Gillian Anderson: 'If X-Files fans aren't put off by our walking sticks, fantastic'
By Daniel Martin
The Guardian: January 23, 2016
For a star promoting her return to a world-famous show, Gillian Anderson is candid about her reluctance to return to the role that made her.
"It took a while to persuade me, I think," she says. "When it was first brought up, I didn't like the idea at all."
Sunday sees Anderson reprise FBI special agent Dana Scully in The X-Files, a character she has played intermittently since 1993. Back then, Scully made the 24-year-old Anderson's career, heading up the cult genre show that somehow defined the zeitgeist. Alongside David Duchovny's Fox Mulder, Scully would re-investigate bureau cold cases that would invariably have an extra-terrestrial origin. Scully was the rational cynic, opposite Mulder's fanatical conspiracy theorist. Together, they became emblems for the pre-millennial tension of Gen-Xers everywhere; "I want to believe" became something much bigger than simply a poster on a wall.
Yet Anderson doesn't remember it all that way. "When we used to do the series, I had no life, and I didn't want to experience that again with three kids. That was the bottom line really."
Schedules were duly shuffled, and now for the first time since the little-loved 2008 movie I Want To Believe, Mulder and Scully are back, for a six-part "event series" airing on Fox, and Channel 5 in the UK.
"The biggest thing was that they were able to do so few [episodes] to be honest, that I'd be able to fit it into my schedule, and then at the point that that was agreed or it seemed like a possibility, then it kind of seemed like maybe we could have some fun with it. Then actually, wouldn't it be great to be able to give this back to the fans? And if we are actually able to get some of our old writers back and be able to kind of give them a sense and a feel and immerse them back in exactly what it is that they were longing for, then actually how great and how much fun would that be? Once it seemed like that was everybody's objective and that it might happen, then it was easier to jump on board with both feet."
But you suspect there may have been more to Anderson's reticence than mere scheduling. Unlike so many genre actors, she's since forged a long, acclaimed, varied career across all forms: high-end costume roles like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations; Olivier-nominated stage turns doing Ibsen; and most recently, as DSI Stella Gibson in celebrated UK thriller The Fall. When Alan Rickman died last week, perhaps surprisingly one of his most fondly-remembered roles was as Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest, a self-regarding thesp driven to typecast despair by his lot in life, endlessly doing the rounds of sci-fi conventions. It's tempting to look at Anderson's subsequent career as a reversal of that. Securely ensconced within the "serious actor" establishment, she has arguably the most to lose out of everyone in going back to The X-Files. But with time comes a greater appreciation of what the show did for her - along with the fact that she's remained shielded from the more demanding corners of cult fandom.
She muses: "On the one hand, it's served me very well over the years. I get asked every once in a while to do pretty cool projects that I wouldn't be asked to do if I didn't have good sci-fi cred, so on the one hand it's pretty cool. On the other hand, the attention of the fans on the whole is not an issue for me in my life, and people are generally lovely and respectful. I've been in the presence of people who will have a different level of hysteria around them, and I can tell you that's not my life. I'm very grateful that it's not."
That The X-Files is returning now is hardly a surprise. Cult TV revivals are in vogue, from the sublime (Twin Peaks) to the baffling (Heroes Reborn). But in a post-Snowden world, it's just possible that this conspiracy-happy thriller might be coming back more relevant than ever.
"A few of the episodes that we're doing in this particular series of six are very relevant," nods Anderson. "They're relevant to current events, and as usual, Chris Carter and the other writers are bringing up very prescient issues in today's politics and today's society around the world, and so I think in that sense it feels like the series is true to form."
And in a world that's changed, it's inevitable that the show's two protagonists will have done the same. "Well, oddly they're a little older," she smirks. "Where we find them is different from where we last saw them. When we saw them in the second film they were together, and now they're not. Mulder's become a bit reclusive, and Scully is working as a surgical assistant in a hospital, working with children. They live separately, and I think it's interesting that that's where we begin. It gives us somewhere to go."
Does Anderson believe Scully and Mulder love each other?
"Yes," she responds, immediately and curtly. "Yes, I do.'
Having shared a 23-year working relationship, Anderson and Duchovny themselves had no problem regaining the awkwardly electric frisson that propelled the show beyond conspiracy thriller. "David and I have that chemistry, whether we are just talking to each other, just in ourselves - not even in these characters. It exists, and it is beyond both of us."
And indeed, if Anderson was hesitant about returning, it was the chance to play opposite Duchovny again that sealed the deal.
"I think I was mostly looking forward to working with David," she concurs. "We've become friends over the years in the interim, and I knew that we'd probably have a good time. And that no matter what the circumstances we were put in, we would be able to laugh about it and make the most of it."
Then she considers the notion some more. "I also think, I really liked the idea of being able to give something to the fans that they were wanting. The fans for a long time had been wanting to see these characters again, and I think that in this particular series of episodes it's a really good mix of what the show used to be about. The show used to have a mix of mythology and monster-of-the-week, and comedy episodes, and that's exactly what we give the audience in these six. Hopefully we're giving everybody what they want."
Depending on how this "event series" is received, nobody is ruling out more. And Anderson sounds more than content with that. "I wouldn't have guessed that somebody would be paying us old folks to be portraying these characters to our deathbeds. But if that's what the fans want and they're not put off by our walking sticks, then fantastic. Everybody wins."