Carrie 101

26th September 2013

So just how excited are we? Homeland S3 starts in the States on Sunday – and a week later, on Sunday 6 October, on Channel 4. In one of my Sunday Links… columns I highlighted the recent Varieties of disturbance, John Lahr’s terrific New Yorker profile of Claire Danes. For those of you recently returned from Mars, Danes plays troubled CIA operative Carrie Mathison – and her performance is among the edgiest, most dangerous and most compelling that I think I have ever seen on the small screen. Danes has had a remarkable career, literally growing up on television and invariably taking on roles that are far from comfortable. As Lahr writes,

Over the decades, in her performances, she has explored a full spectrum of disturbance, from spousal abuse, autism, and paralysis to Carrie’s bipolar disorder and the paranoia of adolescence.

Anne Helen Petersen’s 2011 Claire Danes’ second act (on celebrity gossip, academic style) is another exceptional piece of writing about Danes. And then there is Margaret Lyons’ New York Magazine piece, also from 2011, Is Claire Danes’ Homeland character secretly Angela Chase? Re-reading the three together suggested today’s tiny trawl through the online collective memory. We start with Claire Danes’ 13-year-old headlining debut as Angela Chase in the pilot episode of the comedy of adolescent angst My So-Called Life

Lahr: My So-Called Life, which débuted on ABC that August [1994] and won Danes the first of her four Golden Globe awards the next year, more or less mirrored her own stressful experience of junior high in New York, where she had difficulty “navigating the social seas.”

Lyons: …as much as Danes gives Carrie a brittle exterior and an underlying, creeping panic (or is that paranoia?), it’s hard not to see little glimmers of My So-Called Life‘s Angela Chase in there.

My S0-Called Life was cancelled in 1995 after 19 episodes. And then there was one of the greatest Shakespeare movies ever made…

Romeo + Juliet, 1996 (trailer)

Lahr: “She was the only girl that looked me in the eye in auditions,” DiCaprio said. Danes’s performance as Juliet is the most luminous of her early years, an effortless exhibition of her modesty, exuberance, and sensuality.

Petersen: Granted, millions around the world know Danes  as Juliet to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo.  And although Juliet obviously dies, the fact that Danes lives is, yet again, proof that the intensity of teenage love can be endured, can be “lived through.”  Even if you’ve never seen or loved a Claire Danes text, you might still know that she survived growing up Hollywood.

Here she is in 1996, aged 17, promoting Romeo + Juliet on David Letterman’s show:

Lahr: In 1999, after making thirteen films in five years, Danes enrolled at Yale. She was twenty, celebrated and rich, but she “didn’t feel finished as a person.” … But by the time she left Yale, in 2001, without completing a degree, she felt, she said, removed from acting and from the film industry. “I just felt outside it,” she said. “I started to think, How do these actors do it? It seemed alien and incredible. I became self-conscious.” Danes found it hard to get roles that tested her range and her resources. She had a couple of solid outings [including] as a female Shakespearean wannabe in the all-male world of Elizabethan theatre, in Richard Eyre’s Stage Beauty

[PS. Has The New Yorker‘s vaunted fact checking slipped up here – surely, as this clip shows, Stage Beauty is set in the world of Restoration theatre, at least half a century after Shakespeare?]

Stage Beauty, 2004  – this is the ending…

Petersen: During the filming of Stage Beauty (which, admit it, is laughably bad), Danes and co-star Billy Crudup developed some sort of relationship. Crudup left his long-term (and seven-months-pregnant) girlfriend, Mary-Louise Parker. Overnight, Danes became a family-wrecker.

Evening, 2007 (trailer)

Petersen: In 2007, Danes starred in Evening, the quintessential “middle-aged-educated-ladies-afternoon-out” film.  I mean, I saw this film (by myself, in the theater) and moderately enjoyed myself, but COULD. NOT. STOMACH. Hugh Dancy’s crying.  But Danes is well-known as an ugly-crier, and her Dancy must have hit it off, because Danes and Crudup broke up and Danes and Dancy began.

Lahr: A couple of years later, while in London, Danes, then twenty-eight, took a call from the British director Mick Jackson, who told her about an HBO movie that he wanted her to star in, a bio-pic of the autistic professor and animal-welfare activist Temple Grandin.

Temple Grandin, 2010 (trailer)

Lahr: Temple Grandin was in her early sixties at the time. “When I heard that Claire Danes was gonna be playing me in the movies, I went to the Internet and looked her up. I saw the long blond hair, and I thought, You gotta be kidding!” she said. Danes invited Grandin to lunch in her New York loft. As Grandin explained what it felt like to be autistic, Danes filmed her and recorded her voice to study. “Temple was so candid, so guileless,” Danes said.

PetersenTemple Grandin allowed Danes to change the narrative.  Instead of focusing on her personal life, the media started to lead with her Emmy and Golden Globe wins, detailing the bond that Danes had formed with the real Temple Grandin, who had collaborated extensively with Danes during filming (and was at Danes’s side at both the Emmys and the Globes)… The return to television was not a step-down, but a return to form.

And the rest, as they say, is Homeland.

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