Claire Danes on "Homeland," and the embarrassment of fame

"Homeland" star Claire Danes
"Homeland" star Claire Danes 07:24

Claire Danes, a former child actor and star of the Showtime series "Homeland," has spent a lot of her life on a film set. "That must be really weird," said correspondent Holly Williams.

"It's not weird for me, 'cause it's been my whole life," Danes replied.

And she has been a working actor for three decades, known for performances that hold nothing back. For eight seasons she's channeled the brilliant, but troubled CIA officer Carrie Mathison on the series "Homeland."

Williams read from one profile of Danes, from the U.K.'s Independent:

"Claire Danes's chin does something remarkable when her face shows emotion. It simultaneously trembles and crumples, drawing her bottom lip and then her whole jaw into ugly yet irresistible contortions. Her eyes bulge and dart, as if they too are equipped with extra muscles. The movement then extends below the neck until she is almost dancing and you worry her energy might blow a fuse in the camera."

"Oh, God!" Danes laughed.

"Do you recognize yourself in that description?" Williams asked.  

"Yeah! Well, I guess my face is quite, umm, rubbery or something. My face just is really expressive. And thank goodness, because I do my work with it. But it betrays a lot. And that can be a real liability in life, but it does serve me as an actor."

With what she calls her "rubbery face," Danes has taken on unorthodox, unglamorous roles which other actors might shy away from: An autistic scientist in "Temple Grandin"; the clinically depressed Mirabelle in "Shopgirl"; and the defining role of Carrie Matheson, a CIA agent struggling with bipolar disorder.  

"To play a character who is especially physical is attractive to me," Danes said in Morocco last summer, while she was filming the final season of "Homeland."

The show has kept pace with current events, sometimes eerily seeming to predict them.

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Claire Danes in Season 8 of "Homeland." Showtime

Danes has won two Emmys and two Golden Globes playing Carrie. But "Homeland" director Lesli Linka Glatter told Williams it's a risky role — a female lead who's damaged and flawed, but still heroic.  

"I think it was a brave choice, but it's also an exciting choice," Glatter said. "How many characters are as rich as this for women that are on TV or films? I think it's a role that doesn't come around that often, and she sure jumped into it."

Danes said, "It's been great for me as an actress, 'cause so often — especially coming out of my twenties — you know, I was playing ingénues or characters who were completely defined by their romantic experience, or the guy!"

Danes was just 14 when she was cast in her first leading role, as the angsty teenager Angela in "My So-Called Life." The series only lasted a season, but it still has a cult following.

By the time she was 16, Danes was starring opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in a "Romeo + Juliet" thick with sexual tension. 

Romeo + Juliet (1996) - Star-crossed Lovers Scene (2/5) | Movieclips by Movieclips on YouTube

Danes looked poised to follow the typical trajectory of a young Hollywood starlet, but instead made different choices, famously turning down some parts in movies that turned out to be pretty big – "Titanic," for one.

Why? "'Titanic,' specifically, I had just finished filming 'Romeo + Juliet' with Leonardo DiCaprio. It was another romantic epic. It was just so identical to this last thing that I had just done, and yeah, it just wasn't right for me in that moment."

Williams asked, "Do you regret it?"

"No, no, no, not at all. It wasn't my destiny!" Danes laughed.

Her destiny was to take a break from show business, and enroll at Yale University. "I had been working throughout my entire adolescence really, and was starting to feel a little like a bonsai tree or something – a little strange."

"Literally stunted?"

"Yeah, in some ways. Just hanging out with kids my own age and learning how to do that was as important as whatever academic thing I was doing, which was also vital."

Danes has always seemed wary of fame, even as a 15-year-old on the cusp of stardom. In 1994 she told "Entertainment Tonight," "I've had time to adjust to the idea of fame. It's a little frightening, but I don't want to be afraid of it, you know?"

She told Williams, "Fame is funny. It always makes me squeamish talking about it. It just feels inherently embarrassing."

"Why is it embarrassing?"

"'Cause, I don't know, I don't know," she laughed. "It just does!"

But a career as an actor is something she says she always wanted: "It was totally my idea. From the age of five, I was really clear that this was the thing that I wanted to do."

She credits her parents, both artists, for helping her negotiate show business on her own terms. They raised her in Manhattan's SoHo district, back then a Bohemian enclave. Danes and Williams took a stroll through the old neighborhood just weeks before the city went into lockdown.

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Correspondent Holly Williams with Claire Danes in SoHo. CBS News

"You had to legally prove that you were an artist to live in SoHo," Danes said.

"How does one prove that one is an artist?"

"I don't know. And I think it was easy to cheat," Danes laughed.

She still lives a few blocks from where she grew up, and told Williams she's watching "Homeland"'s final season at home, along with the audience. It all sounds very close to the plan she first laid out as a budding teen star, when she told "ET," "I just want to be a sane person. I want to be a person who has a life, and who acts."

"Is that what's happened?" Williams asked. "I mean, have you sort of achieved your goal?"

"A sane person who acts? Yeah. I think so! I think I'm pretty sane – I mean, knock wood, I don't wanna tempt fate – this has all gone much better than … yeah."

Than what? "Than I had ever imagined or hoped. Yeah, so. Yeah!"

To watch a teaser for the final episode of "Homeland" click on the video player below:

Next on the Series Finale | Homeland | Season 8 by Homeland on SHOWTIME on YouTube

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Story produced by Mikaela Bufano and Erin Lyall. Editor: Brian Robbins. 

           
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