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Me and Orson Welles – Claire Danes tells of her introduction to Orson

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Me and Orson Welles star Claire Danes has performed on stage, screen and television. She first came to the attention of the audience when she starred on the TV series My So Called Life, and has gone on to star in such diverse movies as Stardust, Little Women, The Family Stone, Evening and Shopgirl.

In Me and Orson Welles she portrays Sonja Jones, Welles’ ambitious assistant who becomes infatuated with a young actor in the Mercury Theatre company, Richard, played by Zac Efron.

What was it about this project that attracted you?

Claire Danes © Freestyle Releasing
Claire Danes © Freestyle Releasing

The script of Me and Orson Welles was wonderful and it’s really not that often that you read a script that is immediately engaging, coherent and charming.

I loved all of the characters. They were all so detailed and specific and Richard [Linklater] was directing it and I just loved his work.

She isn’t based on a real person, but did you base her on anyone you knew?

No. She’s written so well. She was really vivid on the page so I didn’t have to stretch my imagination too much. She’s bright and she’s ambitious. I’m always impressed by that.

I always think that’s a good thing especially in that time when woman were discouraged to do that and their goals were more confined and limited and she’s pretty brazen.

What was your first introduction to Orson Welles?

Christian McKay (as Orson Welles) and Claire Danes © Freestyle Releasing
Christian McKay (as Orson Welles) and Claire Danes © Freestyle Releasing

I discovered Orson Welles in college. I don’t know if it was my Freshman English professor who screened Citizen Kane for us and I ended up writing a 20-page term paper on it.

I’m sure I’m not the only one. Many a term paper is dedicated to Orson Welles. So, I fell in love with him there and since,

I’ve seen a few other of his films but didn’t realize that he’d been such a revolutionary figure in theater as well and then radio. He was really a maverick in so many different mediums, at such a young age. It’s mind-boggling.

He was pretty arrogant at 22, when he did the play Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theatre.

Well, yeah and rightfully so. The movie talks about that, the confusion of that. Even Sonja says ‘with someone like Orson you excuse a lot of behavior’. It’s true.

When somebody’s ego is in service of really brilliant, innovative work, it’s hard to criticize their failures as a human sometimes.

Did you watch a lot of his movies for research?

Yes I did. My husband [actor Hugh Dancy] and I watched a lot of Hitchcock movies in bulk and there’s a lot to be gained from that; from focusing strictly on one artist’s canon. I recently presented Robert De Niro with an award and watched a lot of his movies.

It’s true, that when you see the work in concentration like that, it’s really revealing.

Did you and Zac meet over coffee or anything to talk about your parts before filming?

Zac Efron and Claire Danes © Freestyle Releasing
Zac Efron and Claire Danes © Freestyle Releasing

We rehearsed. Mostly with Christian and Rick for a few days and then they rehearsed again, the people within the play within the movie.  I wasn’t involved with that.

Tell us about rehearsing with Christian McKay, who plays Orson Welles?

He was great. He adapted it pretty brilliantly. He’d played Orson on stage and that was a good foundation for him but he was playing him much later in life and of course, he was playing him on stage so it was a different kind of expression.