It has been nearly a decade since actor Claire Danes first appeared as CIA agent Carrie Mathison on the Showtime series Homeland. Now that the show is in its eighth and final season, Danes is feeling reflective about its run.
"I started the show as a barely married person, and I'm leaving the show as a mother of two. [We] just celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary," she says. "It's going to be a while before I can understand and I can appreciate what this is all meant to me. ... More than anything, I'm filled with gratitude."
On Homeland, she plays a brilliant agent who is sometimes subject to erratic behavior because she has bipolar disorder. The series initially focused on fighting terrorism, but more recently, Homeland has dealt with Russian meddling in American politics and a conspiracy within the American government to take down the president.
"Every year before the writers start designing the season, we spend a week in D.C. talking to people in the clandestine services and journalists and political insiders. We kind of take a deep dive into what's churning and what's going to be especially relevant in a year's time when the show is going to air," Danes says. "Even so, there's always some kind of inexplicable force at play that creates some mirroring that there's no way we could have even anticipated."
On filming Homeland through both of her pregnancies
At one point [when] I was pregnant with Cyrus, we were shooting the second season. I was about seven months pregnant. It was a night shoot. We were shooting in some old sewage factory, some kind of icky, icky place. I had been kidnapped by the baddie of the season, Abu Nazir. And I was handcuffed to a pipe. It was 4 in the morning. I was so tired. And I just thought, "I don't think this is safe." This is exactly the opposite of where I want to be. ...
And then with Rowan, five years later, I was filming [during] the first and second trimester ... so then the challenge was just being exhausted all the time and nauseous, and I kept falling asleep in between takes, but I couldn't tell anybody why. My dresser, who's this really lovely woman, she had crocheted a bag for me, and I fell asleep on this crocheted bag, and it looked like I had third-degree burns on my face. They put a hair dryer to it. We had to wait for about 20 minutes before we could film. I just thought: "Oh my God, do they think I have a substance abuse issue?" I was really paranoid about that, but I was just so exhausted and I just wanted to scream, "I'm pregnant!"
On her breakout role in My So-Called Life
I remember just being amazed by the quality of the writing, that somebody out there had been able to articulate what I was going through so, so perfectly. I hadn't encountered that before. So it was just a profound relief and I understood it — and I felt understood by it. I think I was really lucky that the people making that show had the sensibility that they had, that they were really interested in telling a story that was really confrontingly honest.
It's expensive to hire an actual kid. Usually it's an older person who can pass for a teenager, because the union is very strict about child protection. Every kid has to go to school for three hours a day. They can only film for 10 hours a day. So it's a real investment. But I think they were very keen to protect the veracity of the show and have an actual high school person render what it was to be in high school.
On navigating adolescence while also being on TV
Adolescence is a difficult time, full stop. In some ways, I think I ran into acting because I was struggling emotionally just with that reality. I really had a hard time in junior high school and was bullied and I just hated the social dynamics. I got to reflect on that in such an incredible way with My So-Called Life. And then I was kind of buffered from the actual experience of it, because I was suddenly in a world full of adults who were much more humane. ... But at the same time, I was also not having to develop these social strategies or techniques. My development emotionally was a little stunted, and that did catch up with me eventually. That was a major reason why I chose to stop acting for a time and I went to college to just give myself a chance to catch up with some of that developmental work, and just hang out with kids my own age in a safe place.
On experiencing terrifying visions of ghosts and gargoyles as a kid
I probably had a very active imagination and was learning how to wrangle it, to differentiate the real from the unreal, and that takes discipline. I think I was still just developing it. I also think maybe there was a kind of burgeoning OCD, because a lot of the behavior was ritualistic. These creatures that I "saw" would to talk to me and tell me to do things like ... hold a contorted position for 20 minutes or something. But I think there were some overlaps there, and it didn't take long to undo it. As soon as I found myself in a therapist's office at 6 [years old], I was like, "Oh, I think I have a problem." And as soon as I became conscious of it, it almost immediately started to dissipate.
On turning down a part on the soap opera One Life to Live when she was 12
I was worried about selling out, and I knew that I was malleable as a performer, that I was still very new at this and kind of fungible and I didn't want to develop bad habits, which I might do on a soap opera. So it was self-protective. That sounds so precocious. I haven't had as much integrity, ever! I remember my agent was rather surprised that that was such a clear pass for me. I can't account for these things. They're funny to me now, especially now that I have kids, because I just think of age so differently. My boys seem so tiny and to think that in two years' time, Cyrus might be thinking about these ideas is incomprehensible.
