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Life's Claire Danes
by Gail Shister (The Philadelphia Inquirer - January 24, 1995)

Padadena, Calif. -- Steven Spielberg loves her. Her movie is an unexpected hit. And she just won a Golden Globe for her TV series.

So what is Claire Danes really excited about these days?

"Learning how to drive!" says the almost-16-year-old star of ABC's My So-Called Life, whose last original episode of the season -- and maybe ever -- airs at 8 p.m. Thursday. ABC will decide in May whether to renew the highly acclaimed but low-rated drama.

"I'm from New York, where you take subways everywhere," says Danes. "When I came to L.A., it was a huge shock to have my independence lost. I can't wait till I can just go off and be in a space alone for a few minutes at a time."

Danes turns 16 April 12. As for who will teach her the rules of the road, "hopefully, my mom or dad," she said in a recent interview during the TV critics' tour. "Or my boyfriend. [He's an 18-year-old high school senior who writes music.] That would be the most fun."

Danes' next movie project is How to Make an American Quilt, with Winona Ryder, her co-star in the surprise success Little Women. Danes plays Anne Bancroft's character as a young woman. Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment is producing Quilt, but he's a Danes fan from her work as precocious, angst-ridden Angela Chase on My So-Called Life.

Danes "is one of the most exciting actresses to debut in 10 years," he says. "I don't really understand why she's captured my heart. She just has an amazing honesty in her presence. She's a lot like my 18-year-old stepdaughter Jessica and all her friends."

"She represents a lot of what we parents like in our kids."

Spielberg's remarks "are flattering," Danes says. "Hopefully, I can keep growing as an actress." Life co-executive producer Marshall Herskovitz, a 1969 Lower Merion High alum, wrote Spielberg a thank-you note for the strokes, made at an ABC press session for the new production team of Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

Despite his passion to keep Life alive, Herskovitz won't ask Spielberg to lobby ABC for the show. "He's done such a wonderful service to us. Nothing more could ever be asked."

Besides, ABC Entertainment Ted Harbert has been deluged with pro-Life pleas from viewers, critics and fans in cyberspace, via America Online. Closer to home, Life's biggest booster may be Harbert's wife, Susan.

"We watch the episodes together. By the end, she turns to me and says, 'So, you're gonna cancel this?' I have people who work for me who are passionate about it, too. I'm getting pressure every day from all quarters."

Herskovitz's take is that Harbert "has been pleasantly shaken by all the noise about the show. He was caught off-guard by the level of passion. The gives him ammunition in his internal battle with the other corporate officers."

Life's chances for renewal "are slightly less than 50-50," Herskovitz predicts. "It's frustrating, but we knew going in what it's about. We did 19 episodes, which is a full season for most shows. I don't think there's anything unfair here, it's just the way this world works."

On the big-screen front, Herskovitz, producer of the current Brad Pitt flick, Legends of the Fall, has another film project in the works for later this year, based on a real-life woman in 16th-century Venice. No details.

© The Philadelphia Inquirer 1995