The darker and the more perverse, the better.
Aaron Stipkovich: Tell us about the dress.
Claire Danes: It's Alberta Ferretti.
AM: You had some nice costumes in this one, didn't you?
CD: I did, yeah. Some were a little more constricting than others. I loved being the star because I got to digest my lunch.
AM: De Niro was supposedly teaching you to dance. Was that an amazing scene to do? Was it fun?
CD: He stepped on a few toes. No, it was great. It was quite a special moment, and we did a version of that scene where all the pirates joined in and were dancing with each other. That was finally cut out, but that was one of those pinch-myself kind of moments.
AM: You've known Neil (Gaiman) prior to this, right?
CD: Yes. I met him when I did Princess Mononoke
, the English recording of that. He wrote the dialogue for that.
AM: Did he, at any time back then, suggest that you might be perfect for this?
CD: No, not at all. I was approached relatively late in the casting process for Stardust
. I don't know if I should be offended by that, but I got the job so it's okay.
AM: Your British accent is perfect. Did they ask for a British accent?
CD: No, stars are English. No, it was kind of arbitrary. It's just that everybody else's were English in the movie, so...well, except Bob (De Niro). But just for the sake of continuity and consistency...
AM: Did the director say to you, "Now you're shining"?
CD: Yeah, occasionally he would remind me what was going to happen after the fact in post-production, CGI, but no, it was great. It was like acting MSG. It just enhanced whatever it was I was supposed to be feeling.
AM: The production notes mention that you actually wrote the Forward for Neil's book. Have you spoken with him at all? He's now adapting that into a film.
CD: Is he? I think I'm much too old now. I'm a hag. I've outgrown it, but yeah, they've been talking about making that into a movie for a long time.
AM: Were you injured at all? Because Charlie was telling us about a vase that almost knocked him out.
CD: You know what? I did actually acquire an injury, but in such a weird way. You know that scene where I land in the crater and I'm kind of twisted? I stayed in that position for a couple of days because we shot it from a lot of different angles and things, and I pulled my muscle. It was a real issue because I danced after this. I did this dance performance, and I had to go do physical therapy because I was lying down. Like, what a lame way to get injured, but okay. Yeah, I wish I could say I fell off of the unicorn and it was really dramatic and wonderful like that.
AM: Was it dancing for this?
CD: No, I started dancing about three years ago and I danced as a kid. That's how I discovered acting initially. But yeah, I did a solo piece that a friend of mine had choreographed about three years ago, and then I did a duet with my friend Ariel in February.
AM: Are you still keeping up with that?
CD: I haven't been since we performed the piece, but I will. I love dancing. I really do. It's my other passion.
AM: This is not just your fairytale straight--it's got some great humor in it. I was wondering if, when you were reading it, did you go, "She gets these lines?"
CD: Oh yeah. Some of them are really witty and clever--full of juicy irony. But I worked with a dialect coach to get the English accent down, and she suggested that I watch a lot of contemporary British television comedy shows, and I did because they're great and I had such fun with it. I watched Catherine Tate
and Little Britain
, and as I was discovering these (they were new to me,)big talents, I then found myself acting with them the next week on Stardust
because Ricky Gervais--I had been an avid fan of his since The Office
for years already, but he's godlike. But yeah, I felt very spoiled that I got to meet all of my favorite new stars.
AM: How do you approach a character who has spent her entire life watching humanity and then suddenly has to become a part of it?
CD: Right. Yeah. Well, really I think that's just kind of a metaphor for what it is to grow up. I mean, it has very forceful ideas about how it is, and then they are humbled when they discover how it really is for themselves. So it's just a coming-of-age story, essentially. But yeah, that was an enjoyable transition to make and, in all romantic comedies, the lovers initially are complete fools...and usually arrogant fools, which is one in the same, usually, those qualities.
AM: Are there tricky choices to make in deciding how to play a character like this?
CD: Sure. I didn't have to concern myself too much with playing her as a celestial being because the writing is so realistic, actually, in its tone, and so I let the costumes and the makeup and the CGI communicate her other-ness for me. And I just played the scenes kind of straight.
AM: Charlie was saying earlier that it was important that your character and his character be the believable ones, because you're surrounded by all these outlandish, crazy characters. Did you guys discuss that amongst yourselves, as far as keeping the characters really grounded, believable, kind of the human element, even though you're a star?
CD: I think that we both have fairly naturalistic styles, so we didn't need to...I think we were cast probably for that reason, so we didn't say that explicitly. It was just tacit.
AM: Is that your real hair in the movie?