Heidi Saman and Seth Kelley produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the Web.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest is Claire Danes, the star of the Showtime series "Homeland," which is in its eighth and final season. She plays a CIA officer who's brilliant but sometimes behaves erratically because she has bipolar disorder. It's sometimes difficult for her fellow officers to tell if she's on the verge of a breakthrough or if she's being paranoid during a manic episode. Danes was a teenager when she became known for her starring role on the series "My So-Called Life" about a girl in high school dealing with anxieties about sexuality, school and parents. The show was canceled in 1995 after one season, but it's had a long afterlife.
Danes has revealed a remarkable emotional range in the role of Carrie Mathison in "Homeland" and has won two Emmys and two Golden Globes. The focus of the series was initially on fighting terrorism, but more recently, "Homeland" dealt with Russian meddling in American politics and a conspiracy within the American government to take down the president. At the end of last season, Carrie was captured by Russian intelligence. She was imprisoned, interrogated, and her medication was withheld, which left her in a psychotic state when she was released.
In the first episode of the new season, the new president wants to end the war in Afghanistan. And Carrie's old boss at the CIA, who's now the national security adviser, wants to send her there because she has so many contacts in Kabul. But some officers in the CIA are worried that she might have been compromised while held by the Russians. In this scene, she's being questioned by a CIA officer.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOMELAND")
DAVID HUNT: (As Jim Turrow) You were detained in Russia for 213 days?
CLAIRE DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) Yes.
HUNT: (As Jim Turrow) And you were interrogated for the first...
DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) Thirty-ish.
HUNT: (As Jim Turrow) Who was your interrogator?
DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) A colonel named Sergei Tobokov - (ph) - most of the time, anyway - GRU.
HUNT: (As Jim Turrow) Why did he stop?
DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) All of this is in the file.
HUNT: (As Jim Turrow) It's a big file. Can you tell me why he stopped interrogating you?
DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) I think because I threw my feces at him.
HUNT: (As Jim Turrow) Was that strategic?
DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) No. No. I was in the midst of a florid psychosis. And they withheld my medication and - took about 20 days for me to devolve into a not-very-helpful subject, but they kept at it for another week or so. I can't give you an exact figure. After that, it's all either blank or a series of images that don't much comport with reality. If we're doing this the slow way, maybe I will take some water.
HUNT: (As Jim Turrow) Doug informs me you'd like to be reinstated at the agency.
DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) Yes. Yes. I would like that very much.
HUNT: (As Jim Turrow) A security clearance isn't an option with upwards of 180 days unaccounted for.
DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) Yeah, I know that. That's why I've been working so hard with Dr. Foley and Doug just trying to fill in the gaps. Did they give you the impression that wasn't the case?
HUNT: (As Jim Turrow) No. Did they tell you you failed your polygraph? Deception indicated. So you're going to have to bear with me.
DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) Which questions?
HUNT: (As Jim Turrow) You said it was usually Tobokov, but not always.
DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) I'd like to know which questions, please.
HUNT: (As Jim Turrow) Quite a few, actually.
DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) Such as...
HUNT: (As Jim Turrow) Have you ever conspired with a foreign intelligence officer or service?
DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) So what does that mean? Are you accusing me of something?
HUNT: (As Jim Turrow) Could mean a lot of things. Giving up sources and methods, working for the enemy - you tell me.
GROSS: Claire Danes, welcome to FRESH AIR.
DANES: Thank you so much.
GROSS: So "Homeland" has often been really timely. And in this season, the new president is trying, through Saul Berenson, the new national security adviser who had been your boss at the CIA - he's trying to negotiate peace with the Taliban. And right now (laughter) the Trump administration is trying to negotiate peace with the Taliban. Of the events in "Homeland" that have been echoed in real life, what's the one that really kind of took you up short the most? And I'm talking about something that happened in "Homeland" before it happened in real life.
DANES: Right. Well, I mean, seasons back, suddenly it became clear that Russia was a fairly nefarious presence, right? We didn't - I wasn't aware of that when we began the season. I mean, originally, we were telling a story that spoke directly to the aftermath of 9/11. We were focusing on terrorism as we knew it 10 years ago. And so much has transpired since then, right? And yeah, suddenly Trump was elected (laughter), you know, and then the whole idea of the CIA was in, like, serious question in a way that we couldn't have anticipated, I don't think.
