You may have seen the billboards over the Long Island Expressway: Claire Danes as you've never seen her, in juvenile retro curls with eyes staring out as wide as saucers. In the role of the autistic, gruff voiced writer, educator, scientist, inventor, and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior Temple Grandin, she is as unglamorous as a glamorous movie star can be.
At the premiere of this HBO movie this week, to air on February 6, her tresses sleeked and wearing a satin trench, Danes took praise for her outstanding performance in stride, chatting with Jessica Lange, Marlo Thomas, Debby Harry, Narcisco Rodrigez, Cynthia Nixon, the Culkin brothers, Kieran and Macauley. Her husband Hugh Dancy was just a few blocks away, rehearsing his new play, the MCC production of "The Pride." Also present for the screening and fine Italian dinner at A Voce: cast members Catherine O'Hara and David Strathairn, as well as Temple Grandin and her mother Eustacia Cutler.
Subtitled "Thinking in Pictures," the film shines a light on autism in its successful efforts to put you inside Temple Grandin's head, to see her thinking process, so that you actually understand where her seemingly erratic behavior comes from. Think of Dustin Hoffman's star turn in Rain Man. Only here, several damaging myths about autism are dispelled in the depiction of the remarkable relationship of Grandin with her mother, a woman so strong she refused to institutionalize Temple, who was still not speaking at 4.
The movie is a nine-year in the making passion project for producer Emily Gerson Saines, who has an autistic son.
Just before the fine Italian dinner at A Voce, in the Ladies Room, Eustacia was having a tete a tete with Julia Ormond, who portrays her so well in the movie, about the liberties taken with the mother-daughter story for the sake of the drama. "You have to make a story, otherwise you don't tell anything," Cutler said wisely.
Because Temple Grandin is now famous for her work in the humane handling of cattle slaughter, many anti-meat advocates will find this film controversial.
Temple Grandin, wearing a snazzy cowboy shirt, has her own look. She had given Danes some tapes to help her prepare for this role; the two had spent a day together. She beamed pleasure at the actress's incarnation of herself. "Everyone else was just acting," she told me, "but Danes was me. And yes, I eat meat."