CD: No, I had a lot of fake hair. I had extensions that tore about a third of my real hair out when I had to take them out, and I'm still recovering from it. And I'm just shocked that more people don't know about the dangers. I'm going to take the cause on. If you can wear a wig, do. Really, those are the end of my extension days. They're really brutal.
AM: Did you know the graphic novel? Playing a star, I'd think you'd go, "Oh, wait a minute."
CD: It was a strange call to get from my agent. Like, "A celestial being? Okay. What?"
AM: What were your concerns about taking something like that on?
CD: I didn't have any, because the script was so strong and so charming, and the character was actually kind of layered and complex and relatable, and wonderfully so, and the cast that they had accumulated was just awesome.
AM: You hadn't read any of his work before then?
CD: No, I had. Yeah. I had read his work, but I hadn't read Stardust
AM: When you get a script, what influences your choices, in terms of deciding on what you want to do? Is it character? Director?
CD: For me, the three essential elements are the script, the director, and the actors. It's not a new idea in that, but it's wonderful if all three of those elements are very strong. They're not usually, and you have to compromise a little bit, but it really depends. If I want to read past the first 15 pages, it tends to be good. I guess I have a better understanding of what makes a script successful now than I did ten years ago, but it's still just employing common sense, basically.
AM: Are you finding the kinds of roles you're being offered, where you want to be right now in terms of being 28 years old now? Are you getting the kinds of scripts that you think are appropriate at this time?
CD: Yeah, it's fine. I'm doing a play on Broadway this fall. I'm doing Pygmalion
. So that should be fun.
AM: question: Who's The Higgins?
CD: Jefferson Mays. He was in I Am My Own Wife
and, more recently, a play called Journey's End
. He's great. He'll be great. It's me I'm worried about.
AM: What's your favorite fairytale or book or movie from your youth?
CD: I loved the Grimm fairytales when I was a kid. And the darker and the more perverse, the better. I remember my favorite fairytale specifically was Blue Beard
, which, looking back on it, is incredibly sordid. It's about a tiny little man with a long blue beard that insists that his wife not look in one particular room. And of course, one day when he's out, she does just that and finds shelves full of severed heads of all the women he had been married to. I thought it was great. And I just think it's so funny how terrifying a lot of these children's stories are. And lullabies are just rife with plague and tragedy and disaster, and vows are breaking and powers are falling. Kids can take a lot.
AM: We were discussing that this scene with the animal entrails would be too much for kids, but obviously not.
CD: No, they like to be terrified.
AM: What was the hardest part of shooting this movie?
CD: The lying down was really hard.
AM: "People, can I get a cot?"
CD: "What? Can I get some khat here? Marijuana? It's really tough." No, God. I had to figure out how to ride a unicorn--a horse--it's not really (a unicorn)...but there's that, but it wasn't as...you know that scene where we're on the cloud when we're in that limbo? That was kind of tough because we were on an inflated bed. It was like a giant air mattress basically, and rain was pouring down. I kept falling. That was actually really hard. I had to scream. I was getting out of breath, but no, it was fine.
AM: You were supposed to be agitated about something.
CD: Yes, for a lot of it. And it was actually kind of tricky, finding a way to play that agitation sincerely and not just alienate the audience completely.
AM: And air mattresses are virtually impossible to stand up on.
CD: Yeah, or sleep on, I find. I hate air mattresses. But acting on them is just very challenging.
AM: Do you think you would go back to TV at all?
CD: Yeah, maybe. One of my favorite...I'm obsessed with The Wire
right now. Have you ever seen The Wire
? I'm obsessed. I think that's one of the most brilliant productions ever created, so I'm not a snob about medium or genre. I think there are lots of different ways to make good work.
AM: Did you do a movie with a Hong Kong director?
CD: I did, yeah.
AM: How did he differ from an American director?
CD: It's all about the visual aspect of the medium. I mean, he was a cinematographer specially. So he was so gifted with the camera.
AM: What's the name of it?
CD: It's called The Flock
AM: Is it a horror movie?
CD: A thriller, yeah, but I don't know when it'll come out.
AM: You have a play coming up. Is there something you're doing before then for film?
CD: No. I start rehearsing in two weeks. It would be a quick movie.
AM: How long is that?
CD: That runs until December 16th, so just enough time for me to do my quick Cockney thing.
AM: And you live in New York these days, right?
AM: Are you working on your Cockney accent?
CD: I'm sorry, I'm not there yet. I can't give a little demonstration. People are asking me a lot now. It's making me sweat. I won't name any names.
AM: Are you one of those people that just loves theater because of the immediate reaction? Does that feed you as an actor?
