Despite the prickly defense system against private-life inquiries, Danes gets as caught up in reading about celebrity dramas as anyone else. "I worried about Jennifer [Aniston], you know?" she admits when Brangelina-gate comes up. So, does that mean she's on "Team Aniston"? "There is no team!" she says quickly. The tabloid Jennifer has little to do with the real Jennifer, she points out: "It's the Jennifer we all carry inside of us."

The collective idea of Claire Danes—the adolescent, the virgin, the ingenue—may be changing as well, as her career enters a new, more adult, less clothed, and perhaps more Oscar-worthy phase. She has two more movies on the way (The Family Stone, with Diane Keaton, and Pushers Needed, with Maggie Smith) and recently debuted a solo dance piece (yes, she dances, too) based on Andrew Wyeth's painting Christina's World. But Danes won't claim to be fully formed just yet.

"I am still in the cocoon, I think, and waiting to emerge as a grown-up. It's kind of an amorphous, transitional time," she says. "I feel like I should be more congealed than I am. But I'm just not."