But we are pretty assiduous in getting as close a reading of what's happening in the current political climate as possible. Every year, before the writers start designing the season, we spend a week in D.C. talking to people in the clandestine services and journalists and political insiders, and, you know, we kind of take a deep dive into what's churning and what's going to be especially relevant in a year's time, when the show is going to air. But even so, there's always some kind of inexplicable force at play that creates some mirroring that there's no way we could have even anticipated.
GROSS: At the end of the previous season, Season 7, when you were imprisoned by the Russians, they withheld your medications for bipolar disorder. And so when you're released, you're in a full psychosis.
GROSS: And your eyes are just wild and unfocused, and they're not registering what you see. You see Saul Berenson, you know, who you're very close to. He had been your boss at the CIA. He's played by Mandy Patinkin. And it looks like you're running toward him because he's there to receive you, but actually, you run right past him...
GROSS: ...Because nothing is registering on you. You're just in a state of wild fear. What impact did it have on you mentally to inhabit someone with a mental health disorder who is forced off of her meds?
DANES: Well, it felt like a privilege, honestly. I mean, that's one of the reasons why I love doing what we do as actors, is that we get to go to the outer reaches of our imagination and empathize with people who might seem very remote or other or inaccessible. And suddenly, you get to feel not only intimate with them but sort of merged with them; you get to embody them. And it's really fascinating, you know, to attempt to look at the world through such a different lens.
So, yeah, and I - actually, you know what? Honestly, it's so interesting just talking to your now, imagining it - my body is starting to change. Like, my heart rate is starting to quicken, and I feel a little bit more adrenalized. And it's so interesting. It's like you have a contact high just through your imagination. Even just recalling it now, it's starting to happen to my system involuntarily. And I don't quite understand how that works, but it does (laughter).
GROSS: I feel like your voice changed as you were saying that.
DANES: Yeah, it's true. It's true. It's...
GROSS: What else changed?
DANES: I don't know. Like, it's really my heart - my heart started, like, really racing. And the sound guys on the show would pick it up through the mic, you know.
GROSS: Pick up your heartbeat?
DANES: Yeah (laughter).
DANES: Yeah. You have a mic on your chest, by your heart. But, you know, it's just so wild, this acting thing. I don't - yeah, still kind of a mystery.
GROSS: So John Lahr in The New Yorker wrote a great profile of you a while ago. And he wrote that there were a couple of times in your childhood that you described as dalliances with madness...
GROSS: ...Where you had terrifying visions of ghosts and gargoyles emerging from the showerhead and from shapes in the woodwork. And...
GROSS: That brought you to a psychiatrist. Do you have an understanding of what happened?
DANES: I don't, really. I mean, I think I probably had a very active imagination and was learning how to wrangle it, you know, to differentiate the real from the unreal. And that takes discipline, and I think I was still just developing it. I also think maybe there was a kind of burgeoning OCD because a lot of that - a lot of the behavior was ritualistic. And, you know, these creatures that I "saw" - in quotes - would talk to me and tell me to do things. Like, you know, I remember one time I was supposed to hold a contorted position for 20 minutes or something. But I think there were some overlaps there. And it didn't take long to undo it. As soon as I found myself in a therapist's office at 6, I was like, oh, I think I have a problem (laughter). And as soon as I became conscious of it, it almost immediately started to dissipate.
GROSS: So when you were young and you had those visions, those images in your head, were you afraid to go to sleep, afraid of what would happen when you dreamed?
DANES: Oh, gosh, I was terrified of the dark, which lasted for a long time - like, even in college. I remember if I had to pee in the night, you know, in my dorm, I would call my boyfriend and wake him up so he could escort me to the bathroom.
DANES: I mean, how ridiculous. I have to say, at 40, I've matured past that. But, no, there were vestiges of that, you know? Yeah, it lasted for quite a while.
GROSS: You seemed to know that you wanted to be an actor when you were really young.
DANES: Really young. Really - it was so weird. I was just - I was so clear about it, and I can't tell you why. I mean, I grew up in a very creative environment. My parents were - had been visual artists, and I lived in downtown New York in the '80s, you know? So that may have had something to do with it, but nobody in my immediate circle were performing artists. When I was 5, I saw Madonna bopping around on television, and I just had this epiphany that that was a choice, that that could be, like, your vocation. And I just thought, well, yes. I literally started jumping up and down on the bed because I was so excited by the idea. And then a little while later, I realized that acting specifically was a strain of the performing arts, and that was the one that I was most interested in.
