Claire Danes Finds Space to Think

The actress and current host of Art21 considers the relationship between location and creativity.

The actress and current host of Art21 considers the relationship between location and creativity.

I think we’re all natural voyeurs. I can’t pass by a real estate office on the street without looking at the listings and imagining who inhabits those spaces. For me, that’s even truer when it comes to an artist’s work environment.

I grew up in a loft on Crosby Street in SoHo with artist parents. Back then, because SoHo was a manufacturing zone, my parents and their neighbors had to prove that they were artists in order to live there. In the loft, we had an incredibly elaborate collection of art materials, like a massive rubber stamp collection and a light box. This plethora of stuff allowed me to produce anything with my hands. I had a wildly unfair advantage whenever I did a science project for school thanks to this unusual assortment of resources at home.

We had a trapeze and a trampoline, too, all in this single great expanse of a loft—there weren’t any walls or separate rooms. That’s the most comforting sort of space for me, something open and rambling, with windows for lots of light.

These days I run pretty much daily, which is also an excuse to listen to podcasts. The ones I gravitate toward have a theme of looking intimately at different people’s processes. I find it fascinating to step into a creative person’s world and have them talk through the experience of solving a problem, or designing an aesthetic, or communicating an idea. I love the idea that artists are organized in the place they make their work, and how that’s relevant to their creative output.

When I’m acting, there’s that same relationship. Going to wherever the set is for Homeland—I refer to it as “going to the studio”—there isn’t actually a permanent place; it’s an abstract idea. The environment is always changing. I envy visual artists who have a place that’s permanent and their own. I don’t make my work in a trailer, but the makeup and hair trailer is a loaded place for an actor. It’s where you start the day at 5 a.m., and where it ends 12 hours later. It has to be very safe, because you’re kind of letting go of the balloons that you’re holding onto in your conscious state.

You start to let them drift, and make yourself vulnerable and available to whatever is going to be asked of you when you start performing. It’s where the transformation starts every morning, and where you literally get to wash that character right out of your hair every night.

My parents moved to Los Angeles some time ago. They have their respective studios in the backyard. They make art, not necessarily together, but beside each other. I know my mom really likes the light there. It’s a lot brighter than in New York. It kind of flattens things out, I think, not in an uninteresting way. I remember, when I went to the South of France for the first time, I realized: The Impressionists were painting what they saw. It wasn’t these wild, imaginative leaps they were taking. They depicted what was in front of them. I just hadn’t ever seen that specific light before. That was a big idea for me.

Claire Danes is the star of Homeland, which returns to Showtime early next year. The new season of Art21, which she is hosting, premieres this month. 

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