The Stunning Transformation Of Claire Danes

Claire Danes has been a fixture of the big and small screens since 1990, when she made her very first appearance in the short film "Dreams of Love." Signaling that Danes was a star on the rise, just a couple of years later, she featured in "Law & Order" and a couple of years after that, the young starlet broke out big time thanks to beloved, short-lived teen dramedy "My So-Called Life" (via IMDb). The very same year that show debuted, Danes made her mark on Beth March in "Little Women" opposite Winona Ryder. 

Although she was technically a child star, the New York native's adult career has been so successful she's more well-known nowadays as the lead of "Homeland," for instance, or for her starring roles in indie movies and blockbusters alike. Despite clocking in more than three decades in the industry, Danes shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. She moved into producing on "Homeland," suggesting a desire to exert more control going forward. 

Suffice to say, Danes has more than proven herself since her 1990 debut. 

Claire Danes always knew she wanted to act

As The Guardian notes, Claire Danes' acting career seemed predestined even if she was born into what the outlet called "a typically artsy and liberal New York family" rather than showbiz family. The youngster announced her ambitions at the age of just 4 and, by 6, she was starring in off-Broadway productions, noting frankly, "I was very driven to act from a very young age, and my parents were not only tolerant of that drive but also encouraging."

However, Danes clarified that she wasn't pushed to support the family, advising firmly her folks "were not stage parents." Although it may seem, to outsiders, like a wild idea for a 6-year-old to take to the stage purely based on her own self-belief, the "Little Women" star acknowledged that growing up in New York City "exposed [her] to a lot of culture," and acting for a living "just seemed viable." And, as the following years proved, indeed it was.

Claire Danes is grateful for her realistic teen role

"My So-Called Life" was a huge moment for the teenaged Claire Danes, as well as other up-and-coming cast-members including Jared Leto, who played her dreamy love interest. Looking back on the formative show, Danes told NPR, "I remember just being amazed by the quality of the writing, that somebody out there had been able to articulate what I was going through so, so perfectly. ... I was really lucky that the people making that show had the sensibility that they had, that they were really interested in telling a story that was really confrontingly honest." 

Likewise, as the actress acknowledged, it costs more money for a production to hire younger actors, rather than grown-ups who can work longer hours and don't have to worry about school. Danes is incredibly proud of the fact that "My So-Called Life" featured a real high school-aged kid playing a high-schooler. The show also provided an opportunity for Danes to reckon with some of her own difficult experiences in school, including being bullied, for which she's equally grateful. 

Little Women 'felt like a beginning' for Claire Danes

Gez Z readers may more readily think of Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh when they hear "Little Women," but for those of us who came of age in the nineties, our hearts belong to Winona Ryder and Kirsten Dunst. Young Claire Danes also appeared in Gillian Armstrong's 1994 adaptation, as Beth — the role portrayed by Eliza Scanlen in Greta Gerwig's celebrated update — and for the actor, the film was a major moment in time.

Danes gushed to the New York Times that the project "felt like a beginning for me," not least because it was her very first movie role. The actor was cast after a "producer friend" of screenwriter Robin Swicord showed her an early cut of "My So-Called Life," in an effort to showcase Danes's talents. Casting director Carrie Frazer shared how it was immediately clear that the youngster was the perfect Beth, admitting she "cried" because Danes's audition "was so moving."

Frazier explained the need for verisimilitude, while Armstrong acknowledged her "light bulb" moment of realizing, "Beth doesn't have to be frail. She's an old soul and she is actually stronger than all the other sisters."

Leonardo DiCaprio was blown away by Claire Danes as Juliet

As Entertainment Tonight notes, Claire Danes wasn't the original choice for Juliet in Baz Lurhmann's beloved modern Shakespearean adaptation. She took over the role after fellow child actor Natalie Portman dropped out. Thankfully, it was a perfect fit, with co-lead Leonardo DiCaprio revealing that, during the audition process, everybody else held back and played it very demurely, while Danes rose to the occasion and took charge. 

"We thought that's what Juliet needed to be," DiCaprio argued. "She needed to be a different Juliet and Claire brought that to it." The actor also praised his co-star's ability to bring her emotions right to the surface, which he acknowledged helped him get where he needed to be too. "She's a ball of emotion, a powerhouse, as I like to put it," DiCaprio opined. 

