Claire Danes in Cape Town
CLAIRE DANES HAS STEADFASTLY PURSUED A CAREER THAT MATCHES THE BREADTH AND INTENSITY OF HER TALENT. SHOOTING THE FOURTH SEASON OF HIT SERIES
HOMELAND ON OUR SHORES, SHE CHATTED TO MARIE CLAIRE ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA’S BEAUTY, THE APPEAL OF DAMAGED CHARACTERS AND HOW SHE’S REMAINED GROUNDED THROUGH TWO DECADES OF CELEBRITY
First things first: how are you enjoying your time in Cape Town? Very much. It’s a funny thing, because we’re telling a story that takes place in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but this place is so compelling; my imagination is getting lost in it. It’s maybe not ideal for the work, but it’s good for me. I’m having a lovely time, and it’s obviously really beautiful. It’s dynamic. What do you find compelling and dynamic? Well, it’s familiar, and it’s other. I’m from New York: we were also settled by the Dutch and the English, about the same time, but it manifested itself differently. It’s interesting to see how the country is recalibrating and healing after apartheid. That’s still vibrating. That’s been interesting to observe. What is also remarkable is the landscape, how overwhelmingly beautiful it is and how it’s integrated into the urban life. I’ve been doing these trail runs that have been incredible.The first couple I did, I was apoplectic. Just, ‘Oh my God! How do you handle this beauty? How do you cope?’ Since then I’ve simmered down a little. Have you been able to travel around much? I’ve basically been working my tuchus off, so I’ve been consumed by that.But I’ve taken a few day trips here and there, to Franschhoek, Constantia, Boulders beach, Cape Point, Table Mountain. I’ve hit lots of ‘must-see’ locations. I’d love to go on safari but I’d need a few consecutive days off, which I haven’t had so far. What are the challenges of being in a hit show like Homeland, keeping the momentum going season after season? The writers are smart and creatively ambitious. They don’t want to be working on something that’s routine and circular; they want it to move forward. That means we as actors are continuously allowed to enter new territory and challenge ourselves. That keeps the work vital. You’ve said there’s a huge asymmetry between yourself and Carrie. Can you talk about those divergences?
Carrie, yes … I’m not bipolar. She’s a deeply isolated, lonely person, who puts her work before everything else. While I love my work, that’s not so much the case. I’m not saving the world left, right and centre. [Spoiler alert; skip this next question if you aren’t up to date with Homeland:] Has that asymmetry changed much, going into the fourth season, now that you’re both new mothers? Our attitudes to our children couldn’t be more opposite.The big theme of this season is that Carrie needs to grieve Brody’s loss, and initially she’s unwilling to do so. She doesn’t know how and it’s making it impossible for her to connect to her child. So she uses her work as a way to estrange herself from the child. Her arc is that she needs to find a way to feel these terribly painful feelings, so she can accept her role as a mother, and accept and embrace her child. There’s been a lot of feminist analysis of your character on Homeland. One of the recurring comments has been that the only way we can make sense of her brilliance is to pathologise her. What have you made of that critique? There’s no way we can measure the show against the standards of reality. We have to accept that we’re taking massive creative licence here. But beyond that, I think it’s sometimes true – many geniuses do have conditions. I think these people sometimes do have moments of inspiration, their brains are working at a very high level, and they can have access to profound insights. They can’t put the moments of brilliance into good, lasting use. [Carrie] has Saul to do that for her. You studied psychology at Yale, and in some respects your acting career has been a continuation of those studies: from playing Temple Grandin [in the eponymous 2010 biopic], who had autism, to Carrie, who suffers from bipolar disorder.You once joked that with your characters you were working
your way through the [mental disorders manual]
DSM-5. What draws you to these roles? I’m fundamentally interested in how people work and what motivates their choices. When you’re playing someone who is decidedly different from yourself, you have to stretch and reach to meet that person, and in the process you can do interesting work.It’s always amazing when you get to that other side to realise there’s still this great sense of connection and continuity. You were a child star, but you haven’t suffered the fate of most child stars. What’s your relationship with celebrity? I don’t love celebrity. It enables me to get more, and often better, work. It’s a good means to an end. But it, of itself, is not very interesting. Was there never a mythology about it, even when you were young? I think when it first hits, and you first get a blast of it, it’s intoxicating, but that thrill wanes pretty quickly.It’s validating, it’s nice and people on the street are usually so sweet; they’re just excited. It’s sometimes a little strange, because you’re not always in that same headspace. Your kid has a dirty nappy and you’re racing to a bathroom or something; you don’t want to get lost in conversation. Have you ever been overwhelmed when meeting another celebrity? For sure. I met Angelina Jolie, and I was like, ‘That’s Angelina Jolie!’ You turned down a role when you were 12.You always seem to have had an amazing faith that the right roles would come along. Where did that come from? I had the faith, and then I lost it for a while. But I’ve always been an earnest person. I experimented with not being earnest, but it didn’t work. I was always interested in acting in a realistic way. I remember seeing Sophie’s Choice or Wall Street, and thinking, ‘That’s what I want to do!’ You once took a two-year break because you didn’t feel that enough complex parts for women were coming along. Do you think that’s changing, especially now that television is becoming a ‘respectable’ way to extend your career? Television is a very happy land for ladies. It’s super-fertile territory. It’s so interesting that in the last decade there’s been this huge flip. I remember when there was this massive stigma attached to TV, and it’s now been reorganised. So that’s great, and there are more roles for sophisticated, complex women in TV. But there’s also room for sophisticated, complex storytelling in TV right now. You’ve had many iconic roles, from Angela Chase [ My So
Called Life] to Juliet [ Romeo + Juliet] and now Carrie. Who do you find you’re most often conflated with? Angela Chase was the first role that people saw me play. That had a big resonance. People of a certain generation still associate that role with me, but now Carrie happens to be onTV so she’s at the forefront. In all the early profiles of you you’re described as an ‘old soul’. Do you feel like you’re becoming younger with age? It’s a strange thing to become an actual old fogey, when you’ve been this ‘old soul’ all your life. Now I’m just ‘old’! I grew up in New York with parents who are artists, who never condescended to me. That might have contributed to my seemingly precocious characteristics as a younger person. While you could easily have been typecast as a ‘pretty girl’ actress, you have avoided that for most of your career. How do you deal with Hollywood’s obsession with physical beauty? It is a definite thing. I love acting, because it’s where I can admit to some of my darker, or less ‘seemly’, impulses and feelings, and not only is that okay, it’s appreciated, because everyone wants somebody to acknowledge those parts of us that aren’t allowed to exist comfortably in everyday life. So that extends to worrying about my physical form. It depends on the story too. If I’m playing a beautiful character, I’ll be mindful of that. If I’m not, I’m not going to worry about it. But, you know: I’m married [laughs]… I have work. I’m fine; I’m not going to spend too much energy worrying. I’m being a little facetious, but I kind’ve do feel that way. When are you leaving our shores? I wrap up here permanently at the end of November.The last couple of years have been about producing a kid [her son, Cyrus, with husband Hugh Dancy]. I have a little freedom now. He’ll be two when we wrap: he’s more of an independent dude.
2004 Above, top to bottom Billy Crudup in Stage Beauty; Patrick Wilson in Evening; Charlie Cox in Stardust; Damian Lewis in real-life husband Hugh Dancy.
Claire Danes with, from top Jared Leto in My So-Called Life; Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet; Joaquin Phoenix and Sean Penn in U-Turn; Jude Law in I Love You, I Love You Not; Kieran Culkin in Igby Goes Down.