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Life Is Sweet (Sorta)
by Claire Danes (Sassy - December 1995)

She's being called the new Winona Ryder and her career is in overdrive, wiTh Three hoT Films - How To Make an American QuilT, Home for The Holidays and I Love You, I Love You NoT in The can. Nonstop glamour...or kind of a grind? America's coolesT Teenager Tells all!

I have a life, I do. SomeTimes though iT feels like a double life. Half The Time I'm dealing wiTh school and boys and geTTing my driver's license -- jusT like every oTher 16-year-old girl (well, I'll be 17 in April) -- and The other half is very adulT, a very businesslike sTrucTured kind of world.

I'm picking up and leaving every other minute - schools, sets, different film projects - and it's hard to maintain any sort of continuity in my life. I hardly ever get to see my boyfriend (musician Andrew Dorff, Stephen's younger brother), and I'm beginning to think he's a figment of my imagination. Forget about my best friends back in New York, who I maybe see about two weeks a year.

Fortunately, I'm very close to my parents, although at this point I'm with my mom way too much. She's a painter, but she's also a quasi-manager. I must admit it's nice having a guard dog who's really concerned about my best interests. I also have a brother six years older than me. We're going through funk right now because he's a big worry wart and too overprotective of me.

Being brought up in New York, I was exposed to a lot that your average American doesn't get to see. I grew up in a very liberal and artistic environment, and I went to public schools all the way through junior high. I think I actually took more of a conservative turn than my parents ever did. The only thing I can say that is definitely very 16-year-old about me is that I'm a little boy crazy.

Besides my boyfriend, I have a lot of fun with my leading men. I've been really lucky so far - Jared Leto, Jude Law and by the time you read this, I'll be working with Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo and Juliet. But I definitely know the difference between screen romance and the real thing. I've been going out with 'Drew now for almost a year and I would definitely call it a substantial relationship, considering we don't get to see each other that often. He's a singer and a songwriter who I met through my friend Devon (she played Sharon on My So-Called Life. She went to an acting class and she saw Andrew there and thought he was cute. When she asked him how old he was, he said 18, and she was like 21 so she thought of me. She hooked us up and we all went out for coffee. I couldn't figure him out the first few times I was with him. I thought he could be either really, really cool or totally not. Obviously, things turned out the way I hoped. He's one of the sweetest and most charming people in the world. He's also been around the business his whole life so he understands my career.

Our dates - when we do get to see each other - are pretty normal. We go to the movies, we go to concerts. Like the last time we were in New York together, we went to see Ben Harper and Cyndi Lauper. I don't go out and get crazy - ever! I can't even think of something outlandish I've done recently. I mean, I still call my parents if I'm going to be out past 11:30 p.m. and it's not because they tell me to.

My parents don't set too many limitations on me. They sort of expect that I'll make the right decisions. Then it becomes my call and I know in my heart that they would be deeply disappointed if I didn't do "the right thing." I'm also very much a perfectionist, in my work and in my everyday life. My bedroom at home is incredibly orderly. Even though I crave structure in my life, I find that it can sometimes hold me back because it doesn't leave much room for magic and spontaneity.

I'm pretty much taking everything one step at a time in my life right now. It's still too weird for me to imagine myself as a celebrity - I hate how people treat actors like royalty. I think the amount of money people make in the business is scandalous. Teachers are the ones educating tomorrow's leaders and are the people who can ultimately really effect some change, yet celebrities make tons more money. that is too weird for me. The whole idea of fame is a very wacky phenomenon.

Another thing I struggle with is trying to go to school and act at the same time. Right now I'm a junior at Le Lycée de Francais in Los Angeles. Freshman year I spent a semester at Dalton in New York, then corresponded with the Dalton curriculum with a tutor while I was filming My So-Called Life. I thought about taking a break from work this fall after filming I Love You, I Love You Not, but an opportunity came up, a film that I really wanted to do, so I got right into my next project. It's called To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, with Michelle Pfeiffer, Peter Gallagher and Kathy Baker. It's about a man who loses his wife in a freak accident, and I play the daughter. The script is really neat, and the characters are very well-rounded and emotional. I just love to get lost in other characters. It's hard for me to describe why acting is so important to me, but I'm simply not as happy when I'm not acting. It's difficult to make both school and my film career work - it's a real give-and-take. Both are full-time jobs. I'm making a real point, though of taking my SATs.

Jodie Foster, who directed me in Home for the Holidays and is a Yale graduate, told me college was "too much fun not to do." I have a huge phobia of papers, though. For some reason, I think of college as one big term paper and I'm frightened of that. But what's really important to me is feeling secure as an intelligent, educated person. I don't think that necessarily means going to college, but I'd always be guessing if I didn't ever try it.

While I was working with Winona Ryder in Little Women, she really stressed the importance to me that the personal and emotional needs of Claire Danes as a person have to come before Claire Danes the actress. She also told me how she was just coming to embrace the fact of her success. You wouldn't believe the challenge it is to understand that it's OK to be successful. I wonder all the time what it is about me that people respond to. things have continued to progress for me since My So-Called Life, but there's always the fear that it will all go away. Right now my job is to replenish everything I've been giving out.

© Petersen Publishing Company 1995