In a joint interview with Entertainment Weekly, conducted during the shoot in Mexico City, Danes admitted finding the role of Juliet "exhausting" because she goes through so many extremes over the course of the film. However, the young actor — cast at just 16 years old — relished the challenge, in a move that would characterize the rest of her career.

Claire Danes doesn't regret turning down the lead role in Titanic

At the time of writing, Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio have yet to reunite onscreen, but she did audition to play his secretary, in 2011's "J. Edgar." As the actor reasoned to Vogue, she decided against it because playing "the boss man" appealed to her more. However, years before, Danes had the opportunity to essentially be Juliet opposite her Romeo again, in the world-conquering disaster movie "Titanic."

According to Elle UK, during an appearance on Dax Shepherd's "Armchair Expert" podcast, Danes shared how she was offered the role ultimately played by Kate Winslet. She was only 17, and despite having a small crush on DiCaprio, who also went back and forth on committing to the project, Danes didn't feel it was the best move for her. When "Titanic" launched its leads into the stratosphere, the "My So-Called Life" star knew she'd made the right choice. 

Danes has "no regrets" about turning it down, clarifying, "I wasn't conflicted. I was feeling eager to have different creative experiences and that felt like a repeat and it was going to propel me towards something that I knew I didn't have the resources to cope with."

Claire Danes took a break to attend college

Back in 1997, Claire Danes was at the peak of her fame following the success of "My So-Called Life," which wrapped in 1995 (via IMDb). However, as the Chicago Tribune notes, at just 18 years old the actress took inspiration from mentor and friend Jodie Foster, a fellow child star done good, and took time out of her career to attend Yale. "Some people are skeptical of that choice for me," Danes, who already had 10 movies under her belt by that stage, admitted at the time. However, her parents and team were "extremely supportive." 

The "Homeland" star noted she was a star student prior to dropping out to focus on acting. It was only at the age of 18 that Danes realized how much she'd given up to pursue her dream. Thankfully, she also acknowledged her adulthood, advising, "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." 

As she subsequently admitted to NPR, "I chose to stop acting for a time and I went to college to just give myself a chance to catch up with some of that developmental work, and just hang out with kids my own age in a safe place."

She learned a harsh lesson about love and fame from her relationship with Billy Crudup

These days, Claire Danes keeps her relationship with husband and father of her kids, Hugh Dancy, strictly under wraps. And, as it turns out, her reasoning for doing so relates back to another high-profile relationship, which taught the actor a tough lesson about falling in love in the public eye. As a profile in Blackbook details, Danes became a tabloid staple when fellow actor Billy Crudup left his then-pregnant partner, Mary-Louise Parker, for her. The two met on the set of 2004 movie "Stage Beauty."

Looking back on that time in her life, Danes reasoned, "That was a choice I made to fall in love. It's unpleasant to be cast in such an unflattering role, but I just had to remain steadfast ... with the same kind of integrity that I had always lived with." Danes pointed out how, as a celebrity, it can be difficult "to distance yourself" from the opinions of others. Thankfully, the "Little Women" star is far removed from the situation now, and rationalized that criticism comes with the territory of being a famous actor. 

Holding out for the right roles brought Claire Danes to the brink

Naturally, Claire Danes was never one to simply take every role that came her way, even when it meant she didn't ascend to the heights of some of her former co-stars, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Kirsten Dunst. In fact, in an interview with Marie Claire, the actor revealed that there was a two-year period when she didn't work at all, because she was holding out for something truly great.

However, even though the "Romeo + Juliet" star knew it was the right move, not doing what she loved also rendered Danes rudderless. "It was a nightmare. 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," she explained succinctly. 

Funnily enough, the next role Danes took would change her career forever.

Claire Danes felt both compelled and terrified by Homeland

"Homeland" is the role that made Claire Danes's career, at least in her adult years, and she chose it precisely because it seemed like something completely outside of her usual purview. The show came about following a self-imposed two-year exile from the industry, with Danes telling Marie Claire, "My goal is always to do something that feels just beyond my reach, and 'Homeland' continues to do that. Every season, they find new ways to scare me." 

