What ever happened to Claire Danes? A look at the career of Baz Luhrmann's Juliet, who foundered but has re-emerged with Me & Orson Welles
The inconstant star
It was more than 13 years ago that Claire Danes, the New York City actress best known at that time for starring in the teen drama series My So-Called Life, was tipped as the next Meryl Streep after her performance in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet opposite the fellow up-and-comer Leonardo DiCaprio. However, while her co-star went on to be one of the most iconic actors of his generation, Danes's career slid into a mire. By 2000, a 21-year-old Danes needed a career boost usually required by actresses twice her age. So what happened? Moreover, why has she of late enjoyed a renaissance, the latest addition being her role in the Zac Efron-starring Me & Orson Welles?
Romeo + Juliet hit US cinemas in late 1996 and immediately became a surprise hit thanks to its vivid visuals and balance of the Bard's dialogue with a young, hip setting. It also made its young stars famous. Danes, the MTV generation's Juliet, seemed destined for great things. Her first films after this success were critically well received - Oliver Stone's U Turn, The Rainmaker opposite the future megastar Matt Damon - but not high-profile enough to further her status as being able to "open" a movie. Two poorly received films followed (Les Miserables and The Polish Wedding), but in 1999 she landed her first real starring role, in a studio film pegged for box-office success. Sadly, the movie - a remake of the classic American TV series The Mod Squad - failed critically and financially and effectively killed the positive buzz of her early work. Later that year, Danes starred in the hard-hitting drama Brokedown Palace with Kate Beckinsale, about backpackers who are arrested for smuggling in Thailand. While not critically maligned, the film performed poorly and Danes caused international controversy by criticising Manila (where they filmed). By 1999, while her former co-star DiCaprio was the focus of the world after Titanic, Danes had not had a hit in an industry that demands success. It was largely thought to be down to some bad role choices, with the actress too often opting for supporting parts (The Mod Squad aside) while her peers shone in lead roles.
A comeback was in the cards, however, thanks both to a three-year educational hiatus (an incomplete degree at Yale) and roles in two popular films. Three years after the failure of The Mod Squad, she scored a double success with the independent film Igby Goes Down and as the daughter of her acting idol, Meryl Streep, in the Oscar-winning The Hours. This seemed to boost Danes, then 23, back into Hollywood's consciousness and the following year she landed a high-profile role in the summer blockbuster Terminator 3. It appeared that the re-emergence of Danes was all but complete and the only thing missing was a successful starring role. That came thanks to Steve Martin, who saw Danes as the perfect lead for the adaptation of his novella Shopgirl. The resulting 2005 film was a hit critically, with many claiming she had finally fulfilled the promise of her earlier films. Although it was a modest success in cinemas, it proved that Danes could carry a film successfully. Top filmmakers acted accordingly, and she starred in Matthew Vaughn's Stardust in 2007, a film that was a hit on all counts.
Danes has also taken to the stage, starring in her Broadway debut as Eliza Doolittle in a New York revival of Pygmalion. Finally, there is Me & Orson Welles. Based on Robert Kaplow's novel it has Danes playing the love interest to the High School Musical actor Zac Efron's young thespian as they work on the 1937 stage production of Orson Welles's Julius Caesar. Efron would be well advised to learn from the career of his fellow actor. Danes is a prime example of how fleeting success can be in the film industry, but also how one can recover. It is a well-known acting mantra that the talent is in the choices. After some very public learning curves, it appears that at last Danes is choosing well.