CD: Yeah, I just think that actors have so much influence on stage. There's no editor, there's no director to interrupt and interfere and mess it all up, but I've been rescued by them too. It'll be really interesting to have such control, and I'm looking forward to it.
AM: There is now a special edition DVD of Romeo and Juliet. What do you remember from that?
CD: It was great. I was very fortunate to have it. To be 16 and be working with Baz, who's a total genius, and Leo, who is, I think, also a bit of a genius, was wonderful. And we shot in Mexico City. It was quite magical.
AM: Did you do any commentary?
CD: I didn't, no.
AM: Did you find the script magical?
CD: Yeah, It was so charming and delightful, and the dialogue was incredibly strong. It's uncommon to find a movie that appeals to so many different kinds of people, and it is, in some ways, very commercial but also really intelligent and imaginative.
AM: And fun.
CD: Yeah, totally fun. It is.
AM: What did you think when you read the book?
CD: Well, I read the book after I committed to making the movie. But yeah, we've made some changes, but it's pretty in keeping with the novel.
AM: Are you a fan of Neil Gaiman now?
CD: Yeah, very much so. Yeah, I think Neil Gaiman is an incredibly gifted, surprising writer. He manages to be...his work is like a little subversive even.
AM: Do you think it's a kid's or a female picture?
CD: Hopefully it's a children/female/male picture. I don't want to alienate anybody, and I don't think this does.
AM: Not a chick flick at all.
CD: No, I mean, I think it does span a lot of different genres, so it's challenging to summarize it or sell it because it's not easily identifiable, but it's also incredibly appealing because it is funny and it is fantastical, and it is adventurous and romantic--very comprehensive. Yeah, and the cast is awesome.
AM: Do you feel nervous working with any big names?
CD: Well, it takes a lot of the pressure off, you know, because people won't be paying such close attention to me. No, I mean it's inspiring more than anything else.
AM: How was working with Michelle?
CD: Great. We worked on a movie together when I was 15 called To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday
, so we kind of had a rapport and a preexisting relationshiop. And she's so smart and she's so talented, and I think that's often overwhelmed by how exquisitely beautiful she is.
AM: David Kelley directed it?
CD: He wrote it. Yeah, but she's just other worldly, so to speak.
AM: Has she changed since then?
CD: She hasn't, actually. I mean, she seems like she knows herself very well, and she's very comfortable with her power, which is great, and she should be.
AM: What about Robert DeNiro and you?
CD: He's just a legend...and very deserving of that status.
AM: Was he easy to work with?
CD: Yeah. Well, he loves...I mean, he really loves acting. And, more specifically, I think he loves filmmaking, and it's kind of amazing to see him be so aware of the process and sort of manipulating it in order to get the best performance. But he's very shy too. I wouldn't call him gregarious.
AM: ...Which is odd. You think the opposite.
CD: I don't know, but I find that to be true of a lot of performers. Under other characters, they are very expressive and very free, but when they don't have that...
AM: You took a couple of years off and now you're back. Are you glad you came back...and took that time off?
CD: Yeah, very much so. I mean, I had been working rigorously since I was about 12 and was mostly tutored. I didn't really go to high school and I didn't have a conventional teenage experience, and I wanted one. And this is my last chance in college, and I've benefited enormously from it. Obviously, I got a really sound education at Yale for the two years that I was there, but even more valuable than that was just getting to hang out with kids my own age and define myself outside of the industry. I know that I can exist independent of the film business. And then I got to kind of choose to reenter it. Because I'd started at such a young age, I didn't know if I was doing it out of habit or real desire, and the latter proved to be true, but it was good to test that.
AM: Do you think that's why a lot of young actors and actresses are having so much trouble? They haven't found themselves and they just keep going through it, and they haven't found themselves comfortable in their own skin?
CD: I don't know. I'm in no position to comment on anybody else's experience.
AM: ...As a generalization.
CD: Yeah, I mean, I think that the business can be very erratic and intense, and you can be the subject of great attention, positive or negative, and that is challenging, and you need to find a way to kind of tether yourself. Everybody has their own method, their own approach, but if you don't have any, then you're really lost. I imagine that can be tragic.
AM: How have you stayed grounded over the years?
CD: I think it's a combination of things. I really think I had parents who were protective and connected to each other and to my brother and I, and were very sensible and insisted that we get an education and maintain fairly healthy lifestyles. So under their umbrage, I was able to make choices that have helped me and matured me.
AM: How old is your brother?
CD: He's seven years older.
AM: Did he go to college?
