Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Thursday, October 28, 2004

Per Steve, Danes gives good sex (scenes)

Danes eases back into Hollywood with `Beauty'
By Steve Baltin

"I just got a manicure and pedicure," actress Claire Danes announces proudly as she walks into the front room of a suite at Los Angeles' Four Seasons Hotel. This is a big step for Danes, who has resisted going Hollywood, despite an impressive resume that includes the cult TV series "My So-Called Life," as well as film roles playing Meryl Streep's daughter in the Academy Award-winning "The Hours," and "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" and the 1996 version of "Romeo + Juliet."

"However, wrapping up her fourth junket for "Stage Beauty," a film set in 1660 in which the 25-year-old actress appears as Maria Hughes, the first woman to ever appear on the English stage, Danes is allowing herself a few moments of star treatment.

It's been an unusual year all around for the actress, who has tried to lead a normal life despite her fame, having transitioned from teen star to college student at Yale, then successfully eased back into Hollywood in adult fare such as "The Hours" and 2002's "Igby Goes Down."

Controversial relationship

Though a period piece set in 1660 seems like a safe haven from controversy, that has been anything but true of "Stage Beauty," which opened nationwide last week. It started when word came that Danes had begun seeing co-star Billy Crudup. The fact that she was involved in a long-term relationship with rocker Ben Lee would have made it juicy tabloid fodder, but add to the mix that Crudup left his pregnant girlfriend, actress Mary-Louise Parker, and Danes found herself maligned as the other woman.

In conversation the subject never comes up. Danes is more than happy, though, to talk about the work on "Stage Beauty," particularly because it was one of her more challenging parts.

"It was really technically demanding, this role. I had a lot to contend with. Most superficial elements being the accent and the time period," she says.

"And then we had to invent a new, well old, acting style. Richard [Eyre, director] did a bit of research, but there wasn't much material to be found. The performances were not recorded in 1660. So it was really just a product of our imagination."

Screenwriter Jeffery Hatcher, who wrote the play, "Compleat Female Stage Beauty," on which his script is based, thought Danes handled the role well. "Claire is terrific with dialogue, but it's the way you can really read her emotions on her face that impressed me," Hatcher says. "She would have made a terrific silent film star."

Karen Durbin, film critic for Elle magazine, considers "Stage Beauty" a worthy successor to Danes' performance in "Igby Goes Down." "She doesn't have a lazy or a weak moment in the movie," Durbin says. "I hope she gets more first-rate work, because it's going to be a treat to watch her grow."

Mixed reviews

Still, the movie has received mixed reviews. What has surprised Danes, though, is that controversy continues to surround the film.

"I'm discovering that we made a vaguely controversial movie," she says. "That never occurred to me, but I guess these themes of sex, gender, identity and art unnerve people in some way."

In her opening scene in "Stage Beauty," Danes' Maria stands on the side of a stage, mouthing along the part of Desdemona in "Othello" in awe. Danes says it was the easiest scene in the movie to do.

"It was very easy to identify with her rapture, her desire for performing," she says. "It was so sincere, so genuine. It's always effortful, but that particular scene was easy to produce."

Danes, a music lover who listened to a lot of Stevie Wonder during the filming of "Stage Beauty," is now fully back in the game after a three-year absence, two years of which were spent at Yale, and one devoted to herself.

She will next be seen in 2005 as the lead in an adaptation of Steve Martin's novel "Shopgirl," in which Martin appears.

"Claire is actually younger in life than the role calls for, but her emotional knowledge continued to astound me," Martin said via e-mail. "There was never any uneasiness between us in any of the delicate scenes we had to do."

And longtime Danes fans can rest easy, as she doesn't appear to be in danger of going Hollywood anytime soon. Contemplating whether she prefers her New York $14 mani/pedi or the Four Seasons, she hesitates thoughtfully, then answers, "I do love the hit-and-run mani/pedi in New York, I would say."


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