The actor continued, "The show is like a diamond that fell from the sky. I'll always feel slightly bludgeoned by it, but in the best way possible." Danes won several Emmy Awards for her portrayal of tortured protagonist Carrie Mathison. Per The Hollywood Reporter, the "My So-Called Life" breakout confirmed that returning to television wasn't a decision she made lightly, but the role simply wasn't one Danes could turn down. 

"I have not read a character this compelling in a movie script in quite some time," she divulged. To the actor, Carrie was a character whose undeniable intelligence rendered her increasingly difficult to read, which made the complex character endlessly exciting and challenging to play, too. 

Marriage wasn't always something Claire Danes craved

As Blackbook notes, Claire Danes met husband and "Hannibal" star Hugh Dancy on the set of the 2007 movie, "Evening." The happy couple tied the knot in France in 2009, and subsequently welcomed two sons (per PopSugar). Although Danes admitted to Blackbook that marriage wasn't something she envisioned for herself, she said, "I've always wanted to be in a partnership, I've always wanted to have that kind of intimacy and collaborate with someone in such a deep way." 

She knew they were meant for each other because being with Dancy was so much easier, and felt more secure, than any other relationship the "Homeland" star had ever been in. Danes opined, "I find it very freeing to know that, okay, it takes constant nurturing and attention, but I can also stop looking for the one — that's established. I can apply myself in other ways now. I have more time and energy to get s*** done." 

Dancy, meanwhile, told the Evening Standard he's in awe of his wife's acting abilities, echoing comments made throughout her career. Meanwhile, juggling their demanding jobs comes relatively easily to the two, who prioritize their family above all else.

Claire Danes relished juggling motherhood and work

Playing bold, complicated anti-heroine Carrie in "Homeland" was one of the greatest challenges of Claire Danes' career, with the actress admitting to Net-a-Porter, as the show was wrapping up in 2020, "I'll miss playing such a brilliant, intrepid, impulsive, flawed hero." The TV star acknowledged she started the show barely married and ended it more than a decade into her relationship with fellow actor Hugh Dancy, and with two kids on the go, too. 

She revealed, "Both our sons learnt to crawl in Morocco [where much of 'Homeland' has been filmed], and I have some amusing breast-pumping photos in Moroccan green rooms." Her character Carrie's reluctance to be a mother was a fascinating counterpoint to Danes's real-life experience, but the ambitious performer relished the challenge and even suggested it was a great way to bring more attention to one of the biggest taboos still plaguing women — the desire to not have kids

Claire Danes almost considered changing careers

Despite her demonstrable success, there have obviously been times when Claire Danes wasn't sure whether being an actor was right for her. Aside from taking a break to attend college, she waited a full two years for the right role to come along and, to this day, maintains only parts that challenge and scare her will suffice. As result, it's not too surprising to learn there was a time when Danes considered packing it all in and doing something completely different.

During a chat with Vogue, it was noted that after scooping a number of awards — a Golden Globe, SAG, and an Emmy — the actor found herself at a major crossroads. Danes wondered whether her best work was behind her, admitting, "It was confusing. I got a lot of plaudits, and it didn't translate into more work. I was really, really struggling during that time." 

Thus, after a certain amount of waiting, she started to really consider putting her attention into something more solid, "And a point came where I thought, I really like interior design. Someone suggested, 'Maybe your real success is in your personal life.'" Thankfully, Danes managed to work through it.

Claire Danes has achieved what she set out to do

In 1994, a 15-year-old Claire Danes told ET simply, "I just want to be a sane person," adding, "I wanna be a person who has a life and who acts." Speaking to CBS News in 2020, the actress acknowledged, while looking back on her impressive career trajectory, she's certainly achieved that goal. "I think I'm pretty sane — I mean, knock wood, I don't wanna tempt fate — this has all gone much better than ... Than I had ever imagined or hoped. Yeah, so. Yeah!" Danes enthused. 

On what she still has left to accomplish, Danes told Net-a-Porter, "I would like to play somebody who's a little less of a superhero: somebody in a relationship, someone in a marriage." She added, "It would be nice to play a regular old person now, more of an actual human." 

Considering how far she's come, and everything the plucky New Yorker has achieved since she was treading the boards at six years old, there's no doubting Danes will pull it off and then some.