Sunday With: Gillian Anderson
By Alison Abbey
Parade: September 22, 2017
Gillian Anderson has been playing FBI Agent Dana Scully on The X-Files and its spinoffs since 1993. Even after success starring as Stella Gibson on the BBC's The Fall, she's found herself returning to the iconic role of the skeptical Agent Dana Scully again and again, most recently in an X-Files audio series (the second installment, Stolen Lives, is available October 3). The U.K.-based actress, author and mom of three, 49, talked to Parade from the set of the show's 11th season, debuting in 2018.
When you were making the original series, did you think it would have this kind of legacy?
We knew we were involved in something that was perceived as iconic, and that it would last in that sense. Every time we come back together again, we look at each other a little bit sideways. "Oh my God, here we go again. Can you believe it?" And wondering at what point are people just going to say, "Come on, guys, give us a break. You're too old." But when it's in Audible form, that doesn't even need to be discussed. We are perpetually in our late 30s.
The fan base must be a pretty wide age range.
When someone says they're a huge fan, my first question is often, "How old were you when you discovered this?" Some of them say, "I discovered [the show] on Netflix or Amazon." Some were introduced by their parents, especially when the new reboot came out [last year].
How much a part of you has Dana Scully become?
When you play someone for a decade, how does that not influence you? I have to imagine that she became part of the fabric of my foundation because I was so young and so malleable. When we started shooting, I was 24, and I think that I had to really pull myself up by my bootstraps and just show up with integrity and not be self-pitying about the hours and the intensity of the things that were asked of me. I developed a very strong work ethic. And that [role] influenced the type of female that I was interested in embodying from that point on.
This audiobook joins a big universe of X-Files projects that live outside the TV series. How does it fit in?
It's interesting because the world of The X-Files is linked along parallel universes anyway. The first and the 10th of our new [TV] episodes are going to be mythology, and everything in between is going to be stand-alone. So that means that the world can be ending [in the first episode] and Scully can be the only person alive who can save the planet, yet in the next episode, we don't even bring it up. That gives permission for this alternate world that's a common thing in the spinoffs.
What inspired you to write your most recent book, We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere?
I had this thought that I'’m sure at some point we all have, which was, why are we struggling so much with the same issues, the same levels of low self-esteem? And why is it that we're not working together to support and encourage each other? I pitched this vague idea of what a book might look like that could start that conversation to my friend [co-author] Jennifer Nadel, who was having the same thoughts. That's how it began.
How do you find balance between career and your family and friends?
I've got two young boys and an older daughter, but the boys' father, even though we're not together, is incredibly present. I can go away, and I can 100 percent trust that everything is OK. I set very clear boundaries for the work that I do, and most of the time, I'm gone between 10 days and three weeks max before coming back and having time with them. In terms of friends, I started to do games nights to get more people in the room at the same time. If I'm able to schedule one every couple months, or a dinner with mothers from the boys' school, I can stay in touch with the part of my life that is meant to be the grounding part. The people in my life are what define it, so it's up to me to keep up those connections.
How did you become an activist and advocate for so many causes?
I've been involved in charities as a silent activist for a long time. I think I was first approached by the Feminist Majority Foundation when I was playing Scully. At the time, that was way above my head. Even though I was embodying a character who certainly sprouted from a very feminist platform, I don't think that I had caught up to that yet. So, even though I was quietly active, I don't think that I had fully found my voice, and that has only really come since playing Stella.
What did you do on Sundays growing up?
When I was growing up in the U.K., my parents had a friend who was a painter. And for a month, we would go to his house [every weekend] and sit for him until we got cramped. Then we'd take breaks, and we'd cut fruitcake and have tea, and he'd teach me how to draw, and there was something very magical about those sittings. I have the painting. My dad has flare jeans and my mom has a red velour top. It's very '70s wacky psychedelic.
What do you like to do on Sundays now?
In shared parenting, I have two versions of Sundays. There's the Sunday where I have the kids, which means we wake up with enough time to be able to have breakfast before I drive them to either parkour [urban obstacle course training], which is on one side of town, or gymnastics, which is on the other side of town. My other Sunday is one where I sleep in, which is never beyond 8 a.m., and do absolutely nothing, maybe putter around, meditate and spend time with my boyfriend.
I just started listening to the new Lana Del Rey album, it's fantastic. And a young artist named Jorja [Smith]. She is an extraordinary being.
I just finished Ann Patchett's Commonwealth, which is fantastic. I'm such a big fan of her writing. I just finished that. I think I cried.
Chocolate. Always. It is a daily pleasure.
I like really tasty, clean foods. I properly appreciate food when I can really taste the ingredients and I'm surprised by the flavors at the same time.