Orlando Sentinel Interview
Posted at 7:02 AM (PST) on Saturday, January 21, 2006
AGENT OF CHANGE (EXCERPTS):
PASADENA, Calif. -- In her first television role since The X-Files, Gillian Anderson plays a Victorian lady struggling to conceal her past. Anderson, however, speaks bluntly about the big secret behind the PBS promotion of Bleak House, which starts Sunday.
Masterpiece Theatre bills her as the star of this Charles Dickens epic, but that tactic is misleading.
"It's definitely, definitely not my show and my story," Anderson says. "I know it was such an ensemble. And also Dickens did not write Lady Dedlock as the central character."
Even so, Anderson, who calls the attention flattering, has joined the sales pitch by traveling from her home in London to talk to television critics on their midseason tour.
"I understand the strategy, and hopefully it will do its intentional job and bring people in," she says. "And after they've started to watch it, they'll get hooked."
They were hooked in England, where the eight-hour miniseries became a sensation. Screenwriter Andrew Davies helps the promotional push by saying that, of all his adaptations, he's proudest of Bleak House and Pride and Prejudice. The latter, a beloved miniseries of Jane Austen's novel, starred Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.
Rave reviews for Anderson, from critics and colleagues, should lure viewers as well. In Bleak House, which was published in the 1850s, she's far removed from the extraterrestrial and supernatural phenomena of The X-Files.
Davies says Anderson brought "extraordinary beauty" to Lady Dedlock. "She never seemed so beautiful in The X-Files," Davies says. "She's got an extraordinary stillness. Without appearing to do anything very much, she just moves you. And I don't know how she does it. It's some kind of quality of intensity that she's got."
Anderson seems to move the critics with her frank observations and her off-screen look. She is blond, unlike red-haired Dana Scully of The X-Files or dark-haired Lady Dedlock. Such is her devotion to Bleak House that Anderson carries on despite a sore back from her travels. She also good-naturedly entertains frequent questions about The X-Files.
She agreed to act in Bleak House because it felt like a film.
"I realized how good it was going to be when I first walked on the set," she says. "What was fantastic about it was being accepted in a royal community of unbelievable talent and historically rich and fantastic actors. One, to be allowed in. Two, to be accepted in things I do there. Three, to be verbally appreciated for something that normally would be played by Kristin Scott Thomas. That means a lot to me."
One of those appreciative actors is Charles Dance, who bedevils Lady Dedlock as Tulkinghorn, a villainous lawyer.
"She's a sublime actress and takes the work really, really seriously," Dance says. "It was a terrific experience working with her, and I hope I can do it again."
After taking several years off, she made four films in the last year and a half. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, a wacky take on Laurence Sterne's 18th-century novel, opens this month and features Anderson playing herself. The Last King of Scotland, about the relationship between Ugandan leader Idi Amin and a young Scottish doctor, will open in the spring or summer. Other recent films are Straightheads and The Mighty Celt.
Of course, playing Scully can set up misleading expectations for Anderson off screen.
"I was a bit scared of meeting her," screenwriter Davies says. "I thought, 'She's going to be intense in real life.' But she turns out to be quite fun and great to have a party with."
Anderson sees connections between Scully and Lady Dedlock.
"There were aspects of Scully that were very still," Anderson says. "Sometimes I almost feel like I'm schizophrenic. I have two completely different personalities. In my life, I can be very, very still. But I can also be incredibly goofy and crazy. I guess that stillness is probably because it's such an aspect of me. It probably comes into every character I play."
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