But somebody told me around the age of 9 that most actors don't make much money, which I found concerning, so I amended my plan. I was going to be a therapist and do acting workshops on the side, and that was my plan for a good year. And I don't know how seriously my parents took me, you know? But I started taking acting classes, and I went to a performing arts junior high school. And I met other kids who were doing it professionally, and - you know, and I figured out how to get an agent. And it was so self-driven and motivated.
GROSS: Wait. You figured out how to get an agent, not your parents.
GROSS: But you figured - how did you...
GROSS: ...Figure it out?
DANES: Talking to my friends at school who had - you know, were doing this for real. And my dad had been a photographer, so we had a darkroom in our loft. And the woman who was renting it out took my headshots, and we sent them out. I mean, it was very makeshift. I just used whatever resources, you know, we had.
GROSS: So how old were you when you had your first headshots?
DANES: I was 12.
GROSS: What were they like?
DANES: You know, I - they - we took them on the streets of New York, and I kind of have a feeling that we may have taken them on the block that I now live on in the West Village because I - people take headshots there on that block a lot. I think it's, like, headshot block.
DANES: I could be making that up, but that's - you know, yeah.
GROSS: So, you know, you said that one of the downsides of acting when you were young was that you knew actors on the whole weren't going to make a lot of money. Did your parents not have a lot of money? And was that, like, an issue you grew up with?
DANES: Well, they had been artists, and then they did take on more conventional jobs eventually, maybe for financial reasons. So I may have intuited that a little bit. My dad became a contractor, and my mom ran a toddler school in our loft. And again, I mean, I was living in a world that was populated by artists, and I think I saw what that struggle could be.
GROSS: So how old were you when your mother opened the toddler school in your loft?
DANES: I was 4.
GROSS: Were you home when school was in session, or did they send you...
GROSS: ...To another place?
DANES: No, no, no. I was - they would arrive as I was kind of getting ready to go to school, and they'd be there for maybe an hour or two when I got back home from school. So I know a lot of nursery rhymes - a lot. It served me well in the raising of my boys. There were, like, raisins everywhere. There were just - there was diluted apple juice - (laughter) yeah - in the fridge always.
GROSS: What was it like to have your home also be a school for toddlers?
DANES: It wasn't exactly easy. It didn't strictly feel like my home. I knew I had to share it, and I knew I had to share my mom, which wasn't always the best feeling. But she was really good at it (laughter). She was really celebrated in our little world of SoHo. She was, like, the Mother Goose of downtown New York.
GROSS: Did any of the kids in your mother's day care center grow up to be people who you became friends with?
DANES: Well, actually, I am friends with Lena Dunham. And one of the first things she ever told me when we met years ago was that she was rejected for my mom's school.
GROSS: Oh, she was rejected from it?
DANES: She was a reject, yeah. It was not personal, I'm sure. Yeah. But, you know, yeah, I do run into kids now who were in the baby school, and it's bizarre because I do vividly remember them when they were bald and pre-verbal.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Claire Danes. She stars in the Showtime series "Homeland," which is now in its eighth and final season. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROBBEN FORD AND BILL EVANS' "CATCH A RIDE")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Claire Danes. She stars in the Showtime series "Homeland," which is in its eighth and final season.
So you grew up in SoHo. Did a lot of things that seemed weird to other people seem totally normal to you?
DANES: Well, I still remember the feeling of the cobblestones being on the back of my mom's bike. My mom would cycle with me in the back in the - with the baby seat in the back, and I still remember, like, kind of bracing myself for the curbs and the feeling of the cobblestones. I mean, especially back then, it was a much more raw place. I mean, I remember - I went to Washington Square Day Care, and we would play in the park. And we literally collected crack vials. That was a game. I mean, we didn't know they were crack...
GROSS: It was a game? Really?
DANES: It was - I mean, it was like how - you know, yeah, I remember. And I only remember it because the teachers saw us do that, and they got kind of panicked, right? But, you know, it was just - that was the world. That was the reality.
GROSS: So you started training in dance when you were 6 years old, and you've said it helped you physicalize roles. Explain what you mean by that.
