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Claire Danes talks 'Shop'

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NEW YORK -- Claire Danes is the sort of celebrity who, en route to a breakfast interview, calls to apologize profusely for being a few minutes late and promises she is just blocks away.

She didn't oversleep. Danes had to walk her 7-month-old schnauzer/poodle mix, Ouija, who had a mind of his own about when he needed to be walked.

Her streaked blond hair still wet and her face devoid of makeup, Danes is casual in a gray sweater and black trousers. She's goofy and gracious, albeit guarded.

Danes chortles about the tabloid obsession with Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson's marriage, recounts her dog's behavioral turnaround after his stint at canine boot camp and says she's trying to get into Madame Bovary.

But she won't discuss her love life. Yes, she and Billy Crudup, 37, with whom she starred in last year's Stage Beauty, are still together. And things are going well.

"I used to talk about my personal life all the time. It's the most fun thing to talk about," says Danes, 26, who now opts to keep it under wraps because otherwise "the people in my life are hurt."

She'd rather talk Shopgirl, which opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles. Danes plays Mirabelle, an introverted artist who sells gloves at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Older bon vivant Ray (Steve Martin) sends Mirabelle gloves and a handwritten note to ask her out, while slacker Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) picks her up in a laundromat. What's the furthest a man has gone to woo Danes?

"I've never dated (casually). Ever. It's kind of weird." says Danes, who was previously involved with musician Ben Lee. "I did have a boyfriend in junior high who was a kleptomaniac. We'd leave stores and he'd come out with something for me."

As for her bare-some sex scene with Martin, 60? "People are alarmed by it, but it's so discreet."

Unlike Mirabelle, Danes, who started acting at 12 and made her mark as Angela Chase on the short-lived but much-loved series My So-Called Life, has never had a dead-end job. "But I certainly know what it feels like to feel lonely," she says. "I admire her resilience."

Danes had a lot of attention lavished on her at the beginning of her romance with the extremely private Crudup, who had parted ways with Mary-Louise Parker while she was pregnant with his son, William Atticus, now 1. How did Danes cope?

The scrutiny is ".008% of what's important and challenging," says Danes, who's rarely seen in public with Crudup.

Her life in Manhattan is ordinary, Danes says. She lives in a downtown loft and rides the subway every day. She goes to the refurbished Museum of Modern Art, shops at the NoLita boutique A Detacher, loves reading Lorrie Moore's Anagrams and eats out -- a lot.

Paparazzi largely leave her alone. But when they do get her, "it's embarrassing, because I'm always wearing the wrong thing. I'm in my North Face jacket, my sweatpants and my huge, ugly gym shoes. But I'm not newsworthy right now, I'm relieved to say."

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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