By Melissa J. Person
Unlike some Sci-Fi stars, The X-Files's Gillian Anderson doesn't mind being mistaken for her character.
Gillian Anderson is contemplating that double-edged sword called fame. "When I'm at home, scraping food off the floor and cleaning up after the dog, I wonder why this person is calling me to do an interview for some magazine.
"It is strange," concedes the flame-tressed star of The X-Files. "But as long as I keep honest about who I am, as long as I remember that I'm still responsible for my daughter [Piper] and for cleaning up dog crap, I'll be OK. That's where the reality is based and fostered. If I were leading a very different life and had cooks and everything, it would feel less real. I think people's problems start when they hire somebody to clean up the dog crap and forget what those experiences, that reality, is like."
Over five years ago, The X-Files' creator Chris Carter had to lobby Fox executives to accept the then-unknown Gillian Anderson as the female lead for the series. What a difference five years makes.
Today, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role. And the Emmy Award-winning Anderson has claimed Dana Scully for her own, crafting a character unlike any other currently on television through impassioned yet understated performances. A medical doctor and forensic pathologist, Agent Scully relies on the tenets of science to provide the tangible proof to support and complement partner Fox Mulder's (David Duchovny) beliefs in extreme possibilities.
Wearing a chic black dress and long-sleeved brown shirt, her normally bright-auburn hair temporarily bordering on brown for the film she's shooting during the summer hiatus, Anderson's ethereal beauty is intact, but she looks little like her fashionably suited on-screen persona. As soon as she begins speaking, it's clear from her carefully measured comments and steady intonation that something of Scully's influence remains.
Unlike some actors, Anderson doesn't mind the blurring of reality between Scully and the real Gillian Anderson. After all, she offers as explanation, "What better character to have that happen to you with? To be perceived as being that intelligent, that compassionate, that strong, and having that much integrity, it's a blessing if anyone thinks I'm even remotely like she is. Scully has a lot of qualities that I haven't had, but always wish that I could have, and that I've started to pay attention to a little more."
Anderson learned much from the experience of scaling Scully for the unforgiving landscape of the feature screen. After four years spent perfecting her character on television, recalls Anderson, "I jumped in thinking that I needed to do things differently and bigger, that I needed to expand everything and make my own stakes higher. Eventually, with the help of Chris and Rob [Bowman], I settled on the fact that I just needed to continue doing the same thing."
Overall, Anderson was pleased with The X-Files' initial film outing. "I was happier with the way that the scenes turned out than I thought that I would be, so something worked. One of the things I was most struck by in the film, that I didn't really get as much in the script itself, was that it's a love story. As much as it was a special effects and action film, it really was also about two human beings."
Even though Carter may have a plan in mind for the show, Anderson finds herself surprised by The X-Files' twists and turns along with everyone else. "I am kept solely in the dark, and I don't really ask that many questions. Mostly because I don't expect to get any answers, I think," admits Anderson. "I'm actually more curious right now about where it's going than I ever have been because of the film. I'm wondering how we can go back to playing the series after feeling something on the big screen that felt so important, so momentous."
How Mulder and Scully's relationship is going to be affected by the developments in the movie is anyone's guess. "Sometimes in the series, there's a constant pulling away and coming together [between Mulder and Scully]. We're in this dance together," Anderson notes. "There's a heightened level of intimacy and care and respect in the film, an intimacy that sometimes you don't get in the show. I'm not sure what causes that, and whether it's something that can be injected into the series or not."
The now-infamous hallway scene, in which Mulder and Scully's tender moment was interrupted by the untimely appearance of a bee, "was a wonderful moment in the film," says Anderson. "But if we keep having those, if we did actually end up getting down and dirty on the floor, then it's done. Then what happens? The next time we touch hands it's not going to have the same effect. In the series, there's no room for romance between the two of us. If the film became a franchise and the series was no longer continuing, there would be more room for that."
