Claire Danes’ Cry Face: Audience Dealing With Emotional Acting

claire danes
A good actress is emotional. She has the ability to make you understand what you have not experienced. She makes you pause and think, Wow, that is a phenomenal actress.

But a great actress embodies a character so thoroughly, that you forget she is acting at all. This actress is so articulate in her representation that it is evident physically; looking closely, you can see the many different ways to hold a pinky, hear the subtle quiver in a voice, the changing octave in a laugh.

Actors and actresses have always transformed their bodies drastically for a reputable part. Charlize Theron transformed herself and won an Oscar for her portrayal as the unsightly, hideous serial killer in the aptly-titled film Monster. Yes, these actress are willing to look unattractive if the character description calls for it, a noble cause as any.

However, I have become interested in a smaller, more defined group of actresses: those of whom are willing to look ugly and unappealing not because their character called for it, but because their acting did.

Throughout her career, Claire Danes has been the epitome of an actresses who isn’t afraid to “let go” for a role. The rawness of her acting has not gone unrewarded; she has already won two Golden Globes and two Emmys for the volatile role of Carrie Mathison on Showtime’s Homeland. Yet, her fearlessness garners a contradictory reaction from the public. Danes’ incredibly vulnerable and candid portrayals of the human emotional spectrum has been praised by some and ridiculed by others.

I’m sure many of you are aware of the internet trend called Cry Face.


claire danes cry face

Claire Danes Cry Face Homeland

For those still unaware, it began as a blog called The Claire Danes Cry Face Project, the tagline simply being, “When Claire Danes cries on film, we document it.” Photos, GIFs, and compilation videos of Danes’ most vulnerable moments are captured, shared and laughed at. This trend even manifested in an SNL skit that featured Anne Hathaway portraying Dane’s tearful performances.

As I have written before about accurately placed ugliness, this phenomenon seems to be a continuation of people’s negatively toward female character constructs that are actually messy. Does the Cry Face blog demonstrate our severe dissociate to our own scary world of emotions?

Danes gives a nuanced portrayal of the extremely complex Carrie Mathison, an ultra talented, bipolar CIA agent. The reason that her “ugliness” is important is because when she’s ugly, she is revealing the dark side of herself, which manifests as physical ugliness…. she becomes unattractive in an otherwise attractive role.
Sasha Weiss, writing for The New Yorker, puts it,“A testament to Danes’s knack for self-exposure is her willingness to look ugly—her reedy, boyish frame can become galumphy and graceless, her smooth, radiant face can crumple like a paper bag. This mood-swinging is the essence of her acting, and so it’s also the thing that people like to make fun of.” (1)

Its not only the essence of her acting, but its the essence of her intense and bipolar character. Danes describes her character tenderly,

“I also appreciated the dichotomy between her obvious flaws and transgressions and her strong moral core. For all her recklessness, she is surprisingly earnest and honest. Another fun paradox: she dedicates herself entirely to the noble cause of protecting her country, but she doesn’t do it simply for noble reasons. She is terrified of forging intimate relationships with others—which is, basically, what constitutes a life—because she knows the kind of damage that her condition can wreak. Because she has such an anemic life, it is easier for her to risk losing it on behalf of her cause. While this is an advantage of sorts, she must live with the pain of her loneliness. She is, basically, a classic superhero. Who wouldn’t want to play that?” (2)

Danes is incredibly physical in her acting. Her body can let go to the point where she is literally shaking, her voice perfectly breaking as she desperately tries to convince her agency directors of her theories. She acts without caring about her appearance, without being self editing or self aware.

“I don’t even know how it happens, but I start shaking. My body expresses it. It’s really fun when it starts becoming physicalized. It’s not necessarily a conscious decision. It’s a little mysterious to me.”  says Danes.

This intense vulnerability shows the audience the beauty that it means to be human. Claire Danes truly gives it her all, a full body act that creates a performance so beautiful, so raw, that it alienates some audience members, and perhaps even frightens them. In today’s media landscape, where illusion is a necessity and “branding” trumps performance, complete unadulterated acting is hard to come by.

Perhaps the fact that people mock Danes demonstrates her unique acting abilities. However, are we so used to the polished forms of characters in films that we cannot handle real emotion? I have not seen a more incredible actress on television in a long while. Its interesting that the same person who Obama told, “You are a finer actress than I am President,” is the one that sparked such mockery from the public. While it is not the only element, I think modern audiences have a more difficult time in dealing with a portrait of real emotion. We often place ourselves in the characters we watch, and don’t want to see ourselves be out of control-we don’t want to see the purple veins in our eyelids pop, or have our runny noses linger as we yell. We don’t want to look like Carrie Mathison when we get mad, so we tease what we are wary of.

Cry Face is essentially taking the art of the emotional breakdown and shoving it out of context. This removal, which both degrades and mutes a modern day tragic heroine, shows how we can’t handle the truth of how we see ourselves.