One year went by. Then two, three, four.
Finally, almost six years after they wrapped, Gillian Anderson found herself sitting in a room again with David Duchovny and X-Files creator Chris Carter.
"It was quite a monumental event," Anderson says of the first time they gathered to read through the script of the long-awaited second movie, The X-Files: I Want to Believe. "On the one hand, it felt incredibly familiar and kind of melancholy and sweet and wistful in some way. And on the other hand it felt strange and awkward and like I was an impostor somehow on this other world."
It was the world Anderson inhabited for most of her young adult life. She landed the role of FBI Agent Dana Scully on the cult sci-fi TV series when she was just 24 and spent nearly a decade chasing aliens through the snowdrifts of Vancouver, where it was shot.
Last week, after flying to Los Angeles from London - the city that's been her home for the past five years - the 39-year-old actress grabbed a bite to eat and happened upon "a table full of giggly twentysomething girls drinking and talking nonstop."
"When I think to myself, 'Where was I then?' I forget that I ended up skipping a huge chunk of that period, because I was working," she says. "I was very myopic during the series ... but I don't regret it in any way."
Agent Scully was a role that propelled her from anonymous to iconic and left a mark she never could have imagined at the outset.
Careerwise, too, Scully seemed fastened to Anderson after the series ended. She recalls fearing that she'd be offered only roles that were Scully-like, serious and probing. Instead, it was perhaps worse Ñ "people just had a hard time seeing where Scully would fit into their films," she says. "They couldn't make the leap to it being Gillian and not Scully and that I might be able to do other things."
Eventually some directors did take the risk, casting Anderson in several London stage productions, a BBC adaptation of Bleak House and the Oscar-winning feature film The Last King of Scotland. She also proceeded to take back the life ceded to X-Files and Vancouver Ñ moving to London, having a second child, becoming pregnant with a third. (Anderson is due in October. It will be her second baby with boyfriend Mark Griffiths. She is twice divorced.)
Crawling back into the role of Scully could, Anderson knows, set her back a step in the process of professionally untying herself from the character. This time around, Scully and Mulder, Duchovny's character, are enlisted in the search for a missing FBI agent that hinges on an ex-priest's psychic visions. The chase tests their faith in God and the unseen, as well as their relationship with each other.
It has little of the alien lore that propelled the television series, which, as it turns out, is fine with Anderson, who used to read the spooky scripts in the daytime, lest she lose sleep at night.
"I can't do scary," she admits. "My daughter watches the most horrific horror films. ... I walk through to get something on the other side of the room, and if I even hear the music, I get nightmares. It's true. It's so pathetic."
Anderson, Duchovny and Carter agreed they wanted to do this movie even as the show was beginning to wrap. Even if the film does reinforce her perceived union with Scully, the tradeoff is worth it, she says.
"I wasn't gonna let the experience of this reunion pass by because that might be the case," the actress explains. And, she adds, "I don't think that will happen. I've done enough stuff already and ... have things scheduled for the future that are different, so I don't think that will be an issue."
High on that list of upcoming projects is a biopic of Martha Gellhorn, a pioneering 20th-century journalist and third wife of Ernest Hemingway.
The actress is also slated to appear as Nora in Ibsen's 'A Doll's House', at the Donmar Warehouse in London next spring.
Last week began an online auction of hundreds of bits of X-Files paraphernalia Anderson had been keeping in storage for the past few years. Going through the boxes with an assistant was "kind of like Christmas," she said. Some of the artifacts "are quite intimate and special, so uncovering those and remembering that time was really cool."
There's been a lot of that - remembering - since the old team began shooting the new movie in December. But in the midst of it, it wasn't just remembering. It was something more like savoring.
"It was definitely a reunion for all of us. The odd thing is, as much as you build things up and as much as you get excited ... it very quickly, within the first week, becomes a job," she said. "It just becomes about survival through the hours and the weather and all that stuff.
"And you have to keep pinching yourself and waking up and going, 'Hang on a second Ñ hang on to this! Because this may be the last time.'"
WASHINGTON POST AUDIO TRANSCRIPT (July 25, 2008)
WP: So where are you right now?
GA: I've just gotten into Los Angeles yesterday.
WP: Now do you live in London most of the time?
WP: Okay. And how has it been now that you've been over there?
