What Gillian Did Next
It's late on a winter morning and Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel are ensconced in a cosy corner of London's Chiltern Firehouse, huddled over piles of paper like friends cramming for an exam.
They are so committed to their conversation that, at first, they don't notice me approach. That's because today is a rare chance for the two friends to plan the launch of We: A Manifesto For Women Everywhere, the book they have written together and will put out into the world on 8th March: International Women's Day.
Both women are dressed minimally - Nadel in a charcoal long-sleeved top; Anderson in a black polo neck and glasses, her blonde hair scraped loosely into a bun. They tell me they share an instinct to reject traditional notions of femininity, though Anderson's feelings shifted when she began wearing silk blouses as The Fall's Stella Gibson.
"She's a strong, powerful character and yet she is very much in touch with her feminine side,” she says softly. "There was something about playing her that actually kind of awakened me to the notion that the two can co-exist. That I can... I'm masculine, so to speak, in the way that I am in my life, but that I can embrace that co-existing other part of myself, and it doesn't mean that I'm conforming to long-standing notions of how women should and shouldn't be, or dress."
As Anderson speaks, I struggle to reconcile the person sitting in front of me with the cool facade of the A-list star on the front of newspapers after the Golden Globes, perfectly groomed in a white tulle Jenny Packham dress.
But perhaps this is the version of Anderson that her close friends, including Nadel, are lucky enough to spend time with: opinionated and vulnerable - an old soul with a young hopefulness. It's also the version of her that readers will meet in We: A Manifesto For Women Everywhere.
When the book landed on my desk, I wondered what to expect: is it a self-help book? A joint feminist memoir? An activist guide?
Now, after reading it, I see it simply as a map for women who feel like they're lost at sea. Through tasks, affirmations and principles, the book aims to help us dig beneath our layers, dismantle our fears, and to develop healthy coping mechanisms to use when we wobble. The theory is: if you are happy as an individual then you have more strength to improve the world around you.
Nadel and Anderson met through mutual friends over a decade ago and discovered they had children around the same age (Anderson has a daughter, Piper, now 22, and two sons, Oscar, 10, and Felix, eight; Nadel has three sons, Jack 23, Theo, 21, and Arlo, seven). "We thought we would get them to become friends," Nadel laughs. But it was she and Anderson who clicked. Nadel says, "What's lovely about our friendship is that neither of us are scared to talk about our struggles. With some women that's not allowed. I said to one girlfriend,'You must feel very lonely,' and it was as if I'd accused her of the worst thing in the world. But we can talk about loneliness, sorrow... things that really matter." As their friendship developed, Anderson realised "there was somebody on a similar path who was interested in the same types of personal investigations". So when she had an idea for a book about self-esteem, affirmation and community, she thought: "What about Jennifer?"
On paper, the two women's stories are very different. Born in the US, Anderson lived in London from the age of two and moved back to Michigan, aged 11. At just 24, she was offered the part of Dana Scully in The X Files - and the rest is history. Nadel, meanwhile, was a single parent of two boys and a news correspondent when she was diagnosed with severe depression and burnout that left her unable to work for a decade. Now, more than 20 years later, she is a writer, activist and a politician (in the 2015 election she was the Green Party's Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Westminster North).
But what ties them together, I realise, is the darkness each of them have navigated through. Neither are strangers to sorrow - Nadel grew up in an alcoholic home and experienced treatment for clinical depression ("I never forget I've been in a psychiatric hospital"). Anderson, a rebellious teen who was put into therapy, aged 114, writes that she's"not sure exactly when low-grade anxiety started in my life. I do recall that waking up with a sense of panic became an everyday occurrence in college and the fully-fledged attacks started when pregnant with my first child."
They reveal in We that they'd both "become dependent on a whole host of unhealthy crutches - alcohol, drugs, work, food, abusive relationships, self-harm". I point out these struggles because they are seemingly what drove both women towards spirituality, activism and, ultimately, to each other. They also inform We's nine principles: honesty, acceptance, courage, trust, humility, peace, love, joy and kindness. The book is broken into three sections: Part One: essential tools for wellbeing (from gratitude lists to daily meditation exercises); Part Two: the nine principles (including tasks for dealing with problems like grief, negative thoughts and unhealthy relationships); and Part Three: We's Manifesto (tips on using kindness as activism). Every chapter ends with an action and affirmation. For example, the humility principle finishes with: "Action: I treat every woman I meet as a friend. Affirmation: My words comes from within. I am who I am."
At first glance, some of the tasks seem obvious. But, as the duo write, "you don't get to experience swimming by sitting at the edge of the pool", and it's only when I tr them out myself I begin to see each chapter as a compass, leading you ack to your true self when you lose sight of who you are or what you feel or want or need. (We've extracted some exercises below.)
Anderson is small, with a big presence. At first I mistake her thoughtfulness for coldness, but soon realise she's simply not afraid to pause, considerably, before answering. On some topics,she ambushes you with openness - like telling me she's perimenopausal, which came "in the form of sudden uncontrollable emotionality and hysteria and feeling like someone else's brain had replaced mine" - then when it comes to others, like the negative labels we accumulate through life - which the pair talk about in the book - she can't think of any personal example she's prepared to share.
