CLAIRE DANES (born 1979) is that rare example of a child actor who started strong and remained strong. Offered work on a soap opera at age 12, she demurred to avoid mucking up her developing skills. This doggedness about focused self-improvement and pursuit of her own interests appears deep-seated and ongoing. Although she has recently been showered in gold for her starring role in Homeland, some of her finest work was as a young teenager playing high-school sophomore Angela Chase in My So-Called Life. Angela embodies the exposed nerve that is adolescence, and Danes manifests that saturation of feeling through her body. Much of the show is spent in voiceover, with Danes expressing Angela’s frustrations, unhappiness, longing, and joy through her face and her movements; it is a brilliant conceit, because much of the teenage experience is spent living inside one’s head. After one season, ABC announced it was canceling the show, seeing no economic benefit in a show that attracted an audience primarily consisting of teen girls (!). In any case, Danes intended to leave the show and writer Winnie Holzman couldn’t imagine writing the show without her in it. At age 16, Danes starred as Juliet in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet opposite Leonardo DiCaprio. A stark departure from that remarkable porcelain doll, Olivia Hussey, Danes’ Juliet is the ordinary girl, more or less, made extraordinary by meeting Romeo. Her face transforms when she is with Romeo; fans will remember a version of this countenance in Angela’s joy when the object of her infatuation first calls her name as she’s being pushed into a police car. (As remarkable as is Danes’ happy face is her sad face.) There are those actors whom the viewer envies or lusts after, but Danes is not such an actor: She watches the world and reacts, viscerally, and she is us.
On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Shannen Doherty, Henry Darger, Herbie Hancock, David Cassidy, Tiny Tim, Georges Franju.
READ MORE about members of the Revivalist Generation (1974-82).