Gillian Anderson: From pop culture icon to costume drama queen
By Rob Licuria
November 02, 2011
Gillian Anderson recently sat down with Gold Derby to talk about two of her latest projects, PBS' "Masterpiece" miniseries "Any Human Heart" co-starring Matthew MacFadyen and Tom Hollander, and the Encore miniseries "Moby Dick" win which she stars alongside William Hurt, Ethan Hawke and Donald Sutherland. Both programs are in strong contenders for nominations at the upcoming Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
In "Moby Dick," a re-imagining of the Herman Melville classic, Gillian plays Captain Ahab's heretofore little known wife Elizabeth, who until now has been little more than a footnote to the main story. "It's an interesting juxtaposition to see [Captain Ahab] on the home front before he embarks on his journey; and the intimacy and delicacy with which he is a father and a husband, but at the same time being completely, obviously obsessed and passionate about the voyage and also this dastardly whale." Gillian jokes that "he's always had a wife, but I think she gets left behind a lot sooner in the book than she gets left behind in the miniseries."
In "Any Human Heart," Gillian plays the ubiquitous Wallis Simpson, who has recently featured in Best Picture Oscar winner "The King's Speech" (played by Eve Best) and Madonna's "W.E." (played by Andrea Riseborough), which recently premiered in Venice to mixed reviews. "Any Human Heart," spanning the twentieth century as it follows the journey of a writer who lives through a myriad of historical events, garnered four creative arts Emmy Award nominations earlier this year, and received eight BAFTA nominations (winning for Best Drama Serial), including a nod for Gillian as Best Supporting Actress.
On playing such an instantly recognisable historical figure, Gillian says that "it's kind of an obvious choice; an American living in London ... but it's quite daunting taking on somebody that people are obsessed with and have been obsessed with for a long time ... you do put yourself on the line a little bit when you agree to play somebody like that."
Gillian has certainly seen a complete career turnaround since the late nineties, when the hysteria and fanaticism surrounding the worldwide phenomenon that was "The X-Files" reached fever pitch. Back then, it would have been difficult to imagine Gillian Anderson as anything other than the iconic FBI Special Agent Dana Scully alongside her co-star David Duchovny in the hit Fox sci-fi series that became a multi-million dollar global franchise as it spanned nine television seasons and two feature films.
"I think there was definitely a period of time right after [the show] finished that I just couldn't even hear about it anymore; I couldn't have that conversation for a while" Gillian reveals. However, Gillian now fondly recalls her time in the shining spotlight that came along with such a breakout success, and is happy to reminisce about the show's incredible success.
"The X-Files" has an impressive awards pedigree, especially given the usual bias against genre series. Over the course of its run on Fox, "The X-Files" won 16 Emmy Awards out of a total 61 nominations (including four consecutive Drama Series bids from 1995 to 1998). It was also nominated for 14 SAG Awards and 12 Golden Globe Awards, including three wins for Drama Series - a record that stood until "Mad Men" won its third consecutive Globe for Drama Series in 2010.
Gillian herself was nominated for four Emmys as Drama Actress (winning in 1997), nine SAG Awards, including three as part of the show's ensemble (winning twice as TV Actress in 1996 and 1997), and four Golden Globe Awards (winning in 1997), achieving the rare feat of winning the Golden Globe, SAG and Emmy trifecta in the same year.
Recalling her amazing awards success, Gillian was honest about how it all became a bit too overwhelming for the young actress at the time. "I think I've always had trouble in my life with feeling the importance of the moment, and I think that had certainly come into play at the time" Gillian reveals.
"It was kind of too much for me to fathom or to handle at that time. I remember feeling that I couldn't smile anymore. Either my face was too tired, or I was so scared and confused and [thinking] 'what does this mean?' and 'should this really matter this much' ... and I look back at that time and there's part of me that wants to walk up to myself and shake myself and say 'wake up! You're asleep right now! Feel this! Be proud of this! Show people that you're excited about this, because it's really cool and it doesn't happen all the time'."
Since "The X-Files" concluded in 2002, Gillian has been steadily making a name for herself in smaller independent features (such as "The House of Mirth" and "The Last King of Scotland") and on television in the UK (where she now calls home), where she racked up an impressive list of credits on English costume dramas. Clearly adept at fitting into various periods, Gillian has garnered acclaim for inhabiting these very English women with ease and confidence. But Gillian maintains that when choosing her next role, it is not necessarily its genre that is her deciding factor. "I respond to script above everything else... and I think that's where it really begins for me" Gillian says. "If I feel like there's an aspect of a character that I haven't done before or is challenging in some way."
Going in a completely new direction after years on network TV saw Gillian return to the red carpet in 2006 as a nominee for perhaps one of her most acclaimed roles to date -- Lady Dedlock in "Bleak House." She was cited with Golden Globe, BAFTA and Emmy nominations. Gillian recalls that she was heavily pregnant and didn't think she had any chance of winning. "I remember sitting there, and I think that was the time when I weighed about 600 pounds. I'm glad I didn't win and have to go up on the stage because that would have been horrifying" she jokes. "I remember thinking, 'I don't think anyone here has seen 'Bleak House' and I should've just stayed home in London in my fat suit!"
This year, her BAFTA-nominated role in "Any Human Heart" as well as her role in "Moby Dick" are in the running for nominations in the Supporting TV Actress category at the Golden Globes. She could also contend in the TV Movie/Miniseries Actress race at the Screen Actors Guild Awards for both.