GA: You mean why or how have I enjoyed it since I've been living there?
WP: Well how Long have you lived there? Well maybe both questions yeah.
GA: I guess I've there for about five and half years and I love it.
WP: You do.
GA: Yeah, I absolutely do. I went there to do a play, and actually... I think it was something that I had anticipated for most of my life because I had grown up there and I had already spoken it out loud to friends of the family that I was going to end up there when I was younger, so somewhere in my consciousness it was alive and well, I just fall more and more in love with it, and it just feels really comfortable for me.
WP: Something about the pace and the air?
GA: I think it's a mixture of the pace... it feels... I just love the city, I think it's exceptionally beautiful, and I'm constantly surprised by it, by the architecture, by what the city has to offer culturally, and I find it really exciting. It's very exciting to raise kids there with all the opportunities, especially a teenager who is very culturally aware, and alive and she really appreciates the diversity, and... I guess the creative wealth of the city.
WP: And that is a nice thing to be able to give her that.
GA: It is. It's fantastic.
WP: How did the idea for this movie come about? How long was it in the works, when they came to you with the idea.
GA: It was discussed when the series ended, you know. It was an idea of something that our creative team and I were interested in exploring in the future. I think we were all at the time aware... it wasn't in the next year, but it was in a couple of years we would want to start talking about it, and Chris would start to write it. And then there were a couple of times in there, over the last 5 or 6 years since we had that coversation where it looked like it might be getting close, there were rumors we were getting closer to it, then something happened and it would be held up in some way, so it's kinda been, it's been, talked about for some time, and I haven't been involved in many of the complications along the way. As I understand it, there came a point it actually was David convincing Chris that it would still be a good idea for him to be interested in.
WP: Oh really?
GA: Moving forward. Well I don't know, I read it the other day. It may not be true, I have never heard of that before. Either I read it or somebody I had done an interview with said David said...
WP: Oh that's interesting.
GA: I never heard of that before, so I'll support that.
WP: But you were always mentally ready for the opportunity to come along.
GA: Yeah. The understanding was that we... that it would only be done at a time that it would be right for all of us, which is a nice idea, even though it didn't necessarily end up being the case. That was the initial intention. I think at the end, it kind ended up being FOX saying now or never, so you are ready now or it's not going to happen, so.
WP: As Scully, I did, I guess i hadn't fully realized it as it goes, but I mean Scully came to you at age 24, she lived with you for a decade, right? Is she part of who you are, how you think about the character?
GA: It's so weird. It's a weird thing. I in my life don't think of her very much. You know, I don't even... you know sometimes when I'm working on films, I'll do something or say something in my private life that I immediately in my head say "Oh my god, it's the character." Somehow I've carried it home for breakfast or something, the mannerisms that are born to me. And I don't know whether... because I don't recognize those things as Scully in me everyday, whether that means that they are not there, and that I compartmentalized it, in a physical way as well, or is she's really a lot more like me than I'm willing to say. Actually most things I do, other than anything that's not remotely serious, is actually her. I don't know, I mean... we are... The only time I actually recognize myself in her is when she gets, when she gets younger and sillier ... which doesn't really happen in this movie. From time to time she's allowed to do that in the series, and sure everybody else in my life tells me I'm more like her. I bet they think, because I, I think I'm in denial about how serious I am actually most of the time. And she's, you know, she's a quintessential serious lady.
WP: And this must've been this sorta formative experience right? I mean 10 years during that particular age, do you feel like that was what your life was for a decade?
GA: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean every once in a while, I think... I was out with my partner last night, quite late, grabbing a bite to eat, and there was a table full of giggly 20-something girls, drinking and talking non-stop. You know, just out having fun, and not that it was very much part of my life even before we started the series, but when I think to myself 'Where was I then?' or 'Why did I skip?', 'How did I end up skipping that period?' It, I forget that I ended up skipping that period because I was working those years instead of being out with girlfriends or you know or clubbing a little bit more than I did, and out in the social scene and stuff. I was very myopic, and we were so often in Vancouver, and there just wasn't room for it, there wasn't enough time. I don't regret it in any way, shape, or form. But I think I sometimes forget that I was AWOL almost for a decade.
WP: What was it like to go back to her? To go back to Scully and all this world?
