And I was pretty good. My stunt double was congratulating me pretty frequently, which my ego much appreciated. But, yeah, I did throw a couple of punches. It was a little rough at first, but I eventually caught on.
Is there an attraction between Julie and Pete?
In the beginning, Julie's just completely irritated by Pete (Giovanni Ribisi) all the time, 'cause he's like this monkey-boy. But they are kind of attracted to each other at the same time. They play with each other. In the series, I think Julie had a crush on Pete. Linc's (Omar Epps) just so stoic and so untouchable. Everybody gives him props and respects him because he demands that. So, I think Julie and Linc actually have kind of a brother-sister relationship.
Do you believe in love at first sight?
I'm sort of avoiding the subject. I kind of do. I certainly believe that it's important to be attracted to somebody. And if that attraction doesn't exist, then you're gonna run into trouble three months into it. In the two sound and healthy relationships that I've had, it took time for them to grow into something substantial... not very long. And the first six months you're just drowning in your endorphins. It's so great. And then it eventually stops, and it's really irritating because you still have to be excited about the person you're involved with. (laughs)
You are the only actress who's worked with both Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio. How would you compare and contrast them?
I swear... it's very funny. Probably every struggling actor is gonna want to make a movie with me, because they think that'll be the key. Leo's very instinctive, very intuitive. Matt does a great deal of research. It's not to say that they're completely one-sided, but Leo tends to just follow his gut, and Matt does rely heavily upon technique. I don't think Leo would ever write his own script. Oh, I can't compare them. They're both really great. And there's a place for both of them. They're both very appealing -- I understand the allure. I get it. It's amazing, you walk into bookstores, and there are entire shelves dedicated to Leo and Matt. I'm thinking, "Oh, man...."
Is that intimidating for an actress -- to become like Gwyneth Paltrow? That could still happen to you?
What? That kind of hysterical thing? Well, I have my fair share of it. It's enough. I get it. It's not that exciting. Ultimately, it's really limiting. And I think it's a good thing to avoid.
Limiting in what sense?
Because people start seeing you one way, and they would be very resentful if you changed a little bit. And you feel like you're constantly stared at, even if you're alone in your room. Because you know there's an image of you out there that people are worshipping. And that does affect you. You do feel that. And it's a huge pressure.
And think of the men out there looking for your image on the Internet.
Yeah. There's a song called "Claire Danes Poster" by Size 14, and there's one line in it that says, "Every once in a while I pretend she's my hand." On the Internet, there are nude celebrity photos. I was scanning the Internet with my friend, and I was like, "Oh, I'm on that list," so we decided to see. And it's the lamest thing. It's a picture of me -- it's advertised as "Claire's Nipple." And there's the smallest portion of it, while I'm leaning this way at some party or something. It's just very lame.
© TNT 1999