After playing an angst-ridden teen on television and romantic leads in films, Claire Danes tackled a completely different part as the star of HBO's biopic "Temple Grandin."
It required her to get under the skin of Grandin, a rancher, autistic pioneer and animal behavior scientist. She spent weeks studying Grandin's unique speech patterns and physical mannerisms, telling the L.A. Times that she never wanted to “do an impression” of the real person, whom she considers "a genius autistic cowgirl."
And not only was it the opposite of Hollywood glamorous, it was one of the most demanding roles of her career, Danes said.
It also earned her Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards and marked her return to TV in 2010. The project's director, Mick Jackson, said he was confident the lithe blonde Danes could disappear into the part.
"She was my first choice always, because she's so fierce," Jackson told the L.A. Times shortly before the premium cable movie’s premiere. "She is so disciplined, so brave and so focused."
He also predicted it would "move her into Meryl Streep/Robert DeNiro/Charlize Theron territory," and he's not the first filmmaker to compare Danes to acting royalty.
Baz Luhrmann, director of the hip retelling of Shakespeare's classic, "Romeo + Juliet," called her "the Meryl Streep of her generation" after she played opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in that doomed young lovers tale.
Danes, a New York native who attended prep and performing arts schools before heading to Yale for two years, initially broke through on ABC's seminal drama, "My So-Called Life." The series, which ran for a single 19-episode season in the mid-1990s, spoke to millions of Generation X high schoolers and snagged the young actress her first Emmy nod.
She soon graduated to films such as "The Hours," "Stardust," "Shopgirl" and "Little Women." After the success of "Temple Grandin," Danes landed the lead as Carrie Mathison in Showtime's espionage thriller "Homeland," tackling a bipolar character with abundant flaws.
"She's not immediately likable, she's extremely exacting of herself and others," Danes told The Times in 2011. "And she's an unreliable narrator. Carrie is really struggling, and I think she's doing it valiantly. I have a lot of empathy for those people who are unusual and maybe marginalized."
Danes has won two Emmys for her work as the brilliant and driven CIA operative.