In “Evening,” Claire Danes didn’t exactly work with Vanessa Redgrave. It was like she got to be Vanessa Redgrave - or, more precisely, the woman Redgrave plays.
A handsome adaptation of the elegiac Susan Minot novel, “Evening,” from filmmaker Lajos Koltai, stars Danes and Redgrave as the younger and older Ann Grant, respectively. In her mid-twenties, in the period of the film set in the 1950s, Ann is a bohemian, a singer, a free spirit. At the Newport, R.I., wedding of her WASPy best friend (Mamie Gummer), Ann falls in love. But it’s not a simple affair: Tainted by tragic events and torn allegiances, Ann and the love of her life (Patrick Wilson) spend a passionate few days together and then go off in different directions, forever.
She marries, divorces, marries and divorces again. Two daughters are produced.
In the film, in the scenes set in the present day, Ann is bed-bound, suffering bouts of dementia, reliving her past, ruing and regretting. And dying.
Redgrave, of course, is brilliant - even in the prone position, under bedsheets, which is how she appears most of the time.
“They shot their part of the movie before we did,” says Danes about Redgrave, and about Meryl Streep, who plays Ann’s best friend as an older woman (Gummer is Streep’s real-life daughter). Toni Colette and Natasha Richardson (Redgrave’s real-life daughter) were also there, playing the grown-up daughters of the frail, feverish Ann.
But Danes wasn’t going to miss a meeting with this estimable crew.
“I went up for a day to talk with Vanessa about ways of creating some consistency between our performances,” says Danes, 29, on the phone from New York recently. “We realized, ultimately, that that was unnecessary, because (her) Ann was very sick ... and behaving rather uncharacteristically. So we could afford to take liberties in interpreting the role.
“But I was lucky enough to crash one of their parties one night,” she adds with a merry chuckle. “You’d be surprised how they behaved!”
Danes, who starred in the hit teen TV series “My So-Called Life” back in the mid-‘90s, acknowledges that the idea of sharing a role with Redgrave, the great British star, was scary.
“Sure, but you know, it’s always daunting, approaching any performance. I’ll always find a reason to make myself a nervous wreck - it doesn’t take Vanessa Redgrave.”
This is a big summer for Danes. “Evening,” with its Who’s Who cast and crew (Michael Cunningham, of “The Hours,” wrote the screenplay), opens June 29. “Stardust,” an irreverent, magical-kingdom fantasy based on the Neil Gaiman novel, is slated to open Aug. 10. Danes has the lead role in that one, too - the title role, in fact: She’s a shooting star, fallen to Earth, and falling for the story’s unwitting hero (Charlie Cox). Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sienna Miller, Ricky Gervais and Peter O’Toole also show up.
“I can’t really complain,” Danes says, sipping a coffee (she reports), with Weegee, her schnauzer-poodle mix, on her lap. “I’ve done two movies now that really stretched me and filled all sorts of fantasies. In `Evening,’ for example, I get to sing, which felt exhilarating. It’s amazing the volume that we can produce. We can make big noises, we humans.
“And in `Stardust,’ for example, I get to ride a unicorn. It doesn’t get better than that.”