Planet Hollywood Harriet Winslow
by Joel Achenbach
She believes in aliens and stars in a new movie as a biker chick living with Meat Loaf. The truth is out there - and so is Gillian Anderson.
Her house has strength: hardwood floors, rustic wood furniture, a fireplace made of river stones. There are also some odd touches, such as the bug collection on the dining-room table, which includes big ugly things with labels like: Five Horn Rhino Beetle and Giant Brown Cicada. There's an eclectic mix of art on the walls: a painting by an Aboriginal shaman hanging alongside the moody, spiritual landscapes of rising young artist Darren Waterson. Someone needs to turn a few lights on; it's as though the gloom has been sucked inside form the Vancouver skies. The weather, she says, is "just depressing as hell."
Gillian Anderson has never shown her place to a reporter before. There are many versions of her, and Homeowner Gillian is one she's proud of.
"I wouldn't say I'm normal. But I'm relatively stable," she had said the day before on the set of The X-Files. "When I think of normal, I think of mediocrity, and mediocrity scares the fuck out of me."
Next to the living-room, a messy office. Shots from the set of The X-Files, publicity photos, magazine covers, memorabilia are stashed randomly, the floor covered with what she says used to be orderly piles of paper. More chaos at the top of the stairs: her suitcases from her last, prolonged trip to California to film the X-Files movie. She's been at home 23 days and she still hasn't unpacked.
She wanders through her house in tight black jeans and black clogs and a white tank top that flatters her strong back and shoulders. Near the sixth or seventh vertebra, approximately, can be seen the gluey remnants of a bandage that FBI agent Dana Scully had to wear after some highly experimental surgery involving an object that may or may not be of this earth. (I cannot say more. Secrecy is paramount around the set of The X-Files. Fans are obsessive, and all scripts must be shredded before they are thrown in the trash. I worried the whole time I was on the set that I might learn something so sensitive, it would eventually get me killed.)
Time to head to Starbucks. She zips on a black jacket with a high, sharp collar. She has become black from head to toe, a dimension, she claims, of five feet three inches. She gets into a sports car. She discourages any mention of the make or model, for some reason, but it can be reported that the interior is black, including the black cell phone and the black cup holder into which we will put our coffee cups. (The coffee will not be black. Anderson will only drink something called a decaf nonfat foamy mocha.")
She drives aggressively. "See how it handles? Don't you feel safe?" she says, accelerating. It isn't clear if she really is someone who zips through her world in a sports car or if she is merely playing a role. Maybe she's just experimenting with a Sports Car Gillian persona, like someone shopping for a new winter coat.
She definitely wants to move beyond Dana Scully. She's soon to appear in The Mighty (Sharon Stone also stars), playing a biker chick who's living with Meat Loaf. She's performed in music video and posed for avant-garde magazine photographs. She doesn't want to be known as just a smart-looking actress. For gosh sakes, she used to be a punk! She's only 29-it's not too late to show the world that she has stranger, wilder images to project, that she can be something besides a repressed, hyperrational, medical-degreed FBI agent who wouldn't know a space alien if it poked her with its antennae.
Finally we reach a shopping center, and something odd happens. A stranger leans out the window of a Chevy Suburban and says, "Congratulations!" Anderson is caught off guard. "Thank you," she says. For the next few minutes she is tongue-tied, unnerved, pacing the coffee bar.
"It's jarring," she says.
Three days earlier, she had won the Emmy for Best Actress in a Dramatic Series, and it is only natural that people would applaud her when she goes out in public. But success is something she doesn't always wear very well. She's someone who is stressed out by the demands of her life, a single working mother who can't find time to unpack her bags after a trip, who is rattled by junk mail, unsure what to answer and what to throw away.
"I wish my mom were around to give me a ten-minute time-out," she says. "To say, 'Go over, sit in the corner, no talking.' I wish there were someone to force me to do that."