GA: Umm I think we were all very excited about it, when we first met for a read through. It was only the second time that I had read the script. The second is a lot actually, because the next step we were working on it and I didn't have the full script anymore, I just had the scene that I was working on. So it's quite a monumental event. The four of us, including Frank Spotnitz, getting together at Chris' house, now sit down together and do a table read. On the one hand it felt incredibly familiar and kinda of melancholy and wishful and sweet in some way and other ways it felt strange and awkward, like I was an impostor somehow, in this other world, and and yet at the same time it was clearly something we'd all agreed would be a part of our future at some point. Especially something Chris and Frank had worked extremely hard to bring into fruition, it was quite emotional.
WP: And once you got rolling?
GA: Yeah, still sometimes it felt awkward and stuff. I mean, it's one thing to do a reading where you don't know actors in the room you can just dive in as an actor and do all the, get the intimate parts, and feel separate somehow, that it gives you this kind of false sense of strength... just the fact that nobody really knows each other and you are just there as an actor. And there's something about knowing people at that place that somehow makes it even more awkward and you can get quite giggly and childish at times.
GA: Yeah, and it's like when you are five again, but no it's weird, it's a different experience than I had before, I never had something quite like that. It's fun.
WP: Did you ever ingest some of this world of itself? Did you ever get into the themes of that? I remember when I was... my parents loved the show, and I couldn't be in the room because it scared me.
GA: Yeah, and I can't either, I can't do scary.
GA: No. No No. My daughter watches the most horrific horror films, that are just out there right now, and in the world, teenagers can have the stomach for, I can't... I walk into the room to get something from the other side of the room, even if I just hear the music, I get... I have nightmares.
WP: No kidding!
GA: It's so pathetic.
WP: But you were still able to separate it.
GA: I was able to separate it. But at the same time, I do remember I needed to read the scripts in the day time. I can work on them and break them down at night time after I wrapped, but to actually do the initial read, I had to do it in the day time.
WP: And after you left the show, did any part of you feel constrained by how closely people, maybe casting agents in particular, associated you with this one character?
GA: Well it was kind of... I thought what would end up happening was that I'd end up getting a whole bunch of scripts that were similar to Scully and that didn't happen, and I'm not sure whether that was the case primarily because I had put filters with my manager and agent at the time they knew not to send me anything remotely close to it, but also I think what ended up happening was people were having a hard time seeing where Scully would fit into their films. They couldn't make the leap to it's Gillian, not Scully; that I might be able to do other things. I think that's where the biggest typecast came. But you know, along the way, there were people who were willing to take risks and stuff like that, but those were directors who, once again, in the same way Chris Carter had with the series... to go against the odds and taking big leaps and having faith that I could do it, so...
WP: And was there any part of you that thought going back to the movie was to reiterate in people's mind their association with Scully.
GA: I don't think so, unless I'm delusional, I don't think it will happen. I think I've done enough stuff already and I've got enough other things coming out that are different; things that are scheduled for the future that are different. I don't imagine it would be an issue. And if it is, it is what it is. I wasn't going to pass this experience or this reunion by because that might be the case, because people might, you know.
WP: Including this big project, Marth Gellhorn. Were you a part of the original idea? I guess it started with a biography of her life?
GA: Yeah I optioned the biography a few years ago.
WP: You did? And read it and...
GA: Yeah, yeah and I was familiar with her and impressed by her life; she's quite a force of nature. I had heard a lot about her over time. So I optioned the book and I hired a producer, and then I hired a writer. I took it to a bunch of studios originally, most of them said 'Wow, this sounds great. Come back to us when the script is written' and were really interested in taking the leap into development, so I ended up hiring the writer myself, and hired a fantastic writer in Sharman MacDonald who I think she's... right now for the movie she just scripted... Kiera Knightly, Sienna Miller, Dylan Thomas, I only know the working title, I keep forgetting what the actual..
WP: Edge of Love, something like that?
GA: Yeah that's right.
WP: So this has been... this has been your baby then.
GA: It has. I mean it has been a very slow process. It's not been, you know, sometimes these things ... like the writer goes away for long periods, then a sudden rush to take notes and go trhough it prepare it for another draft, and it gets sent away from long periods of time, then it comes back again. The process is sometimes -- manic is the wrong word -- but sometimes it's a lot of quick decisions, sometimes it's a lot of long waiting. It's in the stage right now where it feels like it's more a project, you know we have other producers on board and we are going out for directors so it feels like it's starting to come to fruition. But it's also... I'm very superstitious and there are so many fantastics scripts out there that never see the light of day and just having a really hard time of getting put together. So I believe very strongly in this project and I will follow it through, but I'm, mostly very superstitious.