DANES: Well, actually, even younger - I started working with a woman called Ellen Robbins here in the city when I was, like, 3. And I say working with because she was - she still is an extraordinary teacher because she regards every student, no matter how young, as a fellow artist. And every year, we were asked to choreograph a dance, and we had to choose the subject and the music and the costume. I remember one year, it was moth to flame - you know, pretty dramatic.
DANES: And that was true of my parents, too, and I think it was a generational choice, you know, where - my parents weren't exactly hippies, but they came of age in a hippie culture. And there weren't those kind of strict lines between adults and kids for better or worse, right? And we were invited to engage in conversations that were pretty heady and sophisticated, and I think that maybe contributed to my thinking that I could be a serious performer at a really young age because I had been listened to and really considered, like, earnestly.
GROSS: When you were 12, you were offered a part on the soap opera "One Life To Live," and you turned it down. Were you worried about selling out when you were 12?
DANES: I was. I was worried about selling out, and I also suspected that - well, I knew that I was malleable as a performer, that I was still very new at this and kind of fungible. And I didn't want to develop bad habits, which I might do on a soap opera. So it was, like, self-protective. That sounds so precocious. I don't know. Like, I haven't had as much integrity ever, I guess.
DANES: Like - but yeah, I remember my agent was rather surprised that that was a pass, such a clear pass for me. But yeah, no, I'm - I can't account for these things. They're funny to me now, especially now that I have kids, because I just think of, you know, age so differently. My boys seem so tiny, and to think that, in two years' time, Cyrus might be thinking about these ideas is incomprehensible, you know?
GROSS: Who told you about, you know, selling out on a soap opera? Where did you get that from?
DANES: I don't think anybody told me that. I don't know where I got that. But, I mean, I had been working in - I mean, it sounds a little silly to say that, but, like, I had done stuff at P.S. 122 and La MaMa, and I had been working with fairly radical storytellers, you know? I bet I was exposed to some sort of conversation that I can't remember now that maybe helped me think in those terms. I don't know.
GROSS: Your first television role, I think, was on an episode of "Law & Order." What season...
DANES: Dun-dun (ph) - yeah.
GROSS: Which season was it? Who were the detectives and...
DANES: Oh, gosh, it was - must have been, like, '91. Oh, I was just so excited. I was so excited. I played a teenage murderer.
GROSS: Oh, you were the murderer.
DANES: Oh, yeah.
DANES: Oh, yeah. I played the daughter of a prostitute. I didn't know that she had been a prostitute. I thought that she was a model, and her pimp/agent or something was grooming me to be a model. And then when my mom found out, she forced him to quit working with me. And I went into a rage, and I murdered him with scissors. Maybe he was a photographer. Maybe that's what - anyway, yeah. You don't actually see it happen, but you hear about it on the stand.
GROSS: What was it like to see yourself on TV the first time?
DANES: Oh, I remember the day after it aired going on the subway and being sure that I would have a hard time on the commute because so many people would recognize me.
DANES: I think we had a viewing party at home the night before. It was very sweet. I was just thrilled.
GROSS: My guest is Claire Danes. She stars in the Showtime series "Homeland," which is in its eighth and final season. After a break, we'll talk about starring in the series "My So-Called Life" when she was in her mid-teens and what her own life was like in her teens, and Justin Chang will review the new film adaptation of Jane Austen's novel "Emma." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Claire Danes, the star of the Showtime series "Homeland," which is in its eighth and final season. She plays a CIA officer who's brilliant but at times behaves radically because she has bipolar disorder. Danes became famous in her midteens for her starring role in the TV series "My So-called Life" as a girl in high school, dealing with anxieties about school, boyfriends, sexuality, parents and self-consciousness.
You were 13 when you auditioned for "My So-Called Life." And that show only lasted one season, but it really had a huge impact. Like, it's been described as cable TV before there was really cable because it was just a much more true-to-life and sophisticated series than is - than was on broadcast TV at the time, for the most part. And you were terrific in it.
GROSS: And a lot of people grew up with that show. I mean, it made a really big impression on them. So you said that your character, Angela, was going through some of the same things that you were going through when you were 13 and auditioned and then later on when you actually - when the series actually got made...
DANES: Yeah. Yeah.
GROSS: ...Which was - what? - about a year later?
GROSS: So what were some of the things that you were going through that you heard articulated in the series?
DANES: Oh, gosh. I mean, your first crush, you know, your face breaking out, that feeling of isolation. I still remember - there was one line in the pilot where it said, I can't bring myself to eat in front of my mother. It just means too much to her...
