The Anderson Tapes
By Sara Lambert and Matthew Jones
Officially the world's sexiest woman, Gillian Anderson gives the lowdown on fashion, politics and a certain TV programme.
Gillian Anderson has a lot to be pleased about. Not only is she the star of the biggest television programme of the decade, she's fast becoming one of the global icons of the 1990s - up there with Dolce and Gabbana, the Spice Girls and Leonardo DiCaprio. In the last few months, she's been placed at the top of a list of the most attractive women in the world, participated in a daring photo shoot, found her way onto the top 50 most beautiful people and been named one of the top 20 greatest faces by top American listings magazine, TV Guide. Popularity is not a problem. All this seems a far cry from the sensibly dressed FBI agent she plays in a certain TV programme. So tell us the truth, Gillian, are you deliberately trying to get away from your serious Scully image?
Gillian Anderson smiles demurely. "I've been trying to. That was a conscious effort on my part to separate myself from what the public knows me as, which is this very strait-laced, very serious character. I've been doing that for a while. I fee like I've done that now and that people have seen a different side of me and I'm not necessarily going to continue on those lines; but I think it was a good test, a good experience. It's fun to be able to do that kind of photo shoot and show different sides of myself, a different mood or whatever."
So what has been the reaction from X-Philes to the new Gillian Anderson? Has the new look met with approval from fans?
"I think that everybody is okay with it. I mean, hopefully, they are able to see that they can like the character of Scully and that that is separate from whatever else I may do publicly. Maybe that's allowing them to see that I am different from my character, which initially is a very hard thing for the public to be able to do; to separate somebody from the person that they know on television. So, hopefully, through this, they've been able to see that other side as well."
Part of this other side of Gillian is a keen interest in fashion. Prior to meeting up for the interview she had just got back from a trip to Italy in order to attend a top fashion event.
"I was invited by Krizia to come and be a guest at the fashion show and it fitted in during the episode that we were written out of, which never happens; so I said okay and I went for about three days."
Small screen success has not only allowed Gillian to explore her interest in fashion, but has also led to the inevitable film offers. With Hollywood taking an interest in the two X-Files leads, does Gillian want to follow her co-star on the big screen?
"I do. I think I need to be very careful about that, you know, because David has done ten films or more, and essentially, if I do a film, it will be my first. So I want to make the right choice and the right decision and choose something that I feel very strongly about, and which, hopefully, will also show that I can do something completely different from Scully; so it may take a while. I'm hoping that I can work something out for the next hiatus. I'm in some discussion about it, but I'm not going to jump into something that I don't feel is the right project."
Does she have any particular genre in mind?
"Not really. I'm interested in comedy and drama, and I probably won't do something like an action film; but I love foreign films and independent films, so that's probably the direction that I'm going to go in first."
On thing Gillian is no stranger to is star treatment. When she travelled to Australia and Italy to promote the X-Files, the fans came out in force. How did it feel after having lived quietly in Vancouver to deal with international stardom around the globe?
"Well, it's fortunate that that kind of thing doesn't take place on a daily basis. I can live a relatively quiet life here. There aren't people outside my house, I mean, there aren't photographers. There are neighbours and people from Vancouver, who will drive by and peek over the fence and stuff; but it hasn't become too much of an encroachment, and, in situations like that, I guess, on the one hand one has to accept it. For instance, the fans in Italy finding out where I was staying and hanging out, that's par for the course in a sense, if I'm doing anything that is on a public level. If it were a private hotel in a private situation, where I was with my family or friends, it would feel like an encroachment, like a bit of a violation of privacy, which is unfortunate at times and frustrating, but there's not really that much you can do about it. So you have to sit back and garner some perspective that is workable and livable."
The security in Australia was quite lax, does she ever feel frightened?
"The security was bad for the fans, in terms of protecting them from each other, but I never at any point felt that I was threatened in any way at all. It was just matter of them having the wrong kind of barricades in two of the three locations, to the point where the fans were knocking them over and crushing themselves; but I was always up high and there was lots of security, the entire police force was there, so I didn't feel threatened at all."
It must be a bit of a surreal experience for someone like Anderson to be mobbed by fans, as she don't seem to be asking for the kind attention that many other stars seem to be seeking. She nods, remembering the situation with some bemusement. "It is surreal, you know, it's completely surreal but I don't have any huge reactions to things. It was an event over a three-day period and it's over, and the reality is that I'm here in Vancouver with my family working hard, so that's where the focus is."
