'When you have broken bones all the time, you don't have the strength to fight back. You become numb to your feelings.’ Claire Danes
Hollywood's fastest rising star has just turned nineteen, but CLAIRE DANES is quickly discovering the price of celebrity. Words: Pua seam. and Peter Ross
BIN THE OSCAR, sell the private jet, drain the kidney- shaped pool. The true test of Hollywood status these days is how wacko your fans are. Claire Danes, teen star of Bax Luhrmann’s Romeo And Juliet, is a hot property — she attracts more nuts than a squirrel’s bring ’n’ buy sale.
Danes checks out a Web site where fans post messages to her. Some praise her acting, but most are weird, wired declarations of devotion. One sixteen- year—old boy describes himself as ‘a believer in Christ, I stand at six foot’. He hopes Claire will write, as he is her true love. Another time, Danes is driving through New York with boyfriend Ben Lee — singer with Grand Royal signings Noise Addict — when a bunch of joyriders pull alongside and start pointing and whooping. Ben throws cherries at them, which makes Claire mad. She’s beginning to understand the effect she has on people.
‘I was so furious. I said “Ben you can’t do that, this is the deal! You have to accept the fact that people are going to point their ﬁnger”,’ she says, resignedly.
Such behaviour is understandable. People relate to this likeable, charismatic, normal nineteen-year-old. Pretty rather than beautiful, shy nor brassy, her calmness and dark brown eyes suggest depth and intelligence. You get the feeling Danes has the same hang-ups and anxieties as the rest of us.
As ﬁfteen-year-old Angela Chase in 1994’s cult TV series My So Called Life — for which she won a Golden Globe — she was the epitome of unstudied teenage hip. A neat mix of Gen X slackerdom, confessional angst and high school cool, the show which was screened on Channel 4 in I995 was a cross between The Wonder Years and Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit video. Bottom-line obsessed execs axed it after one series, but not before Danes had won hordes of fans, smitten by her kooky charm and empathising like crazy.
lf girls who caught My So Called Life wanted to be like Claire, when they saw her smooching Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo And Juliet they wanted to be her. That movie made her an international star, a status unlikely to be altered when her next two ﬁlms hit the screens.
In The Rainmaker — Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of a James Grisham novel — she plays Kelly Riker, a battered wife who captures the heart of Matt Damon’s idealistic whizz-kid lawyer. In Oliver Stone’s violent and erotic U-Turn (tagline: ‘Sex. Murder. Betrayal. The things that make life worth living.’) Danes plays opposite Joaquin Phoenix as trailer-trash nympho Jenny. The part is small, but as one US critic described her performance as ‘a walking white stick of libido’, she’s unlikely to lose any fans. However, Danes was initially uncertain about the role.
‘I was like “What? She has no redeeming qualities?
Not a little bit attractive? A little bit of lipstick?” But it’s kinda fun if you just let go and push the envelope a bit,’ she laughs.
‘l’m so lucky that people have responded so positively to my work. It’s great to feel that you’re not limited; audiences have been very flexible and supportive of me. It’s cool that I haven’t been pigeonholed. That, to me, is really exciting.’
Even Oliver Stone, a director known for being prickly and demanding with his female cast, seems to have succumbed to the Danes charm.
‘He talked to me pretty openly, was respectful, and didn’t treat me as a sex object or dismiss me as a stupid little actress,’ she says. ‘I was so glad he sort of liked me. You don’t want to get on Oliver’s bad side. I wouldn’t say he was pleasant to work with. He was a little bit challenging, but he does pull remarkable performances out of people. By any means necessary is his motto, I think.’
This approach would have suited Danes, who isn’t the kind of actress who simply tries on and discards roles like last season’s fashions. There’s a real commitment to her work. Researching The Rainmaker, she discussed the issues with a worker at a shelter for battered wives. These conversations left a deep impression.
‘These women are forced to become submissive and passive, to give up all hope because they don’t see a way out,’ she explains. ‘The husbands kill the wives who leave them; that’s when they murder them. You’re relatively safe if you’re complacent and stay at home. I mean, you’re forever in pain but at least you’ll still be breathing.
‘So they become alienated from their family, their friends, the world. When you have broken bones all the time, you don’t have the strength to ﬁght back. You become numb to your feelings and you’re trapped like a lobster who goes into a cage which they can’t get out of.’
The Rainmaker will raise Danes’s proﬁle, but she is a reluctant star. Turning down the lead in Titanic, taking a year off to study at Yale University, and travelling the world for six months are all attempts to reduce the heat of celebrity.
‘I took six months OH to run around with my beau and hang out and see the world on my own terms, without the cushion of a production company,’ she says. ‘That was really important to do. All of a sudden I had this clarity and mini—epiphany that life was manageable. So yeah, I checked out for a while and I felt quite rejuvenated and was resisting getting back on the train.
‘I didn’t realise how much I was sacriﬁcing until I put the breaks on everything and allotted some time to be free from’responsibility, to be my own person again and not share my psyche with another personality or character. That’s the ultimate sacriﬁce: sharing your life with society.’
Hey Claire, we’re grateful.
The Rairunaker and (Hum open on Friday 24 April. See reviews. pages 26 and 27.
16—30 Apt 1998 TIEIJSTS