DANES: ...Which I, of course, think about all the time now as I tell my kids to eat their spinach. But yeah, it was so paralleled. And sometimes there would be an episode that I didn't fully understand because I actually hadn't arrived at that experience myself, and then a week later, I would, you know. So it was this really amazing dance.
GROSS: So in terms of things that you went through, that your character went through, I want to play a scene from "My So-Called Life." And you and Jordan Catalano, who you had a big crush on in this series, had kissed, but the rumor was going around in school that you actually had sex, which you did not. Your mother's heard the rumor and decides it's time to have the talk with you about birth control.
So here is my guest, Claire Danes and Bess Armstrong, as her mother, in a scene from "My So-Called Life." And in this scene, she's in her bedroom listening to The Cranberries, and you'll hear that. And I should mention, we're also going to hear Claire Danes doing a voiceover in this scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MY SO-CALLED LIFE")
BESS ARMSTRONG: (As Patty Chase) We need to talk.
DANES: (As Angela Chase) When I was 12, my mother gave me my sex talk. I'm not sure either of us has fully recovered.
ARMSTRONG: (As Patty) Now that you and Jordan are...
DANES: (As Angela) Oh, my God. Mom, please.
ARMSTRONG: (As Patty) Angela, I can accept that you have a boyfriend.
DANES: (As Angela) I don't have a boyfriend.
ARMSTRONG: (As Patty) Fine - a pal, a male pal, whatever word you want to choose. The point is, I'm your mother, and I don't think you're ready.
DANES: (As Angela) Mom, please.
ARMSTRONG: (As Patty) I don't think you're ready. But I have to know if this is what's happening because I don't think that I can keep you from...
DANES: (As Angela) Mom, I beg you to stop.
ARMSTRONG: (As Patty) I need to know that you're using - I mean, I remember how this feels. I do. But it's the times that we live in.
DANES: (As Angela) Mom, please.
ARMSTRONG: (As Patty) Honey, I know you don't want to think about these things. I know that you think you're invulnerable, but...
DANES: (As Angela) I don't think that. You have no idea.
ARMSTRONG: (As Patty) You have to use some kind of protection if you are going to be...
DANES: (As Angela) Mom, I'm not having sex, all right? Really. I'm not even close, to an embarrassing degree.
ARMSTRONG: (As Patty) Oh. OK. I'm sorry, honey. I just - I want you to be prepared when the time comes, whenever the time comes.
DANES: (As Angela) It'll never come, not with Jordan.
ARMSTRONG: (As Patty) Is that what's bothering you?
DANES: (As Angela) No, nothing's bothering me.
ARMSTRONG: (As Patty) Something's bothering you.
DANES: (As Angela) Mom, you couldn't possibly understand or help. So please, I don't mean to hurt your feelings. But just - please.
GROSS: That's my guest, Claire Danes with Bess Armstrong in a scene from "My So-Called Life." Did you have that talk with your mother?
DANES: I don't remember having that talk. But I remember when I got my period, and like, my mom kind of discovered it because she was doing the laundry (laughter) and approaching me about that and just feeling, like, devastated, which was funny because I trusted her, and we were - it was so relaxed between us. But there are just some things that feel shameful by definition, almost, you know, which is so sad. It's so sad. But there's - it's scary stuff, right? And I don't know. But yeah, isn't that - oh, it's so - it's such a beautifully written scene.
GROSS: It is. It is.
DANES: It's so recognizable, that writing.
GROSS: How old were you when you got your period?
DANES: I was young. I was 11. And I was terrified. And you know, I...
GROSS: What were you afraid of? Were you afraid of maturing or afraid of the blood or...
DANES: Yeah, like, looming womanhood and sex and all of these big ideas that I was ill-prepared for that I couldn't begin to kind of make any sense of. So, yeah, and I just - I flinched, you know.
GROSS: Were you afraid of your friends finding out?
DANES: I was afraid of all of it. I was just afraid of it. I was afraid of the change. And I had reason to be because it's - you're living in, like, a Kafka story.
DANES: No, it's just the worst. I mean, when I was pregnant, I kind of felt that way again. Just that, you know, you have to cede total control. Your body just riots, and it never consults you about any of these things.
