In a town that sexualizes young starlets and often values skin over skill, Claire Danes is one of the distinguished few who has consistently chosen challenging roles of social significance, providing a rare archetype for women who aspire to meaningful careers in film and television.From transforming the way an entire generation related to the growing pains of adolescence as Angela in My So-Called Life to bringing awareness to the struggles with social stigma of the autistic Temple Grandin, Danes is most recently pushing gender-politic boundaries as C.I.A. agent Carrie Mathison in Showtime series Homeland, a psychological thriller that pits an intelligentsia against a war hero she suspects of terrorism.We caught up with the actress at the New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT) Annual Muse Awards gala in New York, where the 32 year-old was honored for her prolific and positive contributions to the advancement of women in the arts.The native New Yorker credits her mother with instilling a sense of self-worth that has seen her through a successful career in the abrasive big screen industry.“Before anyone can make a great mark to impose their vision on the world, they have to have the confidence to do so—and my mother gave me that confidence,” says Danes, of her artist-turned-personal-manager mother, Carla Danes. “I knew in my gut that it was within my means, and something I could attempt with a sense of freedom.”QUIZ: Are you confident?Danes recounts how she had emailed colleagues and mentors for advice on what issues to address while accepting the muse award, and how she was compelled by a common theme of experience amongst the actresses. “They expressed frustration about being defined by their bodies—the unrelenting focus on their hair and hips,” says Danes.“Yet I was struck by the sense of camaraderie in the letters, the candor and generosity with which they spoke—a fact that discredits the popular perception of women as competitive and undermining,” adds Danes.In recounting her own take on beauty, the keyword is health, as Danes says she values a full night’s sleep, hydration and keeping fit as having a more profound effect on her sense of inner and outer beauty than any cosmetic or skin care item.However, that’s not to say she doesn’t use them. Since last year, the actress has been a spokesmodel for F.D.A. approved lash growth product Latisse, and is often seen rocking a smoky eye or bold lip on the red carpet with the ease and aplomb of a Hollywood star—a feat with which she credits the brush of makeup artist Matin, who is also a favored guru of Angelina Jolie.Danes cites her greatest beauty influence as stylist and now close friend Steven Amendola of New York’s John Frieda salon, who has journeyed with her through the years, and through shades of auburn to brunette to the butterscotch blonde of current day. Trends don’t inform the hue of choice, but rather characters do, and when Danes is between roles, she says she returns to the blonde of childhood that has come to feel most natural and self-identifying to her, in order to “decompress” between characters.MORE: Iconic hair colors, the Hollywood wayMeanwhile, Danes says one of her most profound career influences is mentor Winnie Holzman, the writer of My So-Called Life, who just recently penned the star words of advice upon accepting her award.“This is a moment to be your most evolved self,” Holzman wrote in an email to Danes. “But by ‘highly evolved,’ I don’t mean perfect. That endless pushing on ourselves that we must be perfect is harsh, and unfair and the opposite of evolved. It’s the allowing of your complete humanity to shine—your contradictions, your vulnerabilities—just the allowing of all of you to be present.”With such wise words to live by, we can’t wait to see how the evolution of Claire Danes unfolds.