The premium cable princess returns
Actresses have it tough. Unlike the appearances of their male counterparts, which become more distinguished with each year, wrinkle, and fleck of gray time provides, a woman’s beauty–and therefore marketability–starts to plummet after thirty and only rebounds decades later when older, more matriarchal roles are attainable. So while middle-age might serve as a boon to male thespians (hello Chris Pratt and Jeremy Renner), most women–through no fault of their own–struggle during this phase of their career. But most women aren’t Claire Danes, who at age 37, is only gaining momentum.
Recent success aside, Danes was no slouch as a youngster. Born in New York City to a textile designer and a computer consultant, Danes didn’t let her lack of pedigree stand in her way. “I was very driven to act from a very young age, and my parents were not only tolerant of that drive but also encouraging,” she told The Guardian newspaper in 2005. And thanks to her hard work and the support of her parents, Danes was soon enrolled in a performing arts school and working with an agent. Nevertheless, a substantial breakthrough was far from imminent.
Following a lead role in a failed Dudley Moore pilot at the age of 13, Danes bounced around on Law and Order before landing a major role as Angela Chase, the whip-smart teen in the critically-acclaimed My So Called Life. The experience, however, was bittersweet: after two years in development hell, the series ran for only 19 episodes. But as doors in TV appeared to close, others in film were opening.
In the wake of her film debut in Little Women (1994) alongside Christian Bale and Kirsten Dunst and a sophomore effort in How to Make an American Quilt (1995), Danes got some news: Natalie Portman, who was originally slated to play opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet (1996), had been dropped from the project and she was selected to replace her. The hip Shakespearean adaptation was a smash and turned Danes into an overnight sensation. Yet Danes didn’t capitalize for long. At only 18, she was burned out. “I needed to find myself,” she explained. “I had played so many roles but I didn’t really know who I was.” She enrolled in Yale and would stay there for two years.
Her hiatus proved to be short-lived. After a few small roles, Danes was back in the blockbuster saddle with lead roles in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and Stardust (2007). Regardless of her successful rebound, her second wind wouldn’t hit until she stunned as the eponymous Temple Grandin in the HBO biopic about the autistic spokeswoman in 2009. Not only did her courageous performance score Danes her first Emmy, but in 2011, another neurodivergent role opened up on cable TV–and Danes had already proved herself worthy.
The character was Carrie Mathison and the show was Homeland.
Six years and a pair of Emmys and Globes later, Danes returns for her 6th season as a character who, in terms of dogged determination, she actually has a lot in common with. No matter the mental illness, assassination attempt or, in Dane’s case, a criminally unfair Hollywood double-standard, neither woman shows any sign of slowing down.