Canada seems a long way from the bright lights of Tinsel Town. It is, perhaps, easy to feel as if you are in exile, far from the Hollywood scene, where you might be able to socialize, get to know people and land more roles.
"Well, I think socializing, yes, I'm not sure about the roles. Yes, we have been separated in a huge way from being able to participate in certain events, like it would be nice to be able to go to premieres, or especially to do some kind of fund-rasing or charity events, which I rarely get to go down and do. So, in that respect, it's difficult, but, on the other hand, it has been a huge blessing and an opportunity for us to stay grounded in the work and really be able to put all of our focus into what we're doing here, which is making a quality television show."
And not just any quality show. Fox's The X-Files has become the television phenomenon of the decade. As the show approaches its fifth season and with a movie currently in post-production, how does Anderson see the evolution of the series from the first season to the fourth?
"Well, I think that there are certain themes in the episodes that the writers, or primarily Chris Carter, has initiated early on in the series, that I can see have continued as through-lines each season. I don't know where they are leading or how frequently we will touch upon that subject matter, but it has to continue to move forward in that way. As you saw, there were some big surprises at the beginning of the fall season 96-97."
This is a bit of an understatement. Season four of The X-Files has involved several big shocks starting with the return of Mulder's sister - or at least several clones of her as an adolescent, and more recently Scully has faced a cancer diagnosis. After all that, in which direction would she like to see her character evolving?
"In terms of the character, from the beginning I've basically just relied on the writers. At first I didn't feel like I was in a position to speak up for myself, and I think that the character has taken a natural course, which has been a positive one; she seems to be getting stronger and to have more to say all the time; so there hasn't really been a need to have that conversation. There are certain small aspects, or not so small aspects, that I would not necessarily like to see addressed, but would like to shift a little bit. I think sometimes it's frustrating for the audience and for myself that she remains so sceptical all the time, but I don't have a solution to that. I can maybe talk about that to the writers, it would be nice to be able to participate in some kind of a solution; but, because the dynamic between the two characters, between the believer and the sceptic, is so essential to the structure of the show, I don't know how it could be changed and work as effectively."
Certainly in Season Four Scully seems to have become a bit more of a believer in paranormal phenomena than she was at the beginning. Anderson hopes that this aspect is going to be explored more, since the two characters used to be so much more black and white.
"Some things have changed over the past three and some years, in terms of how Dana Scully approaches the subject of the paranormal. I think she has become much more open-minded than she was at the beginning; but I have yet to see repercussions from that scene, that Mulder and Scully ad together in the first episode of the season. The subject has kind of been dropped and it's gone back to normal. I would love to see her be able to consciously be in a situation where she can say to him, 'Look, I hear what you're saying and I know what you're saying; I'm saying it myself too, but I just cannot automatically jump to that conclusion; so please hear me out and hear what I have to say from my scientific standpoint.' I think she's definitely getting closer to that."
Are those kinds tensions echoed in real life? Have you talked to people who have those kinds of qualifications. Do they struggle between science and the paranormal?
"I don't think it's necessarily a struggle for them, because they do not have to come up against people like Mulder. There are many more scientific-minded professionals in this world than there are paranormal-minded professionals; and usually I don't think they are necessarily working in the same space. But there have been a lot of people who have written in and said that they are, for instance, a pathologist or scientist of one kind or another, or medical students, and feel a connection in that way."
Scully is of course defined by her loyalty and commitment to science and reason. Anderson finds it helpful to draw on personal experience when you're building her character, rather than simply relying on the script.
"I think any artist has to draw on their own experience, whether it's an actor or a writer or a painter, your are putting yourself in there; whether or not you are channeling something greater than yourself, your muse or whatever, whether or not that is what is coming through, there is alwas an element of yourself and your personality and your personal experience in what you do; I don't think anybody can get away from that. Now, if you're playing a murderer, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to have murdered somebody in order to be able to characterize that, but I think that, no matter how one can transfor themselves to fit into the guidelines and the through-line of the script, it's very hard to not speak from a place of experience and knowledge in doing that."
If the character is affected by her personality how much is she affected by The X-Files? After all, the show you deals with monsters, with extraterrestrials, with nightmares, does that affect the psyche?
