The Transformer

"That's why I love to act because you have to act with generosity and forgiveness and benevolence, always," says the "Shopgirl" star. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)
By Darragh Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 27, 2005

We have a theory, a Roles of Claire Danes Theory, and we're waiting for the starlet to arrive. It's 12:01. 12:02. 12:03 . . . And -- poof! -- here she is, marching toward us.

Here are the wide, gray-green eyes. Here's that wry Joker's smile. And here she is: Tiny? Onscreen she looks so broad-shouldered and edgy, like the girl in school who had all the answers and easily derailed others with an immediate, caustic but so true remark.

She shakes hands, but we aren't yet starting. She must first hand off her schnoodle puppy, Weegee, to her assistant. And she has questions about lunch.

So, no asking her yet about the Theory, which seems pretty solid: Take any film in her oeuvre, dissect, and you'll see her quietly transform her male co-star. In "Stage Beauty," she helps Billy Crudup master Shakespearean virility. She ushers Kieran Culkin's boy into manhood in "Igby Goes Down." She sparks Leonardo DiCaprio's romantic awakening in "Romeo + Juliet."

Even in her latest films, the theory holds true: "Shopgirl," opening Friday, sees her inspire Jason Schwartzman to achieve Helmut Lang style and desirability, and in the forthcoming "Family Stone," Dermot Mulroney discovers, through her, the creative vigor and passion he had repressed.

"Claire Danes!" friends have been saying all week. "Isn't she -- is she the one who stole Billy Crudup from his pregnant girlfriend, Mary-Louise Parker?" "Claire Danes! Didn't she used to date that Australian rock guy Ben Lee?" "Claire Danes. She has such great skin."

She is, she did and she does . The skin is one of the first things we notice -- that and the fact that, in person, she's so delicate. Onscreen and in paparazzi snaps in Us Weekly, her face looks pie wide, and she projects the healthy wholesomeness of a lacrosse player. In real life, the planes of her face converge to one angular point. She looks like a bird, though a really, really pretty bird.

Keeping her silver, lipstick-smudged Stella McCartney coat buttoned up ("I'm always cold"), she sits at the table by the window. Outside, sunny Washington glows -- the blue Potomac, the white Jefferson Memorial, the green, leafy shore of Virginia and the bobbing, peaceful boats at the Washington Marina. She does not look. She is starved, and as the following questions unfold, her fork clangs, she chews while answering and guzzles a fizzing Coke.

We start at the beginning, with "My So-Called Life." Hailed immediately as a star of uncommon talents, Danes and her character, Angela Chase, wowed a generation of TV critics and inspired such a fervid following that DVDs of the show's one season ('94-'95) now sell on Amazon.com for $159.99 to a flat $500.

So -- it's been 12 years. Where is Angela today? What's she doing? Whatever happened to. . . .?

"I have no idea," she interrupts. "I don't know. I'm not the writer."

Silence.


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