GROSS: So when you were, like, a teenage star, those are the years - your teen years are the years when you're trying to figure out who you are, who you are separate from who your parents think you are or who parents want you to be. And at the same time, people were probably thinking, oh, she's Angela from "My So-Called Life" and projecting onto you, Claire Danes...
GROSS: ...The, you know, personality of your character, Angela. So was that - is it a difficult time to become well known for a role when you're trying to figure out who you are?
DANES: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I just - I mean, adolescence is a difficult time, full stop. In some ways, I think I ran into acting because I was struggling emotionally just with that reality. I really had a hard time in junior high school and was bullied, and I just hated the social dynamics. And I got to reflect on that in such an incredible way with "My So-Called Life." And then I was kind of buffered from the actual experience of it because I was suddenly in a world full of adults who were much more humane. But at the same time, I was also not having to develop these social strategies - right? - or techniques or - you know, my development emotionally was a little stunted, and that did catch up with me eventually. And that's why - that was a major reason why I chose to stop acting for a time, and I went to college.
GROSS: You said you were bullied. What were you bullied for?
DANES: I think I may have been a little annoying. Like, I...
DANES: I think I was. I was always - I always really loved learning, was a very engaged student, which meant, like, I was what I call ooh-ooh-oohy (ph). You know, I always had my hand up and was ready to give the answer. And, you know, like, I didn't quite get the memo that you were supposed to stop doing that, especially as a girl, at a certain point. My best friend, we grew up together, and she had a quota; she would only allow herself to answer three questions per class. And she was the valedictorian, but nobody would ever know it. You know, she knew how to be stealthful about it, you know (laughter). And...
GROSS: It's so horrible.
DANES: Isn't it horrible? It's horrible. But I just - one, maybe I didn't really understand it, or two, maybe I just didn't have the patience for it? I'm actually not entirely sure which was the real motivating force behind my continuing to be exactly who I was. But I got punished for it; I really did. I got made fun of a lot. And it really took a toll. It was taxing. And I left. I bailed (laughter). I stopped going to school.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Claire Danes. She stars in the Showtime series "Homeland," which is now in its eighth and final season. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF NOAM WIESENBERG'S "DAVKA")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Claire Danes. She stars in the Showtime series "Homeland," which is in its eighth and final season.
So you went to Yale, and your grandfather, Gibson Danes, had been the dean of art and architecture at Yale. Did you...
GROSS: He was no longer there when you were there, right?
DANES: No, no, no, no.
GROSS: Did you study with his friends? Had he left a mark that was still visible?
DANES: Yes. Yes, I had. Well, he had commissioned an architect to design the art and architecture building, where I took a lot of my classes. And everybody hated that building.
GROSS: Oh, gosh.
DANES: So we - it was often discussed how dreadful a thing that was, which was funny, I guess. But, yeah, and my first - I took an introductory to architecture class with Vincent Scully, who was my grandfather's best friend, and that was really quite wonderful.
GROSS: When you were 13, your grandfather ended his life and his wife's, too, by turning on the car in the garage and dying from the exhaust fumes. His wife, the way I understand it, had advanced Alzheimer's. You were 13 at the time. What was your understanding of what happened?
DANES: Oh, I mean, it was devastating. I didn't understand it. I felt abandoned. And I missed him terribly, and I was really mad at him. But as I've aged and matured, I now have real empathy for him. He just had terrible luck in life. His first wife, Claire, whom I'm named after, my dad's mom, she died really young. She died when my dad was 10 years old. And then he remarried, and they had another baby, my uncle Mark. And then she died. She got very sick and passed away. And then he married his third wife, Ilse Getz, who he was really in love with. She had a very interesting story. She was a wonderful painter. A German Jewish woman who had fled the Holocaust and lost a lot of her family to that.
And yeah - and then in their 70s, she had this terminal illness, and I think he just couldn't take it, take another loss. So I see that now, and I have compassion for him. But at that point, I think I was too small to understand that. And I was just so fixated on my father, and I thought, OK, well, you lost all of these wives, but my dad has lost all of these mothers, and he's still here, you know. But it doesn't work that way exactly, you know. And I'm fortunate that I've kind of gotten to a point where I can realize that. But no, it was so sad. It was so sad.
GROSS: Did your grandfather leave a note?
DANES: You know, he left, like, Post-it notes all over the house, labeling objects that he was going to give to different people. It was really sad. But, you know, he was really clear about it, and it was the right choice for him. So I think it's OK. It has to be OK, right?
GROSS: Did he leave things for you?
