After spending nearly 3 years discussing the acting phenom that is Claire Danes with the people who worked so closely with her on My So-Called Life, I finally had the opportunity to talk with her by phone yesterday for my forthcoming book, So Beautiful it Hurts: The Making of My So-Called Life. My thanks to her for fielding some of the same questions she’s answered most of her life; for her candor; and for putting up with the glitchy technology that connected us between America and England, where she's currently shooting the Apple drama The Essex Serpent. (Special thanks to the person who made this all possible; you know who you are.)
Asking any artist about the development of their talent is risky; asking someone who was a child prodigy at the time is riskier still. You’re not simply asking “how do you do this,” but rather “explain this thing that has always been a part of who you are.”
For years I’ve heard her work on MSCL described from the point of view of directors, producers, and members of the cast and crew. The resulting portrait has been one of an adult in a child’s body who could effortlessly go from studying mathematics to shooting a tearful scene instantly, and could do it better than anybody else.
I’m so grateful to have finally been able to hear this story as told from the other side. As you can imagine, what looked so easy to others was anything but.
Lastly, I feel privileged to have heard about the deep friendship between Claire and MSCL creator Winnie Holzman from the actress’ viewpoint. I believe it to be one of the most interesting creative relationships in film or television history.
In Winnie the actress found a nurturing presence who took her seriously in spite of her age, and helped her purge the pain and awkwardness of adolescence through the words she wrote for her. In exchange, Claire brought those words to life.
Traditionally when we think of such partnerships they are between a male director and his female muse – more often than not romantic pairings (e.g., Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullman). Or they are testosterone fueled matches sewn through with chest-thumping rivalry.
If Winnie pulled a gun on Claire at any point during the making of My So-Called Life Herzog/Kinski style, both have been polite enough not to mention it. Slapping down a tarot card or two between scenes – now that is another matter.
So Beautiful it Hurts’ is neither endorsed by nor affiliated with ABC, The Bedford Falls Co.,or anyone involved with the making or distribution of “My So-Called Life.”