Prior to the start of filming on the 6th season, Anderson wasn't sure how the movie's events would impact the nuances and undertones she'd use when playing Scully on the series. "The scripts generally inform a lot of what we do," she explains. "But [the relationship] is going to be something that we'll have to have a conversation with Chris about, in terms of how he wants us to play it, where this is going, and whether he wants it to influence our movements in the way that we are with each other."
Regardless, she adds, "I think that Scully has a great deal of love and respect for him. She is passionate about him. And she is aware of their chemistry and the subtlety of the tension of their interactions."
Establishing background motivation for a character's actions in the context of a weekly series is problematic by nature. The series faced a similar problem during Scully's cancer arc in the 4th season, when, as Anderson remembers, "there was one episode where she dealt with it, then a few episodes where it wasn't really discussed. Then it was dealt with in another episode. And those episodes in between rarely brought it up, if at all." She pauses thoughtfully. "The question is, as an actor, do you gaze off sadly for a while thinking about the fact that you have cancer and you're not going to see this person again? Because there's no reference made [to the cancer], there's really no way to do that without completely confusing the audience. The relationship," she adds, " is a little different, because any kind of gaze can be immediately picked up by our avid fans."
After everything she's seen in the film-the on-going debate as to whether the half-conscious Scully actually did see the space-ship in Antarctica notwithstanding-one has to wonder how Scully will be able to maintain her skepticism in the series. "It seems like throughout [last] season there have been very important moments where she has seen about all she can possibly see and still maintain any modicum of skepticism, and that happens once again in the film," muses Anderson. This season, she hopes a middle ground can be reached: "I'd rather be less skeptical, but still able to maintain the relationship with Mulder where we can play off each other. It just seems that I'm open-minded about some things, but then I'll see a bug that flies with no wings and it's like, 'How could that possibly be?' It's a little inconsistent."
The series' grueling shooting schedule puts immense time demands on leads Anderson and Duchovny, and Anderson is a single mother raising her four-year-old daughter, Piper Maru, to boot. Ever the professional, though, Duchovny has in the past noted Anderson's tendency to put stringent demands on herself, determined to do what it takes to get a scene right. "Sometimes I have the energy to keep going and be better and better," she clarifies. "A lot of times I'm dead on my feet, too, and sometimes I phone it in. It just depends."
During the 5th season there were a number of emotional episodes for Scully-and excellent acting opportunities for Anderson-with "Redux," "Christmas Carol," "Emily," and "All Souls" leading the way. "I feel like I've done a lot of 'feeling' stuff lately, which didn't used to be the case. I almost feel like now I just want to do a little more butt-kicking." The Scully-focused two-part arc of "Christmas Carol" and "Emily," in which it is revealed that Scully has a child she'd never known about, held potential as an acting tour-de-force for Anderson, but even the actress admits to some disappointment. "It was interesting," she says thoughtfully of the story arc. "The challenge in that was to find the particular way to relate to this child that was mine, but that I didn't have the history of raising. There was a connection, but then I felt in a way that I would be insulting mothers in a sense to assume any greater connection than what I had. It was tricky. I liked the second episode better than the first, I think. The first seemed a bit melodramatic on my part, and I was a little disappointed in that. But it was a nice idea."
Anderson doesn't even have to think twice anymore when asked about her favorite episode of last season. "One of my all-time favorites now is 'Bad Blood,' from last season," she says quickly. "It was fun and challenging to film and even funner to watch, in the end."
Episodes like "Bad Blood" make it easy for Anderson to relish her time with Scully, even now, after five years with the character. "It's a mixture of things," she explains of her outlook. " I am still very grateful to have the opportunity to spend this time with her in my life. I'm still often challenged by the scripts that come my way in the series. And I never really tire of her. I'm proud to be involved in something that has such high production values and is so intelligent." Although, she adds, "Sometimes the scenarios that they deal with [on the series] we've done before in the same way."