I believe her when she says very seriously that she wants women reading We to feel "that they're not alone". And when I ask how living by the nine principles stated in the book has changed her life, she looks me in the eye, drops her voice, and says simply, "I wouldn't be alive, I don't think, were it not for them." She pauses. "Getting honest is really important. I think had I not found tools to help me out of that pain, or to show me that there were people out there who were on a similar journey - the combination of those things most certainly have contributed to me still being on the planet."
Both women weave incredibly personal stories into the book through short italic section - like Anderson's admission that she finds parenting hard, and "even when I do the 'right thing' and get down on the floor to play Lego, my kids can sense that it's not the easiest thing for me"; or Nadel's "incredibly messy and painful divorce". It's a courageous move - particularly as Anderson's every quote is universally scrutinised and turned into news. Though I sense they share these stories because they believe debunking he myths around what it means to be a woman is the best way to help other women.
Motherhood, and the everlasting debate of how to navigate it, is a topic they speak aobut with passion. Nadel remembers the moment she experienced an epiphany that changed the trajectory of her life, while working as ITN's home affairs editor. She was feeding her sons in their high chairs when the news desk called to say they needed her at Downing Steet. She looked at her children's faces and thought, 'I don't want to go, I want to put food in their mouths' She recalls, "There was not a part of my being that could leave. Even though it was a mundane moment that happened every day, and whatever they were going to tell me in Downing Street was going to be exciting and good for my career, there was suddenly no point."
From there, her life unfolded, but that decision was the starting pistol for her journey to emotional freedom. She tells this story to illustrate the stark choices women are often faced with - "either you fit into a male pattern of working or you don't." Anderson agrees, and believes the key is choice: "It should be okay for women to make the decision that they're deciding to give up work to go and be with their children, and that whatever becomes important to you, can be okay to talk about. Any version of oneself is valuable and valid." With six children between them, they've learnt that the best way to retain your sense of self as a mother is to be aware and seek out honest conversations with other women.
"[Having children] is a big invitation to abandon yourself," Nadel admits. "I had this image that we were just husks - we give birth and then our biological function was to serve the creatures that we've given birth to. and I think that's bollocks." And Anderson had the opposite experience: "I gave birth in the middle of the first season of what ended up being a nine-year running series, so I didn't have a choice. My daughter lived on set with me, in my trailer, and that was her life - in and out of my trailer for 16 and 17 hours. And at some point I would send her home with the nanny and she'd go to bed, but in order to spend time with her I had to adapt. I would go into my trailer and I was Mum, and I'd leave being Mum and I'd go back and say my lines in front of the camera." with her second child, even Anderson's brain was making up for lost time and she was "just indoors for two years straight"; with her third she was "raring to go" after the second week. There is, she says, "no right and wrong, no map, no instructions."
Even today, she struggles to be both the actress and mother who needs to rigorously schedule her days and the artist who hankers after time to just be. Her ideal routine is to drop the kids off at school, come home, meditate, then go to meetings. But often "the grid" (a sort of giant diary) is so tightly scheduled that she has to slide down the side of the bed ("while my kids are sleeping in it with me because they've crawled in") to meditate. The practice, which they both first discovered in their teens, is something they rely on to mute the whir of inner conflict. It makes Anderson "intrinsically happier". Nadel agrees: "I'm a really skinless person - everything hurts me - and when I meditate it's just like I've got on one more layer of skin between me and the world."
Anderson occupies an unusual space: she is an award-winning actress with that rare ability to succeed in film, television, and on stage, who is just as likely to be found on the Today programme as she is on the red carpet (she has TV show American Gods and films Crooked House with Christina Hendricks, and Official Secrets, with Harrison Ford, upcoming). Perhaps the fact she's launching a women's manifesto shouldn't come as a surprise - not many A-listers manage to cross the divide between acting and activism with authenticity, but she does so regularly, even though it's not something she finds easy. "I have a great fear of public speaking,"she says, "I'm often asked to speak about things that are very important to me, yet there's a part of me that always wants to say no." It's further testament to her grit that those nerves didn't stop her from making public that she was offered half the amount her co-star David Duchovny was offered for The X Files reunion, even though for years "every time I thought about saying it publicly I felt afraid and nauseous".
A desire to speak out is another quality she and Nadel share, and We finishes with a rousing manifesto for change, directing readers to women's organisations, highlighting world issues and encouraging them to start a We community. Anderson says, "We all have similar experiences, stresses and concerns about where to put our focus...and yet we're working so hard individually, separately, in our own worlds. So can we not hold hands and become a community that understands these are things we all struggle with, and find a way to help each other?"
And that is the magic of Nadel and Anderson's book: it is a reminder that even two exceptional women like these sometimes find life difficult. That, however lost you feel, there is always a way out. I suspect it will appeal to a whole generation of women who doubt themselves and are searching for meaning, particularly in the current climate of anxiety and uncertainty. In 2017, we could do with women like Nadel and Anderson in our corner.