Claire Danes: Playing Bipolar Is Serious Business

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The second season is about to start for the Showtime series Homeland, a show whose cast and crew are up for numerous honors at the Emmy Awards Sept. 23.

One of them is Claire Danes, who plays a CIA agent who's become obsessed with the idea that an American hero — a Marine returned home after years of captivity in Iraq — has secretly become an operative for al-Qaida. Danes spoke to NPR's Steve Inskeep about preparing for the part, finding the character's body language and being "a big fat ham."

Interview Highlights

On playing a bipolar character

"I had to do a lot of research for this role. And actually, I found great material on YouTube. There was a lot of footage of people who recorded themselves when they were in manic states. I think they were probably up in the middle of the night and lonely and, you know, needed to talk. So they talked to the camera. So I gorged on sort of manic confessionals on YouTube.

"They talk at a very fast clip. But, you know, it's not a strictly unpleasant phenomenon. A lot of people are reluctant to treat themselves because they're so protective of those manic highs."

On her on-camera physicality

"I focus on the intention of the character and whatever thoughts and feelings she's having, and they seem to kind of naturally communicate themselves on the face. But I have to say that my dad's face is very malleable. He's barely got any cartilage in his face. I think I maybe inherited that Play-Doh-like physicality from him."

On starting her career at a young age

"I got an agent when I was 12, and I started working in more amateur productions well before that. But even as a kid, I never felt like a kid actor, you know? I always took myself kind of absurdly seriously. My first offer was when I was 12, and it was for a soap opera. And I turned it down because I knew that I was an unformed actor, and I didn't want to develop bad habits."

On taking herself seriously

"I've been performing since I was about 6. No, with real artists. I worked with people who took their work seriously, so I really cared about that stuff.

"Yeah, well, I mean, gosh, everything seemed so important as a teenager. So frickin' serious, are you kidding? I mean, that's why teenagers especially are so funny. But I mean, I have to be clear, too, when we talk about my being serious, I was also a big fat ham.

"And, you know, what we do is to play professionally, and I think I knew that. I didn't know how much I knew that as a kid. And I had to learn that there is real honor in being a total goofball."

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