As The X-Files returns, Gillian Anderson talks to Jennifer Dickinson about finding Scully again, her chemistry with co-star David Duchovny, and why men and women are so enthralled by her
NET-A-PORTER Magazine: January 14, 2016
What would FBI Agent Dana Scully wear? Or, more importantly, what would she not wear? Gillian Anderson knows, in precise detail. As is her way when it comes to her work, Anderson is relentless when it comes to, not empty perfection, but attention to detail and its contribution to authenticity. So when filming began last June for the much-anticipated new series of cult '90s (and beyond) show The X-Files, airing on Fox on January 24, she was fastidious.
"The costume designer would pull something that on one level would be an interesting thing for Scully to wear, that would give it a little bit of a kick," says the actress. "But she's just not that girl. She's very plain, she's slightly square. In the later seasons," she notes sternly, "we went a little too far putting her in leather. The types of suits she wears are very, very basic. There is one [new] episode in particular where she wears a lot of at-home clothes - she's not a jeans wearer, she's a comfy slacks and V-neck Banana Republic sweaters woman."
The level of thought Anderson has dedicated to the subject of Scully's closet and its divination is typical of the Chicago-born, UK- and US-raised 47-year-old. Every question put to her is considered, often with a nerve-inducing arched eyebrow - sometimes skeptical, sometimes thoughtful - and precisely answered. As expected, she is spectacularly smart - it's hard not to feel out of your depth - and, though she is candid, she is always in control.
It's her intelligence, I think, that makes her an actress other women revere. She may not grace magazine covers on a regular basis these days or be a daily trending topic on social media, but few names illicit such fangirling when you drop them - Anderson is special. To what does she attribute the adoration? "I like women a lot and I champion them," she says. "I tell people when they are beautiful, I tell other actresses when I think their work is amazing... So I think women feel relatively comfortable in my presence. Also, because I'm not perfect, you know? I've got flabby thighs, I'm aging and I'm 5ft 3in. I talk about my failing in contemporary society in terms of gyms or food or whatever. I think there's a polite appreciation that I'm honest."
The gender equality of her fan base has changed in recent years, though, she says, and all because of one character: The Fall's Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson. "I did Comic Con shortly after the second season of The Fall, and for the photo op there was a line out the door of men, which has never been my experience before. With women, it feels more like it's the mix of the human being and the characters that I choose, whereas, on that day anyway, the men were hooking into a specific character and a specific aspect, which was sex appeal."
Stella Gibson is a rare gem of a female lead character, and BBC drama The Fall is a truly slick, seductive, knife-edge show. If you have not yet seen it, download seasons one and two immediately. Anderson plays a detective sent to Belfast to track down a serial killer, portrayed by Fifty Shades' Jamie Dornan (disturbingly, he is far more magnetic as a murderer). Gibson, though, is the real sex symbol of the show. Bold, sharp and unflinchingly assertive, the character caused a stir from the first episode, in which she propositioned a more junior male police officer at a crime scene. From previous interview cuttings, it's clear that Anderson was quizzed at length about the "controversial" script when the show first aired. "[I thought] it's 2015, are you f***ing kidding me?!" says Anderson of the press furor at the time. "The fact you are asking these questions, that this is the most titillating thing you have seen in forever, I have a problem with that! I think society should have a problem with that! You probably see at least 10 shows a day where a guy is doing that to a woman. In the age of Tinder, I think the shocking thing for
people is that it wasn't via an email or on the phone - it was literally her, face to face, saying, 'I fancy you, let's f**k.'"
The role, which Anderson began playing at the age of 44, is one of the best of her career, she says. "I had a sense that she was unique and people would get her, and that she would be good for women. And she is."
In comparison to Scully, the role that propelled her to global megastardom two decades earlier, well, there is no comparison. "I don't yearn to play Scully in the same way I do Stella or Blanche [DuBois, in A Streetcar Named Desire, for which Anderson's West End performance in 2014 earned her multiple awards]. Part of that is because she is not particularly complex. People appreciate that fact and that there are other complexities in the show, but as an actor, I don't have the same passion [to play the role]. What I do know is that she's a great character, I was extraordinarily lucky to play her, and to be a part of an incredible moment for television - there is a formula and a flavor to [The X-Files] that hasn't been recreated in anything else."
The excitement that greeted the announcement of the show's return was predictably giddy. There had long been a desire to carry on the story, says Anderson, but she and other crew members, including her co-star, David Duchovny, simply didn't have the time to commit to another movie (the previous two installments were released in 1998 and 2008) or long TV series. But the recent trend for six-episode runs made it a viable option to up sticks once again to the original filming location, Vancouver.
"There is nostalgia around [The X-Files] and, as challenging as it was at times, the idea of stepping back into it as adults, with some kind of perspective, and for a short period of time, was appealing," says Anderson. "There were moments of deja-vu... the smells, the locations. They brought back some of the smaller characters, too, so all of that was quite fun."
However, it took some time, she says, to "find" Scully again. "I struggled in the first week. I was trying to find the Scully of the past, rather than accepting time had passed. She and Mulder aren't together and she's carved out a world for herself, in medicine, working with a particular disease, with children, assisting surgeons. You get the sense that she goes to work, she goes to her apartment, and that's her life. There is something missing and, of course, the thing that's missing is Mulder."
Mulder and Scully, Duchovny and Anderson, were and still are in many minds one of the most compelling on-screen partnerships. Rumors of rifts and romances abounded about their off-screen relationship, too, with little foundation. But Anderson isn't concerned about a repeat of such gossip, despite acknowledging the chemistry between them. "People know we are good friends now and that we've found our way into an adult friendship. But there is something that will always remain between us, a kinetic energy that is tangible when you see us in a room together. So, no matter what's happening, if I'm at his concert or we're having a meal together, people love adding that to the excitement of their obsessions."
Anderson isn't nervous about how the new episodes will be received; the studio is happy and she has her own sense of having created something good. Besides, she is too busy to dwell after the camera stops rolling. Filming of The Fall's third season began in December, and she is co-writing a trilogy of novels with a view to producing their movie adaptations. All of which has to slot in around her daughter, Piper, 21, from her first marriage, and her sons, Oscar, 9, and Felix, 7, with businessman Mark Griffiths. Currently single, following her break-up with Griffiths in 2012, her schedule is as controlled as her speech. But to give the sense that she is at all dull or dour would be completely false. Sharp, supportive, honest, interesting... Gillian Anderson is the best of women. Long may we obsess over her.