Gillian laughs - she's been asked this question before. "You know what's interesting is that I have never once had a dream about the monsters in the show or even about working in the show. I mean, when I sleep, I've never had a dream that takes place on set, I don't think anybody that I work with has ever shown up in a dream. It's interesting. I think that, because of the daily overload when I go to sleep, that's like my place to be away from it; but because of the nature of our work and the subject matter, I can't help but think that it does affect me on some level. I think that I am more fearful than I ever was before, in general; like I need to read the scripts in daylight I will not read a script at nighttime; but that's about the extent to which I think it has truly evaded my life."
The idea of Gillian Anderson too nervous to sit up in bed and read the latest installment from Chris Carter is rather endearing. If Gillian steers clear of the subject of aliens and the supernatural at night, how much is the subject matter of the show part of the working day? Does the cast and crew discuss the discovery of life on Mars, or does she just joke about things like that?
"We pretty much joke all the time. I mean, we need to stay serious and to stay focused, but the subject matter that we're dealing with is so heavy for the most part, that it's essential for us to have some comic relief. Both David and I tend to be very goofy and we take advantage of it, when we can and when it's appropriate, and sometimes when it's not appropriate. But we're not interested in aliens, not in the slightest. I don't think I have ever heard a discussion on The X-Files set about whether a crew member believes or does not believe in something paranormal. That kind of information may be fascinating to people in general, but not on our show it's fascinating only to Chris Carter; and beyond that, it's just part of the news."
One thing that is certainly true is that The X-Files has become fascinating to people the world over. We just can't get enough of the quiet serious pair of FBI investigators. At conventions, women even dress up as Scully, dying their hair red and wearing trenchcoats. What was it like to see so many clones of yourself around you?
"You know, I don't have very strong reactions to things. I have a tendency to just kind of sit back and observe and take things in; so my response is that it was wild, but it is what it is. I mean, I showed up very nervous and a little wary of what might take place, and what I found was that everybody was coming from a place of peace and love and enjoyment of the show and there were no enemies in the audience. There was nothing to make me feel uncomfortable. It was just a lot of people who are incredibly enthusiastic about the show, so it was an exciting and comfortable situation; you know, at any time when there is that much positive energy it's a good thing. I didn't feel threatened, I didn't feel weirded out. If the audience is enjoying the show to such a degree, that they feel compelled to become a part of the show in that way, it's only a sign of enthusiasm and appreciation, I don't necessarily think that it's a sign of psychosis."
Chris Carter recently took the bold decision to write out both Mulder and Scully for an episode. How did it feel not to be in Musing of a Cigarette Smoking Man?
"It felt kind of strange because I think we've all imagined, 'How could they do the show without both characters?' And whenever we actually mention that to people, the fact that we were both written out, they are shocked and wonder how the show can work; and I think it's a good testament that it can, that the stories are strong enough to carry it even without us. But it was nice to have the time, even though I didn't relax per se, to do something different and kind of regroup my thoughts and settle down a bit."
The rehearsal and filming schedule of the show is notoriously grueling. However, Gillian still makes time for charity work.
"Yeah, there's been a couple of things. I did a pledge drive last year and I'll do what I can, when I have an opportunity to, if somebody asks me to participate in something. You know, often we get requests asking us to host an event, but to try and do that while working on the show, even if it's on a weekend, takes so much energy and concentration and knowledge about what's going on, that it's a huge responsibility. So probably, more than likely, I turn those things down; but if there is a situation of making an appearance or something like that, I try and do that as much as possible."
How does she relax in the little time that she has? Does she enjoy theatre in her home town of Vancouver?
"Yes, there is theatre, there is opera; but I haven't actually gone to any theatre here. When I travel to New York, I see theatre. One of the things that I hate worst in the world is seeing bad theatre, and I'm not saying that theatre in Vancouver is bad, but when I see bad theatre I start to hyperventilate, I start to panic, it makes me so uncomfortable, that I just would rather not risk it. If I know that something has amazing reviews and it has been running for a long time, then I'll see something in New York, but I am not a good bad-theatre goer!"
Does a New York lifestyle appeal? Or will you stay in Vancouver after the show is over?
"Well, for as long as the show is filming up here, I will stay up here. I think, when the show finishes, that I will probably move to Los Angeles, some of the time at least."
Having become a mother must affect decisions about where to live. How much did the birth of Piper affect Anderson's work, particularly her perception of Scully?