WP: Cross your fingers because I want to see it.
GA: Yeah I do too!
WP: I bet right! Also just going back to stage this spring?
WP: And you are giving birth between now and then?
GA: I'm giving birth.. yeah.. Well the Gellhorn project is something that probably won't start production till next year, so that's not something that's going to go in between. But yeah, I'm going to have another baby.
WP: Congratulations. When are you due?
GA: I'm due in October.
WP: So then you'll have a few months before you...
GA: Yeah I have a few months before that. But I've also got another couple projects that will be coming out around the same time as I'll be giving birth, so I don't know. I'm not sure how exactly it's going to work out. I mean I'm either going to be showing up for premieres and doing press like a big blueberry, or I'm just not going to be available to do that.
WP: Wow, I guess just take it day by day, huh?
GA: I guess so.
WP: Is stage a different joy for you?
GA: It is. It's a sometimes joy. It's something that I have a difficult relationship with. I enjoy it very much and it absolutely terrifies me at the same time. At various stages during theatre rehearsal or production, I question why I make the decision to do it again, why I subject myself to it again. And at various stages, you know, it feels like 'Oh my gosh, this is the best thing on earth, why do I ever do anything else?' So it's a, it's a mixed thing. But I do, I do ultimately enjoy it tremendously, and I've always wanted to work at the Donmar Warehouse. I feel very privileged to be able to do something there, especially something like an Ibsen.
WP: And what is it about the stage that terrifies you? Is it the liveness?
GA: Yeah, that would be it. Absolutely. It's incredibly naked and there's very little room for mistakes and you know you learned tricks as an actor, a stage actor over time in how to hide one's mistakes, etc. I have had experiences with anxiety attacks on stage before, so this is just one of the most horrendous things in the world really, I can't think of much else worse, and it's... but at the same time because of how kinetic that makes the energy in the room because, at any time, things can either falter or be lifted to great heights. There's this feeling of creation somehow, this sort of live, self-parting and things being formed in the room, and that's an exceptional feeling.
WP: I read that today began an auction of X-Files paraphernalia?
GA: Today is the day, today is the first day. There's hundreds of things I've collected over the course of the seasons that I'm auctioning for charity and I'm kinda excited about it because I've had these storage spaces of these things that have been collecting, maybe not dust, but just sitting there not seeing the light of the day. We have some pretty cool stuff, hopefully people will enjoy.
WP: Did you go through it yourself to some extent?
GA: I've been going through it with my assistant and a couple other people who help to auction these things, and I'm aware of every last thing that's in the auction.
WP: Really? Was it a weird process to go through that?
GA: It kinda weird, it's kinda like Christmas in a way, being reminded of things. There are also many behind the scene stills I'm not sure anybody has seen before that are quite intimate and special. And so uncovering them helped me remember that time was really cool and also some of the you know, and there are a couple FBI badges and some FBI files, and some scripts that I don't think have been available for people that are signed by Chris and David and many other cast members, so there are some very special things in there that I don't think has been on the market before; that has been available to people. I think, you know, there is a lot of excitement in certain people about those kind of things and will try to afford them.
WP: So, in the end, has it been fun to go back?
GA: To back through all the stuff? Yeah..
WP: To The X-Files.
GA: Yeah, it was reunion for all of us. The odd thing is, as much as you build something up, as much as you get excited about showing up the first few days etc. very quickly within the first week, it becomes a job. It just becomes about survival through the hours, the weather and all that kinda stuff. And you have to keep pinching yourself, waking up, and going 'Hang on a second, hang on to this because this may be the last time. This may be... look around you , and see.. There's David... No there's... look across the room sometimes, either on the sound stage or in the scene, just being there, the flashes of memory, and just the peculiarity of arriving back to this place again. When we were...' We're both obviously older and you know, it was great.
WP: You have a lot fondness for one another.
GA: Yeah we do.
WP: Thank you so much for taking this time with us.
GA: Thank you!
WP: Good luck with all your stuff in the fall. Congratulations.
GA: Thank you very much.