The untold truth of Claire Danes

From her career-making performance on the 90s teen classic show My So-Called Life to her pivotal starring role on Homeland, Claire Danes has had an illustrious television career. Her film career has been no less distinguished with starring roles in films like Little Women and Stardust. The actress has proven time and time again how versatile and talented she is.

In the more than quarter of a century Danes has been on television and movie screens, the world has had ample time to fall in love with the star. While some people who grow up on the screen flounder later in their careers, Danes successfully made the transition from ingénue to leading lady with grace, never losing her down-to-earth personality. The actress is one of the great talents of her generation, and her star is still on the rise. Here is everything that you never knew about the formidable star.  

One of her earliest memories reveals her natural acting talent

Some people are just born with talent, and Danes is one of those blessed few. Her acting prowess was apparent from a young age, even before she had decided to embark on a career in the performing arts. The actress told GQ (via My Thirty Spot) that one of her earliest memories was of acting when she was just 3 years old. 

"I was in pre-nursery," she said. "It was nap time and I couldn't nap. I was in my cot, looking at everyone sleeping. I didn't want to disappoint my teacher. And I remembered I had observed my mother sleeping, and she would twitch. So, to give the impression I was asleep, I twitched. And I remember thinking, 'Oooh, that's good. That's nuanced.'" At an age when most kids are learning how to read and count their shoes, Danes was already well on her way to honing her skills in her chosen career. Talk about impressive!

Dance was her first passion

Danes might have had acting chops as early as her toddler days, but acting was not actually her first career choice. She always knew that she loved performing, but got her start in a different medium. "I've danced since I was a little girl — modern dance," she told Interview. "I did a few artsy-fartsy dance performances on the Lower East Side and that got me started performing."

From there, Danes started learning more about other kinds of performance. She started studying acting at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute at the age of 11, and then transferred to a performing arts school because she "wanted to get out" of her elementary school, which she "hated." That performing arts school opened up a whole new world for Danes, and also provided a networking opportunity.  One of her classmates at the New York City Lab School was fellow actress Morena Baccarin who would go on to star with her on Homeland.

Even as a teenage star, she was remarkably grounded

Stardom came early for Danes. She was just 13 years old when she auditioned for the career-making role of Angela Chase on the cancelled-too-soon show My So-Called Life. She turned 14 after the pilot, and by the age of 15 was a full-fledged star. Being a child star didn't turn her head, though. Danes remained remarkably grounded with a wisdom far beyond her years. "I just want to be a sane person," she told ET when she was 15. "I wanna be a person who has a life and who acts."

The teenager knew that she wanted more out of life than fame. "I want to be doing good work that is well written and has good people in it," she said. "I want to be learning. I want to be getting a good education. Somehow, I want to be able to manage all of that. I want to have a good balance of things."

A much-older Jared Leto taught her how to kiss on My So-Called Life

Most of the teenagers on My So-Called Life were played by adults who were cast when they were 18 or 19. The only exceptions were 15-year-old Devon Gummersall, who played Brian Krakow, and Danes herself. This made for a huge age gap between Danes and Jared Leto, who played her crush, Jordan Catalano.

Danes later said that Leto acted brotherly towards her, but there was some awkwardness on set during romantic scenes. "There were these stage directions in that scene where it says 'Angela kisses Jordan's face,' and I was like, 'What? What is that about?" she later said on The Howard Stern Show. "Why would she kiss his face? I had that question on set, and he had to try to teach me. It's ridiculous!"

Danes was only 14 at the time and had kissed a boy "maybe once or twice" but was far from experienced in "the subtleties of making out." The seven-year age gap between her and Leto added to the weirdness. "He seemed ancient," she said.

After insulting the city of Manila in the late 90s, she was declared persona non grata

The world might love her, but Danes' star power is considerably diminished in the Philippines. Danes made disparaging remarks about the capital of the country, Manila, after filming the 1999 movie Brokedown Palace there. The film centers on two American teenagers on vacation in Thailand who are convicted of drug smuggling and sent to a run-down prison. Given the setting of the film, scenes were shot in the shabbier parts of Manila, leaving Danes with a bad impression of the city. She told Premiere (via CBS) that the city "smelled of cockroaches, with rats all over, and that there is no sewerage system, and the people do not have anything — no arms, no legs, no eyes."

Filipino politicians were upset over the remarks, especially as the island nation heavily depends on tourism. The Manila city council responded by declaring Danes "persona non grata" and banning her films pending an apology. Danes later issued a statement saying she didn't intend to offend, but government officials were not impressed and did not accept the apology as sincere.

She took a break from acting to go to Yale

In an effort to become more well-rounded, Danes decided to take a break from acting and go to college. She was four years into her acting career when she made the decision, telling the Chicago Tribune, "Now that I have turned 18, I'm realizing how much of a grownup I am. And I wanted to figure out for myself how I want to run my business and how I want to set up my life from here on out."