"I think that, after I had Piper, I wen t through a bit of a transformation. All of a sudden, from being selfish and having only myself to be responsible for, suddenly I had this other human being; and I think that, hope fully, for most people, something that takes place is that there's a shift of perception in that way, of not just 'me, me, me', but putting the focus on something else; and that can be a very freeing and very maturing experience. So I feel that, in a way, there was a maturing process that went on for me, and, as a result, Scully has also become a bit more mature and solidified. I feel more comfortable in the character and I think she feels more comfortable in general, just in her body and in her life and in her work."
Does Piper visit the set?
"Yeah, she comes with me every day. That I can spend time with my daughter is the most important thing; The first thing that comes to mind is my time with my child and she is with me on set every day. I try and make the time that I can spend with her be completely about her, so that my focus is there and that she knows that she is loved and wanted and that she has a mother who is present for her. It gets frustrating sometimes, when there is a great deal of dialogue or a great deal of moving around, and I see her for five minutes here and five minutes there. So it's essential that, the times when I do have like a twenty minute break and I don't have to be going over the lines or doing interviews or whatever, I can sit down and be with her; and it seems to be working out. She is an incredibly happy child and very strong and very precocious, and if I sensed that there was something wrong, if I sensed that she was acting out in some way, I would be questioning the way that I am raising her right now, but that's not the case. So I am being shown that something is working and she seems very happy and healthy and well-adjusted, and she has a huge family on set, so it seems to be working."
The level-headed and almost serene mother sitting in front of me seems a far cry from the stories I'd heard of the wild teenage Anderson, who dyed her hair blue and was a bit a rebel. What happened? She laughs out loud when I mention her blue hair, and runs a hand through her long, now naturally red hair.
"Well, I think that everybody on a certain level goes through some kind of transformation as a teenager, in adolescence or early teens, where they are trying to find out who they are, and they position themselves in the world in a way that feels comfortable; people do that in different ways. At that time in my life I chose to go in that direction. I felt more comfortable with myself in that kind of rebellious situation than I had previously, so I stepped into that world for a period of time; it spoke to me and I came to some realizations, I felt like I was expressing myself creatively for the first time in my life, but it was a phase. I feel like, whatever you need to go through in life in order to get to an honest place, a place where you feel like you can be honest and okay in the world, then that's what you need to go through; so that's what I did."
Does she still feel like that rebellious teenager sometimes, or is the woman we see today the real Gillian Anderson?
"I don't know. I mean, there are still aspects of that old in me in the me that I am today. There are times when I feel incredibly rebellious, and that I don't want to conform and I don't want to do what somebody else tells me to do; like I just want to wear my hair the way I want to wear it or whatever. but, at the same time, I learned about responsibility and showing up in a responsible way; so, fortunately, I can do the work that's in front of me and be responsible in my life, and try not to hurt anybody along the way. But if I go home and lock all the doors and crank up Circle Jerks and dance naked, that's my life."
And why not? Although it has to be said that Gillian is not planning on staying at home listening to her records in the buff forever. She's interested in exploring using her public persona for social or political work like other stars, such as Susan Sarandon, have done.
"Eventually, I would like to. Right now my time is such, that there is very little that I can do, I have a lot of opinions, there are a lot of things that I feel very strongly about, but I think that it's essential that, as individuals, we find our voices and the right work for us. I have been doing some work supporting a charity which supports sufferers of a neurological disease that my brother has, and, when I am asked in a public situation about certain things that I feel strongly about, I will stake my opinion. On a political realm, I have not yet had an opportunity to stand up in a public way about certain issues, but I forsee in the future that I will be doing that. Politically speaking, I am pro-Clinton. I think that his speech was incredibly poignant, in that he basically was being as human as I have ever seen a President be and saying stuff like, whether you're male or female, gay or straight or whatever, I support you. to hear a President of the United States say something like that was profouned and I think shows a huge step forward toward a freedome from bigotry and racism and oppression in any form."
However, I suspect that there are a few million X-Philes who are more anxious to learn of her commitments to continue with The X-Files after her five year contract expires.
"From the bottom of my heart, I think that five years would be a nice round number. We've all worked very hard and we will continue to work very hard, but there will be a certain point, I think, when we will know that it is time to conclude, and I have a feeling that that may come as we'll be nearing the end of the fifth season. If we do a sixth season, I almost feel like it might be a mistake. I think it would be more gracious of us to step down, at a point where the show is still growing strong and respected and there's still quality work."
Transcript provided by Pete Harvey and appears courtesy of Cult Times.