In the ‘90s, when many American teens had pinups of Jared Leto on their bedroom walls, his My So-Called Life co-star Claire Danes was decidedly not enjoying her kissing scenes with him.
That’s mostly because Danes was just 14, while her leading man was 21.
“No, he was way too old,” Danes said on the latest episode of the podcast Armchair Expert With Dax Shepard, when asked whether she had a crush on Leto back in the day. “I was way too terrified. It was very fraternal… and he was actually pretty protective of me. I think I made it clear, too, from the beginning that I wasn’t that kind of 14-year-old. I was truly 14.”
However, Danes said kissing the older actor wasn’t her very first smooch, despite what Shepard said he’d read.
“That’s not true,” Danes clarified. “But it is true that it was a more involved kiss than I had ever had. And there were stage directions that said I was supposed to kiss Jordan Catalano’s face... like, not his lips. And I didn’t understand that at all. And so Jared had to explain that to me, which was very embarrassing.”
Two years later, Danes was paired with a leading man closer to her age, Leonardo DiCaprio, for Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. She remembered turning 17 during filming, while DiCaprio was 21.
“I think it was crushy, for sure, but it was also a little bit like Jared,” Danes said. “That was just never gonna happen.”
For one thing, Danes admitted she just “didn’t know how to go about that.”
But they were also “very different people.” She recalled DiCaprio being frustrated with her for being “so still,” while she couldn’t understand why he was “so active.”
After the success of the Shakespeare adaptation, Danes said she was quickly given a lot of opportunity.
Shepard asked if it was true she’d been offered the lead role in the 1997 blockbuster Titanic.
“I think I did. I’m not entirely clear on that,” Danes said. “There was strong interest, but honestly, like, I’d just made this romantic epic with Leo in Mexico City, which is where they were going to shoot Titanic, and I just didn’t have it in me. And I remember, Leo and I shared a manager at the time, and we were there at the office. I was on a balcony, which is funny [because of Romeo + Juliet]... and Leo had this rental red convertible, some, like, hot rod-dy car. And he was kinda going in circles in the parking lot. And I knew he was wrestling with the decision to do that movie or not and he just looked up at me, and he said, ‘I’m doing it. I’m doing it.’ And I could see he wasn’t sure, but he was like, f*** it, I gotta do this thing.’ And I looked down on him going, like, I totally understand why you are doing it. And I’m not ready for that.”
Danes never regretted her decision, even as she watched DiCaprio elevate to another level of fame.
“I remember I went to the premiere of The Man in the Iron Mask [in 1998], and when he walked into the room, the floor fell in his direction,” she said. “Everybody in the room just went towards him. And it was a little scary. I think I may have sensed I was courting that, and I just couldn’t do it.”
Instead of starring in one of the highest-grossing films of all time, Danes spent the late ‘90s completing several other projects before heading to Yale University for an education, both academic and social. She hadn’t been in a traditional school consistently since she was 12.
“I wasn’t able to do a lot of the socializing that you typically are forced to do, no matter how miserable it is, in high school, and I think that was to my detriment,” Danes explained. “So that was really why I went back to college.”
She left Yale after two years to return to acting full time, much to the delight of Homeland fans everywhere.
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