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Claire Danes is crouching in the entrance to the kitchen when the director calls "Action!" Sliding her back up the door frame, she stands, fixes the camera with a look of ineffable disgust and stalks off.

Behind her, her fictional mother is rattling on about trust. In front of her, her real mother is worrying about what this maneuver, performed for the umpteenth time, is doing to Claire's knees.A 15-year-old who is actually playing 15, Claire is an anomaly in Los Angeles, where women of 30 routinely dress up like high school juniors. As the protagonist of "My So-Called Life," a new ABC series that begins this month (Thursdays, 7 p.m., Ch. 4): she plays Angela Chase, a confused, sometimes soulful Everyteen.

Critics who have reviewed the show, an hourlong drama from the team that created "thirtysomething," have already heralded Angela as one of the most provocative characters to emerge on television in years. Neither the good girl, a la Blossom, nor the bad girl, a la Kelly Bundy, she is probably the closest prime time has dared come to the heart of puberty.

In last week's pilot episode, Angela dyed her hair screaming red, ditched her best friend for a faster set and lied to her parents in order to go to a party.

In an occasional voice-over narration, she recounted her feelings in a disconcertingly disengaged tone. After she tried to get into a dance club one night and ended up being driven home in a police car, she crawled into her mother's bed, apologizing tearfully.

Claire Danes herself projects something of the unsettled mixture that is adolescence. She has a knowing air at odds with the hard-to-conceal pimple, and a husky, almost sexy voice that seems to be emanating from a much more mature chest. When she talks about herself, she can at times sound vulnerable ("I watched one special on this cable channel on child actors and it freaked me out"). At other times, though, she sounds as if she were looking back on her youth from a great distance, like the narrator of "The Wonder Years."

"I've always been mature," she said at one point, then added, as if correcting herself, "I've always taken myself very seriously."

As far as the State of California is concerned, Claire's emotional maturity isn't an issue. She is still unambiguously a minor and therefore must have a parent on the set with her every day.

"My relationship with my parents is very different from Angela's relationship with hers," Claire said in an interview on the set. "I have a fairly good relationship with my parents. I feel very lucky to have them. But it's very strange. I shouldn't be spending this much time with them. You know, this is not normal."

Her mother, Carla, agrees. "If you had asked me two years ago if I'd be doing this, I'd have said, `No way."'

The saga of "My So-Called Life" actually began two years ago, when Claire, then just 13 and with little experience, flew from New York to Los Angeles to audition for the role of Angela. She was the second actress the executive producers, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, saw for the part.

"When she walked out of the room, Ed said, `That was totally upsetting,' " Herskovitz recalled. " `We can't do it with someone that young.' I prophetically said, `We may have no choice.' "

Originally supposed to have its debut in September 1993, "My So-Called Life" didn't make it onto the air last year because, ABC said, the network could not come up with an appropriate time slot. The programmers decided to wait until another show flopped before putting "My So-Called Life" on the schedule. That wait lasted the entire 1993-94 season.

In the spring, ABC indicated that it would give the show a trial run over the summer. At the last minute, however, it switched signals and scheduled the show for the fall.

The time slot is somewhat troubling to the producers for two reasons. The first is that it pits them against NBC's "Mad About You," a program that appeals to the same educated young women "My So-Called Life" should attract. The second is that network standards and practices departments - i.e., the censors - are skittish about tackling sensitive issues at 7 p.m.

"In the best of all possible worlds, we would be on at (8) o'clock," Herskovitz said. That, he said, would give the show more latitude while still keeping it well before the bedtime of most teen-agers. But so far at least, with nine episodes of the show already filmed, there have been no major run-ins over the content of the show. "We did the show our way," he said.

"Our way" for Zwick, Herskovitz and their co-executive producer, Winnie Holzman, means that "My So-Called Life" has a high-strung, temperamental quality that sometimes edges uncomfortably close to real life.

Just like the main characters in "thirtysomething," Angela, her mother and father are brooding, self-absorbed and sometimes whiny. In the struggles of these characters, teen-age girls and their parents - especially those who live in relatively affluent suburbs - are bound to see something of themselves.

"There will be some of the same criticisms leveled at the show" that were leveled at `thirtysomething,' " Herskovitz said, "about darkness and angst - which I, by the way, don't believe. But I have never been around a show that has such a strong internal engine, and it is our job to serve that engine."

Angela's parents, played by Bess Armstrong and Tom Irwin, seem (at least in the pilot episode) almost as confused as she is. Both convey the sense that they can't believe they are old enough to be dealing with a difficult adolescent daughter. (At one point, in the blunt language that is typical of the show, Angela noted that she and her father used to be close, but that her breasts "have come between us.")

One of ABC's concerns about the pilot was that it did not give enough attention to the parents; that concern, according to Holzman, the show's creator, has been addressed in subsequent episodes, which devote more time to the Chases' marriage and their various mid-life crises. In fact, she said, the show could not, for production reasons, remain so tightly focused on Claire, who, as a minor, can work only nine hours a day.

"There's only so much filming we can do with Claire," Holzman said. "At the same time, it became obvious that the rest of the cast is a really incredible ensemble and it would be a waste not to use them."

A native Manhattanite, Claire says she knew from an early age that she wanted to be a performer.

"When I was 5, I remember my parents got a video camera and that weekend I just exploded," she said. In sixth grade, she enrolled in the Professional Performing Arts School, a magnet school on West 48th Street, where she studied drama two hours a day. That year, she was cast in a low-budget, independent film about child abuse.

"I was 11," she said, "and I got hooked."

Claire's big break came when her parents, who own a loft in SoHo, rented out studio space to a photographer. One month, the photographer didn't have enough money to cover the rent and, in lieu of payment, offered to produce some 8-by-10 head shots of Claire.

"We didn't even know what a head shot was," Carla Danes said. Still, they agreed on the exchange, and sent out the photos to 35 agencies. Five expressed an interest in signing Claire, who chose Writers & Artists.

In relatively short order, Claire found herself in demand. She filmed a pilot with Dudley Moore for a series that was never picked up, and appeared in an episode of "Law and Order."

Claire's parents gave up their jobs to move temporarily to California; her mother ran a school for toddlers and her father had a computer consulting business. (She has one brother, who recently graduated from Oberlin College.)

"It's a little strange," Claire said of the arrangement, "but everyone was clear when we started this that no one was going to feel guilty about anything." This summer, the Daneses relocated once again, to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Claire filmed "Little Women" with Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon.

Playing second string to a 15-year-old may be tough, but Claire's fictional parents treat her with what seems like genuine respect. Irwin called her "extraordinary."

"She's living proof that reincarnation exists," he said. "She's such an old soul."