Danes studied art, psychology, and political science at Yale, and for a time considered leaving show business completely. In the end, however, she was unable to leave it behind, and dropped out after two years. "I missed acting, I guess," she told The Guardian. "I thought I could act and go to school simultaneously, but that was overly ambitious of me. …It would have been nice to have absolute closure on my being, you know, an educated person but it's okay."

This is why she turned down the role of Rose in Titanic

The 1997 film Titanic is one of the gems of the cinema. The now-iconic movie shattered box office records and is widely considered a classic. It's hard to imagine Titanic without Kate Winslet, but the movie could very well have had Danes in the iconic role of Rose. Director James Cameron considered her for the part, and also wanted her love interest from My So-Called Life, Jared Leto, in the role of Jack. 

Leto refused to even audition for the film, and Danes turned down the role after Leonardo DiCaprio was cast because she wanted to break away from a typecast role. Danes had starred opposite DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet the year before and felt that starring alongside him again would be too much. "I had just made a romantic epic with Leonardo — it just seemed redundant to me," she told GQ (via My Thirty Spot).

Being selective about roles kept her out of work for two years

When it comes to turning down projects, Titanic was just the tip of the iceberg. As her career progressed, Danes found herself growing increasingly selective about the roles she took on. Far from playing the diva, the actress had a clear idea of where she wanted her career to go and was careful to pick roles that would keep in line with that. Her determination to hold out for meaningful roles kept her out of work for two years after she starred in the HBO film Temple Grandin in 2010.

"It was a nightmare," she told Marie Claire. "I was in such agony. I had been so stimulated and energized, and I felt really robust and capable and eager. But I couldn't go back to the ingénue role or the limited secretary-type roles. I wanted to play someone who would move the story forward." Thankfully, things turned around for Danes after landing the lead role of Carrie Mathison in the TV series Homeland. "It wasn't until I came across Carrie that I got really excited again," she told The Telegraph.

A lot of research goes into her performances

Danes' powerful performances are far from effortless; they are borne from hard work and a lot of research. When preparing to play educator, scientist, writer, and autism advocate Temple Grandin, Danes spent weeks listening to recordings of her in order to nail her manner of speaking. Danes also met with Grandin and read her books. "I didn't want to do an impression," she told the Los Angeles Times. "She's wired in such a fundamentally different way than I'm wired that I couldn't just slip casually into her."

Danes also dove headfirst into her research when she was cast as Carrie Mathison in Homeland. The role provided an extra challenge for the seasoned actress, as Carrie has bipolar disorder. Danes told NPR that she turned to the internet for research. "I found great material on YouTube," she said. "There was a lot of footage of people who recorded themselves when they were in manic states. …So I gorged on sort of manic confessionals on YouTube."

Working out helps her relax

Danes' slim physique is maintained with a healthy diet and exercise, but it's obvious that she has also been blessed with some pretty good genes because she isn't too strict about either. Danes told Shape that she eats "sensibly," but that she also cheats on her diet. "I'm young, healthy, and I think every now and then it's good to indulge the soul, she said.  

Danes has a similar relaxed attitude when it comes to working out. For her, exercise is primarily about achieving a healthy mental state. "I exercise more for mental relaxation than anything else," she said. According to Danes, hitting the gym has even helped her get through at least one bad breakup, with her fitness routine helping to stabilize her. One of her favorite ways to stay fit isn't too surprising when you remember that she started studying dance as a little girl. "Some of my happiest moments have been dancing," she said. "Right now, I'm really into Jamaican jams and Caribbean soul."

She's a proud feminist

Danes doesn't just play fierce women, she is one in real life. The actress has been outspoken about her views on feminism, and it's apparent that she's bringing some serious girl power to Hollywood. "I am a feminist," she told Glamour (via HuffPost). "Yes, women have more freedom and more influence than ever, but it's hardly equal. It's just not. It's really f***ing crazy."

Ever the class act, Danes then apologized for swearing, making it clear just how angry inequality makes her. She added that the gender inequality in Hollywood has had a personal impact on her. "I have real anxiety about directing, and that's something to question and challenge and correct," she said. Danes is also a proud supporter of the #MeToo movement. "I think it's wonderful," she told CBS. "I think it's nascent… it's powerful… we're challenging this huge disruption in power… and I think we're all just making sense of it."

Motherhood has taken over her life (in a good way)

In 2012, Danes become a mother for the first time. She and her husband, fellow actor Hugh Dancy, welcomed a baby boy named Cyrus Michael Christopher Dancy. One particular aspect of motherhood came as a bit of a surprise to Danes, who suddenly found her entire focus on her little boy. She told Interview that when she is separated from her son, the feeling is "physical" and that she misses him on a level that she never expected. "It's a new kind of pining," she said. "It's serious — I need to be with him… It's cellular."

Danes throws herself into her acting career, but it's nothing compared to her approach to motherhood. "I can't not look at him if he's anywhere nearby, because there's no competition," she said. In spite of the challenge, it's clear that motherhood suits the actress. In 2018 Danes and Dancy welcomed another baby boy to the family.