After having first discovered acting while a troubled high schooler going through a punk and rebellious stage in life, Anderson has since found herself drawn to acting. She spent four years studying her craft at DePaul University's Goodman Theatre School and did theater in New York; three years after graduating she landed her career-making role as Scully. "Aside from the fact that acting is the only thing that I know how to do," she begins, "right now I feel fed by a desire to do as many different things as I possibly can do and to just dive into as many different characters and worlds that I can. It feeds me emotionally and physically and psychologically. I love plays, I love theater, I love film, I love the medium of film, I love the impact films can have on people's lives."
Her most recent project, Dancing About Architecture, has provided Anderson with her greatest acting challenge thus far. "The character is probably the closest to Scully than anything I have done," notes Anderson. "The difficulty is in making her not like Scully, even though there are some similarities. I find that no matter how I respond to something as the character, if it's remotely like Scully, I freeze. It's even difficult to make the choice to allow myself to be myself-which is a part of Scully-and allow that to come through if it has to."
Shooting wrapped this past summer on the ensemble film about relationships, which also stars Sean Connery. "I really wanted to do something different. And I wanted to do something that I really cared about and to work with people that I respected," explains Anderson of how she decided on a hiatus project. "I play a woman about my age-early 30s-who is a theater and commercial director. My character is very closed for the first part of the film, just dealing with a lot of historic stuff."
In addition to a cameo in the art house film Chicago Cab, Anderson plays a colorful yet conscientious alcoholic in this fall's much-praised The Mighty, an adaptation of a children's book. A long-time fan of director Peter Chelsom, Anderson was determined to be a part of The Mighty after reading the script. "It's an odd story," she laughs, recalling how she got the part, "because he was in London and we weren't going to be able to meet. I really wanted to do it, and so after our wrap party [for X-Files], at like three o'clock in the morning, I put myself on tape in my living room."
Anderson sent the video off to Chelsom, and the rest, as they say, is history. "What's interesting is that when I first read for it, I interpreted Loretta in a very different way, as more of a rocker, a biker chick. But then Peter saw a cover of a Rolling Stone I had done which was a send-up on a "B" movie poster and had me in kind of a reddish-blonde long wig with red lips and red nails and a marsh monster behind me. He called me up at one point and said, 'You have to somehow try to make it so that's her.' So when I showed up on set I had my preconception of who I thought she was, and then he said, 'Just make her really, really wacky.' And that's what you see. I literally felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants. If it comes across in any positive way at all, I'll be really grateful."
Between The Mighty and her more substantive role in Dancing With Architecture, Anderson's film projects have reflected her desire to be one part of a greater whole. "It's not interesting to me [being the lead]. That's not a priority for me," she says. "I mean, if it happens, that's great. But if it doesn't, I'd much rather play a secondary or tertiary character."
Although Anderson was far less vocal than her costar in her desire to relocate The X-Files from Vancouver-where the series had been based for its first five seasons-to Los Angeles, she supported the move. "It was very hard, very emotional leaving Vancouver. But I think it's going to be good. It'll be nice for us because we're home, and we'll be around people that have been a part of our support system," says Anderson.
The move to Los Angeles is not an all-encompassing panacea, though. "Part of our intention in the move is to be happier," she explains. "Yet whether we're shooting in Los Angeles or Vancouver, the schedule and the grind will remain the same-if not increase because of the travel time."
Unlike costar Duchovny, Anderson has rarely broached being an active participant in developing the creative side of her character. "I usually don't have that many ideas for the show-I just kind of stick to my own stuff and being Mom," she explains. "I have had a couple of ideas that I've broached to Chris, which were good. He never really used them as a whole-he only used parts of them in different episodes of his own. I haven't written a whole script, but," she hints, "I have ideas and write in other ways, and might eventually do something."
In the meantime, Anderson is settling in for the remainder of this
season. The actress is signed for two more years beyond the 6th season,
as are most of her costars on the show-the notable exception being Duchovny.
And given the film's success, the odds are good that there will be another
X-Files film coming soon to a theater near you.
Transcript appears courtesy of Sci-Fi Entertainment.