Next on her agenda after this month’s nuptials, Danes will launch two movies, Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles, in which she costars with Zac Efron, and HBO’s biopic of the autistic author Temple Grandin. In Linklater’s theater period piece, set in the 1930s, Danes play Sonja Jones, the older woman to Efron’s young thespian.
“It’s really appropriate that we were doing the power ’80s theme today, because she was the equivalent in another era. She’s unapologetically hungry and ambitious, and I love that about her,” says Danes of her ladder-climbing character. “She broke his heart, but she was very honest with him throughout. I also thought it was tender that she had such strong ideals and ambitions but was basically just a PA—she was escaping into a kind of fiction.”
High School Musical star Efron had to steel himself for the role. “I was intimidated,” he says, about the prospect of working with Danes. “Even just the name Claire Danes carries such weight with it. I needed to be a worthy love interest in the film and I didn’t know that I had any of the qualities necessary to woo a girl like her.” He had plenty of time to try his luck, since the bulk of filming took place on the remote Isle of Man in the U.K. “Claire and I were trapped on an island together with nowhere to go for four weeks, like a reality show.” It turns out, however, that Vanessa Hudgens—or Hugh Dancy for that matter—had nothing to worry about. “My character was supposed to fall in love, but she was also supposed to be out of his league. After meeting Claire, that was definitely the way it was supposed to be.”
Danes first auditioned for Linklater when she was 13 years old. “She was too young for the part,” says the director, who was casting his indie classic Dazed and Confused at the time. “But I told her, You’re one of the best actresses I met in this whole audition process. You’re so natural and real. Claire Danes, I’ll never forget that name. And—boom—a year later, she’s on My So-Called Life. I love the way her talent rises to the top.”
Directing her as an adult, Linklater was struck by how intently she worked. “She was so mature to begin with. She was like that at 13, very serious about what she’s doing. She doesn’t take it lightly. She has a very interesting process. She’s not easily satisfied, let’s put it like that. She pushes herself in an internal way—some people beat walls down, but it’s an internal thing with her, something pushing her forward, which is pretty fascinating.”
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