When Claire Danes first started filming Homeland, she did what many actors can’t help but do, and brought work home to her husband, Hugh Dancy—specifically, the Showtime drama’s liberal use of swear words. “The first season was littered with pretty foul language, and that bled into my personal life—I was talking like a sailor,” she tells Vanity Fair. “I remember Hugh being really grossed out by it and chastising me a little bit, like, ‘Claire!’” Cut to a decade later, with Danes deep into her new show, Fleishman Is in Trouble, FX on Hulu’s juicy and twisty tale of a bitter divorce. “Fighting in the way that I had been for 12 hours a day, for many consecutive days, just made me more inclined to pick fights with Hugh, who was entirely undeserving of it,” Danes says. “It was not at all his fault. But it’s hard to turn the spigot off because it feels good, in a perverse way.”

Danes commits every time—and it’s not that the Emmy winner goes full Method, exactly. The intensity and fullness with which she brings her richest characters to life translates into the kinds of performances that stick to viewers for days. No wonder the portrayer finds them a little hard to shake herself. And that goes especially for Fleishman. For much of the limited series’ run, Danes’s Rachel exists as a projection of her ex-husband, Toby (Jesse Eisenberg). His old college friend, Libby (Lizzy Caplan), listens to him unpack the breakdown of their marriage, from Rachel’s traumatic experience while giving birth, to her ruthless professional ambition, and her unwillingness to see him fully, as he (says he) saw her. One day, after dropping the kids off at Toby’s place, Rachel disappears; at the end of last week’s sixth episode, Libby finds Rachel sitting on a park bench, hiding in plain sight—and realizes that there’s far more to the story than Toby’s righteous version of events had perhaps implied. Rachel tells Libby everything that happened from her own perspective. The account is devastating—with Danes, emotionally and heartbreakingly raw, delivering career-best work in the process of explaining how a driven woman can crumble. (Already, she’s been nominated for a Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award for her Fleishman performance.) 

Due to some wonkiness in the production schedule, Danes filmed both this penultimate episode and the third episode—her other showcase, but told from Toby’s point of view—near-simultaneously. In other words, she and Eisenberg would be on the same sets, playing the same scenes, twice—through each other’s lens. “I’d never played a character as perceived by someone else, so to play a projection and then play a person, one after the other, took some coordination. I would lose track!” Danes says. “When we were shooting the scene at the therapist’s office, [our director] had to remind me that we were in what we called my episode. She’s like, ‘You’re right in this one.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m always right, but it’s a matter of how right: Am I episode three right, or am I episode seven right?’ These were the kind of deranged conversations that we found ourselves having.”

“Episode three right,” as they called it, carries a certain coldness—Rachel still reads her dynamics with Toby rather correctly in the latter’s memory of their marriage, but she lacks empathy and patience. Danes magnetically plays into Toby’s minimizing while hinting at the depth, history, and pain later fully revealed in Rachel’s own telling of events. Her story is that of one woman being pushed to the brink, the true and layered experience behind what would be dismissed by most as a mental breakdown. It’s the kind of arc Danes excels at delineating, never in judgment or hysterics but not shying away from the cry for help at its core. In fact, when she first encountered Rachel as her next potential role, Danes worried about repeating herself. “Obviously, I played an unhinged person in Carrie Mathison for many seasons, and I played Temple Grandin, who has a different kind of makeup and is a deeply sensitive person,” Danes says. “There was part of me that was like, Oh, gosh, am I the go-to girl for this kind of expression?”

But the difference is that Rachel is not a globetrotting, terrorist-hunting CIA agent. She’s not a hero of the American scientific community. She’s simply a working mom, someone many viewers know, or even are—and in Danes bringing her trademark, guttural power to that kind of everyday experience, she reaches a new sweet spot that hits hard, one rooted in the mundane. “I just find people who are in extreme states really, really fascinating—and I think that experience is probably more common than any of us would like to admit,” Danes says. “We all know what it is to be scared out of our minds, literally. It feels like a privilege to be able to communicate that.”

David Canfield

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