October 1998 (Issue #255)
By Ian Spelling
As firmly grounded as Dana Scully, Gillian Anderson conspires with X-Files success.
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."
It's a good thing that Anderson has her feet on the ground, for The X-Files phenomenon shows no signs of abating. The series' ratings, remarkably, continue to rise year after year. The X-Files: Fight the Future performed well, and a sixth season of the exploits of FBI Special Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) gets underway November 1. "It sometimes feels like we've done 10 seasons," Anderson jokes, but with a serious edge. "It doesn't necessarily get easier to do, but the years go by faster, I think, because we know what we're doing and how to do it. The first and second year seemed like they lasted forever. The last few years have gone by relatively quickly.
"When I read the pilot, I was struck by how unlike a TV script it was, and also by how complicated and interesting the relationship was between Mulder and Scully. More than anything else, I think that her intelligence and strengh in standing up to Mulder and her confidence about expressing her beliefs in front of somebody who was being touted - in terms of his work at the FBI - as being near God appealed to me."
Agent on Film
While it's common knowledge that Anderson and Duchovny don't socialize off camera, there's no denying their chemistry. Fortunately for the actors and X-philes alike, the chemistry is practically automatic; it just happens when the roll. "Really, the chemistry between us is beyond our control. We're very thankful for it, and we don't take it for granted. There's nothing really to build anymore," Anderson notes. "It's there, and our characters shift and change as the time passes. We come together and we fall apart, just like David and I do. What happens between Scully and Mulder is in the scripts. There's really not much that David and I have to do now because we've been playing the characters for so long."
But what impact will the events depicted in the film-particularly the tantalizing bee-interrupted kiss - have on the series? On Scully and Mulder's relationship? "At the film's end, she basically said, 'Let's move forward. We've got work to do,"' the actress explains. "From the beginning, I've thought that there's just no room in the show for us to be romantically involved. There's just no time. [If we were to get involved], it would have to be addressed at some point. And when could we address it when we're in the middle of saving people's lives? It's like, 'Did you turn off the oven when we left the house?' It would ruin the show. I don't think people would be as interested in it anymore if we actually consummated the relationship, because half of the attraction is in the tension generated by leaving it unconsummated."
Focusing on the film for a while, there's the issue of whether or not the experience of making The X-Files was truly cinematic or more like working on a bloated episode. "It did feel like one big, special episode. The biggest difference was that we took much more time with the movie than we do on the show. Movies just take longer," she says. "We did fewer pages a day. We would do an average of two pages a day on the movie, as opposed to the five to nine pages a day on the series. That makes a huge difference in the amount of dialogue that we had to memorize and say. So the movie wasn't as time consuming. We had a lot more time off. A movie set is also a much more casual, relaxing environment. It's more human way to work. We did the movie right after the forth season and right before the fifth season, but even so, the difference between doing the show and the film was drastic. While doing the film, I felt like I was on vacation." The film also found Anderson, alternately, both frantically active and totally immobile, as the script not only called for several scenes of breathless running and/or fleeing from exploding buildings, buzzing bees and pursuing helicopters, but also for shots of an alienated, in-stasis Scully encased in green goo, with tubes running out of her mouth. "I've actually gotten a lot more down and dirty and physical on the show, but because we were doing this as a movie, I was physically active for several days doing one scene. You get a little beat up doing those scenes, but they're kind of fun," she says. "For the scene in that [casing], I got dunked. I was literally in a vat full of slime and water. I had stuff going in my nose and my mouth. So that was pretty down and dirty. Let's just say I've been a happier camper, but it looks convincing in the movie. I think the whole movie is pretty convincing."
The build-up to the film's release generated intense excitement among fans, a good many of whom stopped at nothing to ferret out classified information before the picture reached theaters. Part of the impetus to know, no doubt, had to do with the secrecy surrounding every aspect of the enterprise. Wouldn't you want to know every secret about a show that practically wallows in its myriad enigmas and conspiracies? Series creator Chris Carter generated fake scripts to throw people off. Real scripts were produced in such a way that they couldn't be duplicated. Such wildly paranoid secrecy backfired on Godzilla, another 1998 event movie, when the film failed to deliver and its secrets proved mere empty promises. Did Anderson ever worry that the X-Files feature might not merit the meticulous subterfuge? "I couldn't even begin to worry about that," she responds. "My mind was not in that place. I'm sure there were people on the production side who were concerned. I don't know if I would use the word 'worried,' because everyone had a great deal of faith in the film that we were making. It was just not that big a concern to me. We did the best job we could have done. The movie looks fantastic and I think it's very good, and we're still going to do the series. So the stakes weren't as high for me [on the movie] as they were for other people."
Agent on File
Stepping back a bit, Anderson considers season five of The X-Files a solid season for the series and for Scully. Fans took note of several crucial events. For openers, there were fewer scenes than usual between Mulder and Scully, particularly early on. That resulted, Anderson stresses, from the logistical reality that she and Duchovny were often needed, separately, on the movie set to shoot and/or rework scenes during a window of production overlap. Episodes dealt with Scully's cancer and Mulder's apparent suicide ("Redux, I & II"), the origins of the Lone Gunmen ("Unusual Suspects") and Scully's "daughter" ("Emily"). The two-parter, "Patient X" and "The Red and the Black," arguably did more to set up the feature than even the fifth season finale, "The End."