DANES: Yeah. (Laughter) He left me, like, an ivory talcum powder container and other things, but it was so specific, so small.
DANES: It's like - people are really interesting. We're so interesting.
GROSS: So you have two children, and they're both pretty young. And one of them was born, I think, in 2018 and the other earlier in the series. Was it hard when you were pregnant or when you were, like, a new mother to go back and forth between, you know, being in a pregnant state or being a new mother and...
DANES: Oh, it was really hard, yeah.
GROSS: Yeah, and getting into all the difficult situations that Carrie is in...
DANES: Oh, my gosh. At one point...
GROSS: ...When her life is always at stake.
DANES: Yeah. At one point, I was pregnant with Cyrus. We were shooting the second season. I was about seven months pregnant. It was a night shoot. We were shooting in some old sewage factory, some kind of icky, icky place. And I was - had been kidnapped by the baddie of the season, Abu Nazir, and I was handcuffed to a pipe. It was 4 in the morning. I was so tired. And I just thought, like, this is - I don't think this is safe (laughter), you know? This is just exactly the opposite of where I want to be deep into my - I was probably in my - yeah, my third trimester. It was pretty crazy. And then...
GROSS: Did you say anything?
DANES: No. No. Honestly, I - and I'm a little bit - kind of loath to admit this, a little ashamed to admit this. But my focus was always on making sure that I wasn't putting the production at any risk more than myself or my baby, which is kind of insane. But, you know, I ran six miles every morning pregnant and then did, you know, a 13-hour day (laughter). It was nuts. And then with Rowan five years later, I was filming in the first and second trimester. With Cyrus, it'd been the second and third. So then the challenge was just being exhausted all the time and nauseous. And I kept falling asleep in between takes, but I couldn't tell anybody why. And my dresser, who's this really lovely woman and - she had crocheted a bag for me, and I fell asleep on this crocheted bag. And I - it looked like I had third-degree burns on my face.
DANES: And they literally had to, like - they put, like, a hair dryer to it.
DANES: We had to wait for about 20 minutes, you know, before we could film. And I just thought, oh, my God, do they think I have a substance abuse issue or, you know - I was really paranoid about that. But I was just so exhausted. And I just wanted to scream, I'm pregnant, you know? And I couldn't.
GROSS: You wanted to wait until...
DANES: Yeah, after...
GROSS: ...After the three-month...
DANES: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was, you know, it's just - I was superstitious about it even at that point. But...
GROSS: Was it kind of confusing? Like, what's the more feminist thing to do - to pretend, like, I'm pregnant, but I could do anything, or...
GROSS: ...To say, like, I'm pregnant, and that needs to be respected?
DANES: Much more feminist to say, I'm pregnant, and that needs to be respected. And I didn't have that in me at that point. Now I do (laughter).
GROSS: Now that you're not pregnant.
DANES: Now that I'm not pregnant.
DANES: Yeah. But this was pre-#MeToo, you know?
GROSS: Oh, true. Right. So you've shot the last episode. What was it like to come to the end?
DANES: I still feel like I'm coming to it, you know? It's been 10 years of my life. It's been eight seasons, but it's been 10 years. And it's been a formative 10 years, you know? I started the show as a barely-married person, and I'm leaving the show as a, you know, mother of two. The last really meaningful scene I had was with Mandy. It was, of course, a very dramatic one, and I definitely fell apart emotionally. And I just remember - well, I'm getting emotional talking about it now, but I just remember sort of clinging to him. You know, it's very profound what you share, the trust that you build over that length of time. And we shot the show all over the planet, I mean, really - in Israel and Morocco and South Africa and Berlin. It was kind of epic.
GROSS: I really look forward to seeing how the series ends (laughter).
DANES: Me too.
DANES: I haven't seen all the episodes, so that...
GROSS: Do you watch?
DANES: I'm excited to share it. I will. I tend to watch it with everybody else. I don't even know why, exactly. I have the means of getting a hold of the episodes, but...
GROSS: I would imagine you do.
DANES: I kind of like tuning in with everybody else.
GROSS: Claire Danes, this has been great. Thank you so much.
DANES: Thank you so much. It's such a treat and an honor to talk to you. I just love you.
GROSS: Claire Danes stars in the Showtime series "Homeland," which is in its eighth and final season. After we take a short break, Justin Chang will review the new film adaptation of Jane Austen's novel "Emma." This is FRESH AIR.
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