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Teen Angel
by Dennis Hensley (Movieline - December 1995)

Overnight, Claire Danes has emerged as the hottest young star in town. Here, the 16-year-old discusses her friendship with Winona Ryder, reveals what it's like shooting screen kisses and confesses why she went to surfing camp.

Although Claire Danes is know for her teen roles -- on TV's "My So-Called Life" and in movies like Little Women, Home for the Holidays, How to Make an American Quilt and I Love You, I Love You Not -- in person the actress exudes a self-assurance that's decidedly adult.

Dennis Hensley: I hear you just got cast in Romeo and Juliet opposite Leonardo DiCaprio.
Claire Danes:
I'm really excited. It's a modern-day version in Elizabethan language. It's so hip, the whole thing.
Q:
Did you and DiCaprio have to kiss to see if there's chemistry?
A:
Yeah. Poor Leo had to audition and kiss so many girls.
Q:
What's the protocol for kissing scenes?
A:
There's a lot of breath mint action. I've just started kissing actors who smoke and I'm not into that.
Q:
Tell me about I Love You, I Love You Not.
A:
I play a Jewish girl who visits her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor.
Q:
Are you Jewish?
A:
No. I'm as Waspy as you can get.
Q:
You're also in How to Make an American Quilt. What's that about?
A:
It's about women who are making a quilt for Winona Ryder's character. While they're quilting they talk about their past loves. I play the younger version of Anne Bancroft's character.
Q:
In Quilt you play Bancroft when she's young, and in Home for the Holidays you play Bancroft's grandaugther. What's she like?
A:
She seems nice enough. Everybody calls her "Miss Bancroft."
Q:
Quilt is your second film with Winona Ryder. Are you two pals?
A:
Yeah. She's a generous person. It's interesting to hear what Winona has to say about the choices I make, because she's been through it all herself. I did a video for Soul Asylum because I know Dave Pirner through her. It's a song called "Just Like Anyone" and, in it, I play a high school girl with humps on her back. I'm miserable until I find a beautiful shawl to cover my deformity. So I go to the prom and this evil, bitchy girl rips the shawl off and the boy I'm dancing with -- he's actually Winona's brother, Yuri -- sees these terrible humps and gets grossed-out. But then these two wings come out of my humps, and I fly up in the air, away from the prom. It was really fun. How many chances do you get to be an angel?
Q:
Not many, unless you happen to be Cheryl Ladd or Jaclyn Smith.
A:
Right. That should be my next move, a "Charlie's Angel" movie.
Q:
In Home for the Holidays, you announce to mom Holly Hunter that you've picked Thanksgiving weekend to have sex for the first time. How does she react?
A:
It's a very '90s take on it -- she knows she can't do anything about it, and she trusts I'll do it safely.
Q:
Would you be able to tell your own other something like that?
A:
Maybe not quite so abruptly, but my mom and I have an open relationship. Maybe too open. It's hard -- she's with me all the time. Now that I'm 16, she doesn't, by law, have to be with me on the set, but it is nice to have a buffer there, a guard dog, because you can be easily taken advantage of.
Q:
Some teen actors get emancipated from their parents to work longer hours. Would you do that?
A:
No. My parents make very few restrictions on me. The one thing I really have to do -- or I will be rejected by my family entirely -- is go to college. That's my big goal.
Q:
Did your Holidays director, Jodie Foster, give you any advice on college?
A:
She said it's just too much fun not to go.
Q:
What do you plan to study?
A:
Psychology.
Q:
Have you every been in therapy?
A:
I have, off and on, ever since I was a little girl when I thought I saw ghosts. You don't realise how useful a therapist is until you see one and discover you have more problems than you ever dreamed of. My family went to family therapy a few times because there have been a lot of strains and changes. That's got to be one of the hardest things I've ever done. It's hard enough alone, but together in the same room talking about stuff you avoid on a regular basis is pretty tricky.
Q:
Were you tactful?
A:
No, we just blurted everything. I think in the long run it helps, but I don't know. There's a lot of worms in the can.
Q:
Why did you go to surf camp last summer?
A:
My main objective, really, was to meet surfer guys, but I didn't get to.
Q:
Weren't there any hot guys?
A:
It's just, you know, boys who surf and skate, they're obsessed with their sport. They don't have much time for girls, which is, I guess, their appeal -- that aloofness. It's not satisfying.
Q:
So if they had to choose between you and a really excellent wave...
A:
The wave would totally win.
Q:
I thought you had a boyfriend.
A:
I do. Andrew Dorff.
Q:
Any relation to Stephen?
A:
Uh-huh. His younger brother.
Q:
How long have you been dating?
A:
A long time, nine months. It's funny. I talk to people in their 30s who say, "You're still in the first few stages of it," and I'm thinking, "First few stages? It feels like an eternity."
Q:
What movies did you love when you were growing up?
A:
I watched Some Like It Hot religiously. There were also some break-dancing movies that I loved. I used to dream about being in one of them.
Q:
You mean, Claire Danes in Breakin' 8: Electric Boogaloo?
A:
Exactly. And I'm not even embarrassed!

© Movieline, Inc. 1995