CD: He went to Oberlin and Brooklyn Law. He's a lawyer.
AM: Did you study anything or major in anything?
CD: I thought I was going to be a psychology major, but I think I would have ended up an English major. I took more English classes than anything, ultimately. English is just psychology without the lab work.
AM: Any desire to go the full four years?
CD: I don't know, maybe. Maybe, if I'm lucky enough to have kids, when they're in college, I'll join them. I don't know. I feel like, in two years, you really get the basis of the education. I learned what it is to think critically and how to study. Of course, I could have refined those skills.
AM: Should it be a requirement for young actors and actresses to take time off and do that?
CD: Yeah, there are other people who have taken different avenues and been very successful, so there is no one way. This is just a kind of reliably good way.
AM: What kind of features do you want to do?
CD: I think you can probably tell, at this point, I'm curious about a lot of different genres and pretty experimental when it comes to acting styles. So I like exploring new territory and challenging myself. I've never done an overt comedy. I'd like to one day. Maybe even a farce. But I probably am most comfortable doing dramas. They're more familiar and I really get a lot out of them. But no, I'm doing a play on Broadway in the fall. I'm doing Pygmalion
. It's exciting.
CD: I know, right? That's typical of me, though. I know. My first play, I'll do the hardest one imaginable.
AM: Who's playing with you?
CD: Jefferson Mays.
AM: Did you do another film after this?
AM: Do you get nervous on opening night?
CD: Yeah. I forget who (I can't name names, unfortunately, because I don't remember them), but a friend of mine was saying that he's working with a really legendary stage actress who said she gets more nervous now when she performs because she's had so much experience, she knows how much can potentially go wrong. Yeah, but that's part of the thrill too.
AM: This movie's about true love. How do you know true love? For you personally, does it click automatically? Does it take a while? Do you look for it? Does it find you? Or all of the above?
CD: I think all of the above. I'm going to cheat and say all of the above. I mean, I think if you find yourself asking if you're in love, you're probably not. Yeah, I remember before I had ever fallen in love, when I was very, very young, I was desperate to have that experience. I had a boyfriend. I was like 14 or something and I said, "Maybe this is love. Maybe my love is just so searing, it's so hot that I can't even feel it." I really convinced myself of that for a while. That was my justification. Being completely unmoved.
AM: What about your first kiss?
CD: My first kiss...I think I have to say, unfortunately, it was at one of those make-out parties.
AM: How old were you?
CD: Like, 12. Kind of fun.
AM: Was it someone you liked?
CD: I didn't know any of these people. And that's the kinkiest I've ever been. No, but he was cute. His name was Peter. He was from Sweden. Not a bad way to start.
AM: Are you happy today?
AM: And in love today?
AM: What do you do to look so great?
CD: I have a lot of help. I have a pretty amazing makeup team here in LA and in New York. But I exercise regularly just because I feel better for it. So I run and I do yoga, blah, blah, blah. I'm an actress. What else?
AM: Do you do it every day?
CD: No, not every day, but I'm always glad I've done it after the fact.
AM: Can you talk about meeting Matthew and how you felt about how different this movie was for him?
CD: Uh, sorry--because it was kind of a departure for him?
AM: A bit of a departure.
CD: Right, right. Well, he managed to make, I think, a really great movie. And it was always very clear about how he wanted to interpret this kind of fantastical family story. And he wanted to be sophisticated and smart. I remember he used, when we first started talking about the film, Midnight Run
as a template. I thought, "Okay, this is going to be good. This'll be interesting." And it actually is appropriate. I mean, there are some real similarities there.
AM: I saw Charlie Cox in the elevator and he looks nothing like he does in the movie. What was it like working with him? He's a great actor.
CD: Yeah, he is a great actor. I wasn't familiar with his work before we started the film and was just completely amazed by how talented he is. Actually, he had the job and I auditioned for it, and once we started reading, I thought, "Okay, right. You can act. I've got to step it up a little bit here." But in addition to being so affecting as an actor, he's also just a dreamboat. He's just so charming and tender and sincere.
AM: Were you disappointed by the lack of feedback on Evening?
CD: You know, I really loved the movie and I was surprised by the reaction that it received from critics. I can never tell what people are going to respond positively to and what they're going to reject. I just don't know. I've gotten a lot of wonderful feedback from people who've seen it, and that's what matters really.
AM: How long will you be on Broadway?
CD: Until December 16th.
AM: So just a couple of months?
AM: Any plans yet for what's afterwards?
AM: Day by day?
AM: Great dress. Is that silk in the back?
CD: It is, yeah. It's going to get really wrinkled.