SEPT. 24, 2000 Issue No. 2
38th Annual New York Film Festivial
Gillian Anderson - HOUSE OF MIRTH
There is much advance buzz for director Terence Davies' adaptation of Edith Wharton's first noval of manners set among New York's haute monde at the turn of the century: social encounters, weekends at fashionable country houses, murmuring voices and satin gowns in dim parlors crowded with furniture and bric-a-brac. The strong ensemble cast includes Eric Stoltz, Laura Linney, Dan Aykroyd and Anthony LaPaglia as the Gilded Age upper-crust. But it is X-Files Gillian Anderson, as Wharton's tragic heroine Lily Bart, who is a revelation as the victim of rigid class structure and snobbery. Aykroyd called her as "a great trained actress."
Q: I gather what initially attracted you to "HOUSE OF MIRTH" was director Terence Davies.
A: I was told that Terence wanted to meet me about this project, but my representative just assumed I would say no, that I would not have heard of him. But actually I was a fan of his. I've always been attracted to smaller films, independent and foreign. I then read the novel, which I liked. I also had wanted to do a period piece for a very long time.
Q: Why were you a fan of Terence?
A: I had seen a couple of films, "DISTANT VOICES," "STILL LIVES" and "THE LONG DAY CLOSES." That second one had quite a profound effect on me when I saw it. It was my particular frame of mind. It really moved me in a way that I had not been moved by a film before. That particular closeup, of a rug in the bedroom, that got the tears going. The camera just holds, and its so poignant. His poetry through camerawork, through music, through mood, was very compelling and spoke volumes to me.
Q: Describe the experience playing a 19th century Edith Wharton character.
A: It was one of the most challenging overall work experiences, entering into this character, and it was truly my first experience playing a lead in a feature film other than The X-Files which I had known before. You have a larger than life character. So that was in itself quite an intense experience, and working with Terence.
Q: Talk about working with Terence.
A: Terence is also an intense character. He is one of the most eccentric people I have ever come across in my life, and he is incredibly passionate about his work, about his novel and these characters. He immerses himself so intensely in the emotionality of the characters that sometimes one feels as if he has so much invested and so much identification with each of the characters, he's practically acting them out in front of you. He has extreme highs and extreme lows and he was right there to champion us along. And he is a character.
Q: So what was it like doing a period character?
A: It was a shift. But interestingly, I don't feel like i've ever truly entered into modern world. On the one hand, I can exist amongst this world of technology, and I might go through a couple of weeks, participating in certain aspects of it, cellphones, whatever. But I never feel like my soul has truly entered into this century.
Q: How did you feel about the tragic character of Lily, whom you play?
A: There was something about Lily that first disturbed me, then became quite compelling. Edith Wharton allows her to continue to make mistakes, to make human, ego-based mistakes, and so much as Lily might feel in her heart and her mind that she does not want to sell out, does not want to do something that feels like its for the wrong reasons, she at the same time cannot quite bring herself to commit to the opposite actions.
Q: Though she is part of affluent society, she does not herself have money.
A: She is at the highest part of society, and she has enough money to dress herself so that she is a part of this very important social world that was all about clothes, jewelry, who you knew, where you stayed. But at the same time it doesn't feel right in her heart. She wants very much to not have to play the game, not have to dress a certain way, be a certain way, be considered a woman who is looking for a wealthy husband. And she is in love with someone who does not have money, does not have a high standing in society, and she cannot bring herself to take that step toward him, because of how it would look. So she's conflicted for a long time. Gradually she finds herself making decisions that are somewhat frivolous and naive and hence, her gradual downfall. And being cast out from society.
Q: But you relate to Lily?
A: What resonates for me is the conflict that went on inside her mind about how to be, what to do. In her case, she would always do the right thing at the wrong time, or the wrong thing at the right time. The thing about Lily is, she is very selfish and very egocentric, but at the same time has something in her that tugs at her that tells her, it's not okay. It's not okay to live that way, but she can't quite do it. She can't quite bring herself. It's a human foible that ends up bringing her down in the end.
Q: The cast, I gather, were a very tight group...you and Laura Linney and Eric Stoltz and Dan Aykroyd and Anthony LaPaglia, and so on.
A: Yes. Laura and I spent a lot of time talking on our free time. We have similar experiences in life. She is not a competitive actor, which is so refreshing. She just comes at you, no matter who you are, with openness and respect, and her truest self. Anthony felt like a big brother, and he probably feels that way to a lot of people. He's just adorable teddy bear. Eric is hysterical, funny and fun and quirky. I didn't know what to expect from Eric, from one day to the next.
Transcript provided by Wai and appears courtesy of Grand Marnier.