Claire Danes was considered something of an it girl as her stardom was propelled from such an early age. From "My So Called Life" and Baz Luhrman’s "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet", to “The Hours," "Terminator 3," "Shopgirl" and "Stardust" - the actress easily jumps between mainstream, arthouse and back again.
In her latest project she portrays an aspiring actress as well as assistant to the legendary Orson Welles in “Me and Orson Welles”, a fictionalized account of the director’s early years, directed by Richard Linklater. The beautiful actress talked to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Question: What was the attraction of this character in Me and Orson Welles for you?
Danes: Well, the script was great and it’s really rare to find a script that’s as witty and clever and engaging, and where all the characters were very vivid, and imaginative, so, that was incredibly appealing in and of itself. And then, of course, I knew that Richard Linklater was directing it, and he’s one of my favorite directors. And then it had managed to attract an incredible cast. I was one of the last people to be cast. So, there was really nothing about this project that didn't make me very excited.
Question: Had you read the book that it was based on?
Danes: I read it when I immediately accepted the offer to do the movie, but, I think the book is incredibly winning.
Question: Now, how necessary is it for you to do research on this particular period? Or is it simply already there on the page?
Danes: I mean, the vast majority of it was on the page. But Rick had done a lot of our homework for us, and gave us a packet of references of the time. So, he gave us mixed CDs of music from the era, and slang from the era, and photographs of the theatre, the original Mercury Theatre, and the actors who performed in the original production of Julius Caesar. So, you know, he created a really detailed portrait of that time for us.
Question: Would you say that Linklater is an actor’s director?
Danes: Very much so, yeah. He’s a dream to work with, you know? He’s very clear about what he wants, and he can communicate his vision really easily. But at the same time, he’s very permissive, you know? And gives the actors a lot of freedom to explore, and play, and goof off, and create something kind of surprising and genuine.
Question: You’ve had this really fascinating career, that began with kind of adolescence, and then kind of segued into young adulthood. And there was a point where you were kind of defined as The It Girl, and then you kind of went off and decided to do a lot of non-mainstream projects. Was that by design? Because you’ve made your mark, it seems to me, in film – even though, you know, everyone knows you from a lot of mainstream films. It’s certainly the indie world that you seem to be attracted to.
Danes: Well, yeah. I mean, I didn't have any grand designs and really did just find myself gravitating to one story or another, some of them probably were on a smaller scale than maybe they should have been. And I put that in quotes, you know? But – yeah. I mean, I’m always just attracted to characters who are dynamic and have an opportunity to undergo some pivotal change, you know?
Question: The older you get, are those kind of women harder to find, for you?
Danes: You know what? I think it’s a difficult time right now in a lot of industries, because of the economy, and that’s certainly true of ours as well. They’re making fewer movies than they ever have, therefore there are fewer roles, so I think everybody’s experiencing that pinch. But I mean, I’ve been very fortunate so far, and I have yet to reach the age where I’m suddenly forced into maternal roles, or something.
Question: Well, do you ever look back and ask yourself – was there, in your mind, ever a disadvantage in starting out so young in the public eye? Do you think that was – if you could do it all over again, would you make the same choices, from such a young age?
Danes: I’m really happy right now, in my life. I stopped acting for three years, and I went to college, which was the right thing for me to do. I think I probably did sacrifice a lot by working so young, but I made up for it later. I mean, there were parts of me that were really overdeveloped, and other parts that were kind of underdeveloped and I did balance out during that time at school. I kind of just hung out, and learned how to socialize, made friends outside of the industry, and I kind of defined myself as a person, in a safe place, so I feel quite fortified now. But I’m also so grateful for the experiences that I had as a young person, telling these great stories, with these brilliant, imaginative people and it was incredibly edifying.
Question: When you look back, and you see footage of yourself in Romeo and Juliet, or any of these other young roles, do you look at them as being almost like home movies, in a way? Are you enough detached from that period of your life to see the kind of actor you were when you were 13, 14 years old?
Danes: I mean, I never watch my movies; I get too squeamish. But I’m kind of saving them for my kids, or something. I mean, they probably won't be remotely interested. Really, who am I kidding?
Question: Why did the acting bug hit you in the first place?
Danes: I don't know. I started dancing when I was very young and that’s how I found acting, initially. But I can't say. I just knew. I was absolutely certain at a very young age that this was what I wanted to pursue. I think I’m a natural ham, I’m pretty perceptive, and I really like thinking seriously about how we operate.
Question: And after college, was it easy for you to regain the passion that you had for acting?
Danes: Yeah. I mean, I’d been acting for so long, I didn’t know if I was doing it out of habit, or true passion. And sure enough, I learned that it was the latter rather than the former. But I wanted to give myself a chance to explore different avenues, and different interests and I’m really glad I did, because I don’t feel remotely resentful. It’s something I chose. I wasn’t bullied into it.
Question: Tell me about this HBO movie that you finished. Are you shooting something else, or did you finish that?
Danes: Well, it comes out in February. I finished it the end of last year. It’s about a woman called Temple Grandin, who is extraordinary. She’s autistic, and she’s the first person to have written about autism, somebody who has it. And she also went on to revolutionize the slaughter industry. She created a humane way to kill cattle. So, she’s a brilliant autistic cowgirl basically.
Question: I presume you immersed yourself in the research for that one.
Danes: Yeah. There was quite a bit of research to do there, but it was all fascinating.
Question: Anything else that you’re looking at, at the moment, or that you’re working on?
Danes: No. I don't know what’s next. I’ll just have to remain patient.
Question: Will you direct, do you think?
Danes: No. [LAUGHTER]
Question: Really? Wow, that’s emphatic.
Danes: They have way too much work, way too many responsibilities, as directors.
Question: What about other creative aspects of the arts, like writing?
Danes: You know, I don't know. I mean, it was really refreshing to return to dance, and it is kind of exciting to indulge my other creative urges. I like to draw a lot. I imagine I would do something with visual art, before I would direct.