Five years ago she was a complete unknown, living with a boyfriend in L.A., collecting unemployment. Improbably, she was cast in a new show called The X-Files and learned the basics of TV work while millions watched and the crew waited for her to get her lines right. As the show became a cult hit, she suddenly married the assistant art director during a Hawaiian Vacation. Pregnant, she feared she'd get fired because of her dramatic weight gain, but the show's writers arranged for her to be abducted, giving her just enough time to deliver the baby and have ten days off. Then the marriage ended. Somewhere along the way she gave a zillion interviews and won a bunch of acting awards, culminating in the Emmy. Altogether, an insane mixture of triumph and turmoil.
Anderson has discovered the simple truth that at every level of the game a person-whether famous or obscure, rich or poor-can find ways of screwing up. At the Emmys she made a spectacular faux pas on prime-time national television (besides being painfully unable to walk in her dress): She chose to thank her family during her acceptance speech, a sweet gesture, but shockingly did not mention any of her collaborators on The X-Files.
"I got a very strong vibe the next day that I had made a mistake," she says. Anderson did her best to remedy the situation by placing an ad in the Hollywood trade publications thanking the show's creator, Chris Carter, her costar, David Duchovny, and the rest of the cast and crew. "There was this huge weight of having hurt people," she says. "It's the story of my life. I create these situations where I can't fully enjoy the moment."
A good example would be her big break, getting the role of Scully. She was terrified she'd be fired. "I thought, any second they're going to find out I can't act, and they should have hired someone else," she says. Anderson recalls that one scene in which she had to give commands in an authoritative fashion to a team of FBI agents required 19 takes. She just couldn't imagine herself having as much strength and power as Scully was supposed to have. (After all, when she and Duchovny identify themselves as agents she sometimes has to stand on a box to lessen the dramatic difference in their heights.)
But Anderson got better. Professional Gillian triumphed. "She works like a dog and is always pleasant," says X-Files executive producer Robert W. Goodwin.
"Gillian has a lot of will," Duchovny says two days after the Emmys. He and Anderson have a big scene in a hospital room, and as Duchovny utters his lines, Anderson tears up.
"Print it! Excellent! Fucking great, great!" the director cheers. A few minutes later, Anderson approaches her costar and says, "Great David."
"Hey, thanks for that last one," he says. The tears helped him nail his lines. "I thought maybe you had conjunctivitis. But you were really crying. At least one of us was good."
The two stars conjure on-screen an implicit, ethereal passion that has no analogue away from the cameras. "Gillian has beautiful eyes," Duchovny says. "Her eyes anchor me to the scene. They're big and they're blue and they're wet. And the top of her nose goes up and down when she talks. Her nose is a good actor." She, in turn, describes their chemistry in metaphysical terms: "We are fortunate to have a vibration that passes between us when we are working."
Let's not dwell on the irony that Gillian Anderson, is, in real life, rather like Fox Mulder, Duchovny's character. With none of Scully's skepticism, Mystical Gillian has some unusual notions. Anderson believes that UFO's have come to earth. "It would shock the hell out of me if the government had never been involved in a UFO cover-up and if there were not life on other planets," she says.
Why would the government do this? To keep control. "The concept of other beings more powerful than us human beings places the public in a state of fear," explains Anderson, and in that instance, "the government no longer has the same kind of control." She is saying this in her trailer, between scenes. She is tired. She says she doesn't really think about these things too much and isn't sure she's right. But she keeps talking. In America, a celebrity is trained to liberate his or her ideas, even the notions that would quickly evaporate in direct sunlight.
She floats another one: Aliens seem hostile because they are projections of our own negative vibrations. "They vibrate on another energy level than we do," she says, and they are "adaptable" to our beliefs. In the middle of all this, she smiles apologetically. "This is going to make me sound like a complete nut," she says. Nutty Gillian. Perhaps this is just another experiment.
Transcript typed by Alfred and appears courtesy of Allure Magazine.