March 13, 1997
by Guy Saddy
Guy Saddy tracks the success of the X-Files star she's out there.
In the midst of a faux-country kitchen set, X-Files star Gillian Anderson sits at a table cleaning a gun, phone grafted to her ear. "Mulder, the only thing more fortuitous than the emergence of life on this planet is that through purely random laws of biological evolution an intelligence as complex as ours ever emanated from it," she says flatly. "The very idea of intelligent alien life is not only astronomically improbable but, at its most basic level, downright anti-Darwinian." There is a slight pause while Scully's partner, rogue FBI agent Fox Mulder, formulates his response: "Scully...what are you wearing?"
These days, a lot of people are wondering what Gillian Anderson is wearing. Or what she looks like naked. On the Internet there is a fan club called the Gillian Anderson Testosterone Brigade (GATB), where socially stunted males gather to pay digital homage. When she does a promotional tour Down Under, Anderson is mobbed by throngs of crazed and dangerous Australians, driven to collective madness by her mere presence. Her face has adorned dozens of magazine covers, such as a recent British Esquire, where she appeared topless (but for strategically placed arms) much to the chagrin of Australians and GATB members everywhere. Fans have even written loopy musical paeans to her, with titles like, "Hey Scully, When Are You Going To Kiss Mulder?"
Today Anderson is one of the most blindingly bright supernovas in constellation Hollywood. As Dana Scully, she exudes the kind of intimidating, bookish poise one expects from a doctor-slash-FBI agent who also happens to be exceptionally well-acquainted with Webster's. In fact, if Anderson ever gets a chance to renegotiate her contract, she should demand to be paid by the syllable. More importantly, she should receive her rightful due: a nod from all armchair critics for her part in shattering a myriad of female television stereotypes.
As we sit next to each other in her trailer, I can't help but be drawn in by her large and mesmerizing eyes, or to focus on the full, red lips. Yet whatever Anderson's physical attributes and they are many she will never be cast in the public mind as some jiggly, staple-through-the-navel starlet.
Anderson looks real and does not conform to prevailing boob tube beauty standards: mile-high legs and mammoth breasts, with tiny nose and matching brain a caricature of sensuality. Her sexuality is cerebral, which makes it more potent. She has been described in the British press as the "thinking man's crumpet," a woman whose obvious charms imply that underneath Scully's sensible suits and anally coiffed, 1940s-vintage hairstyle beats a fiercely sexual id. Her appeal cuts across gender lines: women like her because she is smart and beautiful, while men like her because she is beautiful and also smart.
Not only are her looks out of sync with traditional Tinseltown expectations, Anderson's intelligent and understated portrayal of Scully also runs dramatically against type. She is not the typical "chick partner" that delicately fragile and tempermental creature given to highly strung yapping whenever trouble arises. Scully is far removed from Susan St. James, whose mission on McMillan and Wife was, evidently, to look very pretty and display the kind of perky devotion and mental acuity one normally associates with a Pekingese. Unlike Maddie from Moonlighting or Remington Steele's plodding Laura, Anderson isn't on screen simply to be regularly upstaged by a smirking masculine co-lead.
Nor is she a mere squeeze-in-waiting who exists solely to provide the requisite sexual tension. In fact, on The X-Files, so few sparks fly between Mulder and Scully that one would swear they were happily married. Their relationship is friendly, sure, but it's based on mutual respect. And while that's not unheard of (recall Mr. Steed and Mrs. Peel from The Avengers), it is pretty rare on television.
"They work equally together, and I think that is an important mark," notes Anderson, but not without qualification. "She's still sometimes the last one to catch up, she's still sometimes in the background, she still falls into a lot of the stereotypical realms. But I think it's been a huge step forward."
She may be overstating the negative: on The X-Files, clichéd gender roles are almost reversed. Anderson's Scully is straight-laced and oh-so serious, a character whose brow-furrowing affectations make her the perfect foil for her more emotionally labile partner. She is the eternal rationalist driven by icy logic, while Mulder relies on intuition. In short, Scully is the strong, skeptical yin to Mulder's gnostic yang and that's fine by her. "There are not as many strong [female] role models in television as there are in film," says Anderson, "and she's strong and she's intelligent and she's independent and she's passionate about what she does."
Anderson is similarly inclined. With almost no on-camera experience, she landed on The X-Files largely due to the insistence of series creator Chris Carter, who lobbied hard for Anderson after being blown away by her audition. On set, she met husband Clyde Klotz, a Canadian art director who, at the time, worked on the show. Currently they live in a New England-style home in one of Vancouver's satellite communities with their two-year-old daughter, Piper. At 29, Anderson already has a Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Drama and an Emmy nomination under her belt. This year, she's up for a Golden Globe. She has jumped to unnatural heights in relative nanoseconds.
Sudden fame has, of course, affected her life. "It's completely different now," she says, a bit wearily. "It's funny, because there were steps in the process that were hugely frustrating and I felt like I couldn't talk to anybody about it, because nobody could really understand. And you get through those stages and it becomes more a part of what you accept as your life." Does she hate it? "Sometimes, honestly, I do. And I wish I wasn't there. And sometimes, I just ignore it," she says, adding, "It is what it is."
Lately, Anderson has been anything but resigned concerning a dispute with Fox network over her salary. According to recent reports, co-star David Duchovny makes about double what Anderson pulls in and she is none too pleased. Rumours abound: Anderson might walk; Fox could write her out of the series. She has stressed that it's equality rather than money at stake. "It sucks," she recently told British Esquire. More than that, it's ironic. While Scully is breaking stereotypes, Anderson is banging her head against glass ceilings. In this day and age, that's scarier than any episode of The X-Files.
Guy Saddy has interviewed Gillian Anderson twice for TVGuide. And, for the record he's not in love with her.
Transcript appears courtesy of Flare.