Our April cover star Claire Danes has become synonymous with Homeland, the American spy drama now in its seventh season. Her compelling performance as CIA agent Carrie Mathison has earned her a place among Hollywood’s most serious actresses, and the April feature explores the complex personality behind the role.
She was a teen star in a TV series called My So-Called Life, but audiences may first have become aware of Claire in her breakout role as the ethereal lead in Baz Lurhman’s 1996 Romeo and Juliet. We’ve tracked Claire’s career highlights between then and now, and found an actress committed to quality rather than quantity in her work.
1. Her breakout role in Romeo and Juliet
Claire was only 16 when she was cast in Baz Lurhman’s Romeo and Juliet. The director referred to her as ‘the Meryl Streep of her generation’, and her co-star Leonardo diCaprio was equally impressed with her performance. At the time he described her highly: “She’s a ball of emotion, a powerhouse, as I like to put it.” Here’s 16 year old Claire talking about Juliet – her depth is already evident, and it makes sense that Juliet has come to represent an early glimpse of her powers.
2. Her performance in Temple Grandin: from out of left field
In the next decade Claire had roles in The Hours, Stardust, and Shopgirl, but it wasn’t until 2009 when Claire played autism rights activist and animal science professor Temple Grandin in an HBO biopic about her life. Grandin has autism, and Danes’ portrayal of her life was a serious challenge for the actress.
“Playing somebody who is wired in a fundamentally different way is very hard, and there are obvious limitations that will always be in place,” Danes told the Daily Beast. “I can’t change the way my brain works… I had to be so hyper-vigilant while playing her because she wouldn’t take anything for granted. She felt, especially in the earlier years, great social anxiety and panic. The possibility of danger was incredibly acute. I found [it] very exhausting to be just so guarded and so prepared for catastrophe all the time.” Grandin herself found Danes’ performance very convincing, and said it was like going back in a time machine.
3. Claire wins an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actor’s Guild Award
Claire’s performance in Temple Grandin astonished critics and she was acknowledged with an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie in 2010, a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture Made for Television in 2011, and a Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries.
4. Homeland: Carrie Mathison becomes the Claire’s defining role
Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, the executive producers of Homeland, were impressed with Claire’s performance in Temple Grandin. They wrote the character of Carrie Mathison, a CIA spy with bipolar disorder, with Claire in mind. The show has won multiple awards and been hugely successful with audiences; it directly addresses post-911 America and the nation’s response to terrorism. Claire has now been playing protagonist Carrie for six years, and has flourished in the role.
5. Critical acclaim keeps on coming as Claire scoops up awards
Claire’s sustained performance as Carrie has earned her two Golden Globes, for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama, in 2012 and 2013. She also won two Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2012 and 2013, as well as being nominated for the award in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Time acknowledged her as one of its 100 most influential people of 2012. Valerie Plume Wilson, a former CIA agent herself, said of Claire’s performance: “Danes’ finely calibrated, deliberate and nuanced portrait of her [Carrie] is breathtaking.”
From child star to Shakespearean muse to CIA agent, Claire’s power as an actress is undisputed. Whatever she does after Homeland is guaranteed to be interesting, given her knack and affinity for difficult, complicated characters, and we’re eagerly awaiting her next move. Read our exclusive interview in the April Marie Claire to learn more about Claire and her story off-screen.