On a scorching afternoon in August, a frantic security guard was sounding off downtown like a broken record. Scuttling over to the entrance of the Green, the park behind Wells Fargo Center, she was instructing people not to cross an imaginary line she'd made with her outstretched arms. Behind her, children skipped about stone fish fountains surrounded by film cameras on dollies. But the banker lunch crowd didn't heed the guard, especially since the keynote star at this particular location, Claire Danes, was presently nowhere to be seen.
Danes, she of Romeo + Juliet and Stardust, not to mention the TV cult series My So-Called Life, stars in the Emmy Award-winning Showtime hit Homeland, which has been shooting in Charlotte since its first season last year. The thriller, in which Danes plays a CIA agent trying to determine whether a soldier (Damian Lewis) who has returned from Iraq might be a threat to national security, uses the Queen City as a stand-in for suburban Washington, D.C. That means Charlotte has become Danes' real-life temporary home.
It could be worse (or better, depending on your taste for entertainment): We could have Lindsay Lohan. But so far, Danes hasn't mowed anyone down with her car, shoplifted anything (that we know of), or been carted away to rehab. Yet despite the actress' low profile, Charlotteans have managed to do some serious Danes-spotting — both on the set and off — since she arrived.
Sam Shapiro, program coordinator for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, recalls one sequence being shot in an alley behind the library normally reserved for handicapped parking.
"The scene was supposed to be taking place in front of a Washington, D.C., police station," Shapiro said. "We were all gawking from the windows. I mean, it's not often you see Claire Danes standing behind your work place."
Away from the job, Danes has been known to shop at the Sleepy Poet Antique Mall on South Boulevard and Slate Interiors on Central Avenue. Lindsay Jefferson, an account executive for a local marketing firm, spotted Danes at the Morrocroft Harris Teeter in SouthPark; Jefferson says she refrained from dropping My So-Called Life quotes around the baseball-capped actress.
"She was just shopping for groceries, like everyone else," Jefferson said.
Danes has dropped into Big Ben British Restaurant & Pub, too (the actress apparently lives near the South End establishment), but it remains uncertain whether we will get a chance to catch her ordering up the Big Ben bangers n' mash next year. Filming for this season of Homeland will wrap in November, and a spokesperson for Showtime has not yet confirmed whether production will return to Charlotte for a third season.
At any rate, Danes, who is pregnant with her first child (her husband is actor Hugh Dancy), would certainly be welcome back. Big Ben employee Barbara Baker, for one, only has nice things to say of the actress.
"I'll frequently see her walking her dog," Baker said. "She seems like a private person."
(The second season of Homeland begins at 10 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, on Showtime.)