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Claire Danes is Temple Grandin

Published February 5, 2010 in Television
By Fred Topel | Image property of HBO
Temple Grandin Temple Grandin

If you’ve seen the billboards for HBO’s Temple Grandin, you might wonder why Claire Danes is looking so unlike herself. She’s playing real life Dr. Temple Grandin, an autism spokeswoman and animal activist who dealt with her own diagnosis before it was well known. Danes got her cattle on when the film shows Grandin’s early work on ranches.

Claire Danes Talks Temple Grandin

“They’re wonderful creatures,” Danes said. “People have asked me if I was afraid of them, but they’re very passive. The scariest scene was lying prostrate on the ground with all of them circling me. It was fascinating to learn about them and learn about the cattle industry at large.”

As part of Grandin’s experience, she went into the cattle squeeze machine herself. So Danes portrayed that in the movie. “I liked the squeeze machine. She’s not lying when she says it feels like a hug. It does. Deep pressure has positive effects for everybody, that’s why we like massages. So I was happy to get in that thing. I liked it a lot.”

It was a hard life for Temple Grandin. Squeezing the most intense of her experiences into a single movie provided Danes with a unique acting challenge. “She had so many panic attacks. When she was young she had a panic attack a day at least, and so there were a lot of them in the movie. I was anxious about differentiating them so it was not just another panic attack. So that was a challenge. It was like panic attack number 27.”

The real Temple Grandin was available to Danes for firsthand research. “I had to concentrate on Temple and observe her as closely as possible. I spent an afternoon with her and read her books and books about autism in general. That was a very valuable afternoon. I was anxious beforehand because I had a lot of questions for her and I needed to gather a lot of information that would fuel me throughout the shoot. She’s very skillful at appropriating normal behavior, big fat quotes, but she does this all the time. She tours constantly and relentlessly and speaks about autism so she’s very sophisticated now but when she was younger she wasn’t so sophisticated so I had to imagine what she was like 30 years ago at a much rawer, undeveloped stage.”

Temple Grandin premieres this weekend on HBO.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of HBO

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