As for broader developments, two moves were particularly noteworthy. First, Carter tapped "name" authors for "Chinga" and "Kill Switch," the killer doll and virtual reality episodes penned by Stephen King (with Carter) and William Gibson (with Tom Maddox), respectively. Second, Carter employed an old gambit: role reversal, with Mulder assuming the mantle of skeptic and Scully becoming a believer. "I thought season five was very good, as crazy as it was to get it all done. 'Bad Blood' [the vampire hour] was a lot of fun to do. The episodes about Scully's daughter came out very well. The ones that took more energy, especially more emotional energy, stand out in my mind, as do the ones that were a little lighter and more fun to shoot. We have a very good time when we lighten the tone and get witty, and we need that once in a while. 'Kill Switch' was a very smart, very complicated episode. It turned Out quite well, and I got to fight a bunch of bimbo nurses, too, which was nice. King's episode was very different from what he originally wrote [as Carter completely overhauled the teleplay]. I enjoyed working with the actor [William McDonald] who played the sheriff. There was originally a lot more of the human aspect than what came across in the final cut, but I thought it was OK.
"The role reversal with Scully and Mulder has been interesting for the characters. It has been interesting for David and me to play. But I don't think it will last for very long. At least I can't imagine that it will in the film. It seems like throughout the fifth season there were very important moments where Scully saw all she could possibly see and still maintain any modicum of skepticism, and that happened again in the film. I know that from the beginning, it has been important for Chris to maintain some kind of an interesting balance between the two of us, in order for us to work off each other. And I'm sure he will either find a way to make it still work or he'll go a different route. I don't know, though, what he's planning."
Anderson's involvement in The X-Files has altered the course of her life in too many ways to contemplate. But there is the obvious: She arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia six years ago to shoot the pilot as total unknown. That's clearly no longer the case, as the magazine covers, tabloid stories and countless, adoring web sites attest. She was married, become a mother, divorced. It has been nothing less than a whirlwind for the actress. Among the high points? Winning an Emmy Award as Best Actress and witnessing the tremendous power of The X-Files wields for fans.
"In a way, the Emmy validated me, validated what I do," Anderson says. "We all, as actors, work incredibly hard, putting ourselves on the line and exposing ourselves in many different ways. When you've done that for a few years and really bared your soul and your deepest, darkest secrets in front of the cameras and there's some positive response from the other end saying, 'We saw, we heard, we experienced what you had to show us,' that's a huge validation. It means you're not acting in a fish bowl.
"Another amazing thing about the show and people's passion for it and the characters is that kids from the Starlight Foundation or Make-A-Wish, or children suffering from life-threatening diseases, have found a reason to live again simply because of the show, for whatever reason. People have come to the set who are literally dying. We had one girl whose white blood count was incredibly low. When she got the approval to come on the set, it went up. When she got on set, it got even better. And now she's doing well. Whatever it is, it's unbelievable. If there's anything that makes doing the show worthwhile, it's that, and it's a miracle."
Beyond the series and the movie, Anderson partook in making The X-Files CD-ROM game -"It looks really amazing," she says. "It's a great game for people who love these CD-ROM things" - and has focused her attention on several non-X projects. She makes a cameo as a "South Side girl" in the independent feature Chicago Cab and plays a pivotal role as an aging, alcoholic biker chick in The Mighty, a charming family film due out this fall. That's the one on which Anderson and star Sharon Stone supposedly fought like cats and dogs. Just one problem with that scenario: The two women never worked together. "It's a wonderful children's story that will also appeal to adults," Anderson notes of the film, which centers on Kieran Culkin and Elden Henson as two teens, one tiny, physically challenged and brilliant, the other hulking but not too swift, who become pals and make each other complete. "The film is getting some wonderful responses. The two boys are just marvelous. Sharon does great work, as do Gena Rowlands, Harry Dean Stanton and Meat Loaf. It's really an eclectic cast and a moving film."
Just before returning to The X-Files for season six, Anderson joined Sean Connery, Jon Stewart, Madeleine Stowe, Anthony Edwards and Dennis Quaid for Dancing About Architecture. "It's really a movie about relationships. It's a handful of conversations and paths that these pairs of characters are on," the actress reveals. "It has a wonderful cast and a great script, and I think it's going to be a beautiful movie. Most of my scenes are with Jon." And what of this song, "Extremis," that Anderson recorded? "It wasn't even a song!" Anderson swears, laughing. "It's a spoken word thing. Let's not talk about that."
Testing the waters, as she has with small roles in various films, convinced Anderson that after The X-Files ends its run, she'll concentrate on features. "I've said in the past that I wouldn't do another series after X-Files, and I still feel that way. No way," she insists. "It's just too much, way too much. Doing The X-Files is a little frustrating, to be honest, because there have been many projects I was interested in doing that I couldn't because of time constraints, because our X-Files hiatus is so short. I'm sure we're going to be around for another year or two, but it all depends. It depends on how successful the movie is considered to be. It depends on how successful the show continues to be, if we can continue to maintain the quality. I'm sure that everybody wants it to keep going as long as it possibly can."
Out of loyalty to Carter, the show and its fans, Anderson plans to stick around for two more seasons of the series, though her mind is definitely on the bigger picture. "I prefer the medium of film. I would be open to more X-Files movies. I like the idea of being involved in a movie franchise that gets together every few years. But," Gillian Anderson concludes, "I would also like to do a smart romantic comedy. I would love to do a period piece. I would love to do biographical pieces. I would love to do the next Pulp Fiction. There's a whole gamut of things I would like to do, and I see these things happening. It's just a matter of when, and of how to make it work. I'm confident that it will workout."
Transcript provided by Alfred Tow and appears courtesy of Starlog Magazine.