15-Year-Old Claire Danes On Getting Famous: 'I Just Want to Be a Sane Person'

by Whitney Matheson, Video by Ashley Crossan 1:08 PM PST, December 17, 2014
Playing 15-Year-Old Claire Danes On Getting Famous: 'I Just Want to Be a Sane Person'

While we're waiting for Homeland's fourth season to wrap, let's rewind to a simpler time, back when Claire Danes was a smiling teenager ... on rollerblades?

Yep, in this 1994 footage from the ET archives, a 15-year-old Danes is seen blading on the Venice Beach boardwalk and musing about newfound fame being just around the corner.

"It's a little frightening, but I don't want to be afraid of it," Danes said at the time.

Keep in mind that at this point in her career, the actress wasn't actually all that famous; she had spent just a few short weeks in the public eye as Angela Chase, the teen lead of My So-Called Life. (Before the ABC family drama from the producers of thirtysomething came along, her TV experience included little more than a Law & Order guest spot, pretty much a prerequisite for every actor.)

"I do feel a little powerless right now," she told ET. "I think you can become dependent on fame and be as known as you want to be, you know?"

Danes had also just begun promoting her first film, Little Women, in which she played sweet, tragic sister Beth alongside Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Christian Bale and Susan Sarandon and other well-known stars.

"I've done a whole bunch of interviews," she said, "and finally I'm getting the magazines back and seeing what they write. Often it's one step removed and a little affected and -- they'll say things I didn't really mean to say."

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Though her novelty T-shirt and occasional mannerism reflect her age in this video -- check out the facial contortions -- Danes is still poised and articulate, a particularly notable feat given the cheesy set-up for the shoot, in which she and several MSCL co-stars approach strangers on the boardwalk to encourage them to tune in.

Then again, Danes has always seemed wise beyond her years. After My So-Called Life's 19-episode run and a handful of movie roles (including Romeo + Juliet opposite Leo DiCaprio), she enrolled at Yale University to study psychology. She returned to acting in 2002, but it wasn't until winning a pile of awards for HBO's Temple Grandin in 2010 that her comeback was firmly set.

In the two decades since this interview was shot, Danes, now 35, has appeared in more than 20 movies and won three Emmys and four Golden Globes. (This year alone, she received Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nods for her work on Homeland.) She married actor Hugh Dancy in 2009, and the couple welcomed a son in 2012.

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My So-Called Life continues to be a mainstay on nearly every "best of TV" list and usually gets mentioned alongside Twin Peaks and Freaks and Geeks in roundups of shows canceled too soon. "Claire can be awkward and graceful and beautiful and not so beautiful and tortured and calm," My So-Called Life creator Winnie Holzman said in 2013. "We have all that roiling inside of us, but we are so often typed or labeled."

In 1995, as she gracefully faced a Golden Globes press room with after beating out Angela Lansbury and Jane Seymour for best TV drama actress, she said diplomatically, "It's very confusing to figure out how to market [the show]. It's pretty fragile."

Danes' former MSCL cast mates have done pretty well for themselves: This year Jared Leto, aka Jordan Catalano, won the Oscar for his supporting role in Dallas Buyers Club. Wilson Cruz, who played Rickie, had a recurring role on Fox's Red Band Society and serves as a national spokesperson for GLAAD. Jeff Perry (teacher Mr. Katimski) portrays conniving White House Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene on ABC's Scandal.

Last year, when she talked with Vogue about acting, Danes got very philosophical-and metaphorical-about her career. "You just hold out for those rare moments when you feel a real fusion with this imagined person," she told the magazine. "It's really like surfing. You get that wave and think, All right, I can be in freezing-cold water at 5 a.m. in the hopes that I will get one. And maybe you get three of those a year."

"I just want to be a sane person," she said to ET in 1994. "I wanna be a person who has a life and who acts."

But, she added, "I don't want to be an actress. I want to be doing good work that is well written and has good people in it. I want to be learning. I want to be getting a good education. Somehow, I want to be able to manage all of that. I want to have a good balance of things."

Then she looked down, as if in classic Angela Chase fashion she realized she was rambling. "Um, it's a lot," she acknowledged. "It's a lot, but I'll figure it out."

Homeland's season finale airs Dec. 21 on Showtime at 9 p.m. ET. The network has already renewed it for a fifth season.

Whitney Matheson is a journalist and pop-culture critic who founded USA Today's award-winning blog Pop Candy. Follow her on Twitter @whitneymatheson.