You Made Gillian Cry
By Christina Kelly
When someone's been in therapy for over half her life, you never know what will set her off.
lt's Scully I love. I can't get over the way she never loses her shit, no matter how dire her straits. She is super-rational and completely dedicated to her work. Scully never complains of being stressed-out, of looking fat or of not being sure if Mulder really loves her. The woman appears to have no insecurities, but she's not emotionless. You can tell by how dedicated she is to Mulder.
I wish I could meet Scully, but I have to settle for the next best thing: Gillian Anderson, who plays her on The X-Files. We meet for lunch at the Four Seasons hotel in Los Angeles, where Gillian used to stay before The X-Files moved production to L.A. from Vancouver and she got an L.A. house. It's so weird when you meet someone who is on TV. It's not like really meeting someone for the first time, because you feel like you already know them. It's a scary false familiarity.
Gillian is very prompt, and wearing a long black skirt, platform thongs, tasteful jewelry, tattoo visible on ankle; hair and makeup perfect. She may dress more hip than Scully does, but she has that same reserved quality. She is 30 years old, and seems to be a very adult 30, not one of those faux youths littering Hollywood. But then Gillian was much more womanish than girlish even when she was first cast on The X-Files at 24. She is known for being not very forthcoming in interviews. "There's a lot of stuff, past, present and future, that I refuse to discuss, because it's nobody's business," says Gillian, looking at me intently. "In interview situations, because there are so many areas I will not discuss, I end up getting protective of my space and ... not defensive, but I feel like I need to keep my guard up, especially if it comes on the heels of an interview that didn't go particularly well."
On the one hand, I can understand why a person wouldn't want to spill her guts to an interviewer. On the other hand, it's a pain in my butt because I'm being paid to find out as much as I can about Gillian Anderson (an admittedly strange endeavor). But luckily, Gillian is much more open and honest than I expected.
She likes Scully as much as I do. "There are a lot of young girls who look up to Scully as a role model," says Gillian. "I think it's miraculous that these young girls have been attracted to such a strong and independent female character, and one that obviously has a great deal of respect for knowledge and school and learning. So there are a lot of girls who have pushed themselves in school as a result of their admiration for her." Frightening how a TV character could have such power.
Gillian says she probably wouldn't watch The X-Files if she weren't on it. "I'm not a television watcher, and I don't really think The X-Files would convince me to be one," she says. "Also, I am not a fan of scary things and violence and evil, and stuff like that." Though there have been rumors that the show may be ending soon, Gillian won't say how much longer she plans to do it. "One year at a time," she says.
In the meantime, Gillian is slowly getting a movie career going. This fall, she had a small part in The Mighty, as an un-Scully-like woozy floozy. Gillian's new movie, Playing by Heart, is a tearjerker in which she portrays a somewhat Scully-esque, closed-off character who resists the charms of funny Jon Stewart. "Initially I was interested in Angelina Jolie's character," Gillian says. "She appealed to me because she was so different from Scully. She talked a mile a minute and had very high energy. But they got the real deal in casting Angelina." Gillian took the role of Meredith because "it wasn't going to take up my whole summer, and I really liked the script." She loved working with Jon Stewart. "I adore him," she says. Gillian and Jon first met when she went on his talk show in 1995. "I remember during the interview saying to her, 'I don't know, I've got this crazy feeling we will act together,"' says Jon when I call him for some insight into Gillian. I totally believed him, but he was only kidding. "Most of the talk show I blacked out," he says. "All I remember is sitting on William Shatner's lap, and the rest is just a blank." That Jon is such a jokester, but I can't get much out of him when it comes to Gillian. "She was very cool," he says. "That was the great part. You're in a situation where you're supposed to be, uh, dating, so you have to establish that chemistry right off the bat. But it worked out great. I'm always surprised when I'm with people who can really act. You're doing scenes where they have to cry, and when they're really doing it, you're always tempted to stop and go, 'Are you sure you're okay?"
Gillian was pretty obscure until she was cast in The X-Files. She had done theater and a bit of TV, but other than that she was struggling. She had studied acting when she was in college at DePaul University in Chicago, and before graduation in 1990, she performed at a showcase in New York for agents and managers. Some people from the William Morris Agency saw her. "They called me in for a meeting, and I showed up. And they said, 'if you move to New York, we'll attempt to represent you,"' she remembers.
So Gillian went back to Chicago and got her stuff. She crashed on somebody's floor on St. Mark's Place in Manhattan's East Village, before moving into a sublet on slightly less grungy MacDougal Street. For the next two years, she did some theater and commercials, and waitressed to make ends meet - first at Dojo's, a cheap healthy-food place on St. Mark's. It is totally plausible that Gillian waited on me there at some point. How weird. She moved to Village Natural East, then to a fancy French restaurant called Laura's. "I'm good at chaos and being in control of large groups of people and many, many tables; but when it comes to having five tables and the kind of attention that an upscale restaurant wants, my brain just doesn't work that way," she says. I feel that statement is somehow revealing.
"It's difficult to be in New York without any money," says Gillian, biting into her fancy salade nicoise. "In retrospect, it's all romantic - actually, it's not as romantic as I would imagine it to be in retrospect." She moved to Los Angeles on impulse, after she flew out there to visit an actor she was involved with (someone who she acted with in The Philanthropist, a play in New York). "I sold my return ticket," she says. "I was living here for a year and a half when I got the job. The job." First impression of executive producer Chris Carter: "Kind, soft-spoken, caring, human, grounded, passionate." First impression of David Duchovny: "Very nice, very handsome, very smart, very charming. He was very good and attentive, and worked well on the scenes that we read together during the audition." Since then they have been rumored to be not so close, and David has said some nasty things about her: In a London newspaper he said she was the last person he wanted to see at the end of the week, and in Details he referred to a mannequin with an open mouth as 'Ihe Gillian Anderson blow-up doll." Nice. But Gillian won't reciprocate. "Our relationship is good," she says. "We basically show up and work."
Between the pilot and the series, she and her boyfriend broke up, and during the first season of The X-Files, she married an art director on the show, Clyde Klotz, and had a daughter, Piper. They divorced amicably a year ago. Gillian and her ex-husband split custody of Piper, who is 4. She comes on set a lot, and Gillian says she tries to take her to school as much as she can: "She leads an incredibly privileged life, but her father and I try to keep her as grounded in reality as possible."
Sort of like the way Piper kept Gillian grounded in reality. "There was a period of time when I first met my ex-husband, before my daughter was born, of course, when I would doodle on the back of script pages. I've put them into storage because they represent, in some deeply subconscious, psychological way, the period of time I was going through," says Gillian. "I was drawing these images that looked like fetuses, and that was while I was pregnant, before I knew I was pregnant." Once she did find out she was pregnant with Piper, Gillian was "confused," she says. "I'm not sure if I quite understood how much it would really affect everyone's lives. It was, as far as the producers were concerned, bad timing. In a metaphysical sense, it was perfect timing, which I didn't quite comprehend at the time. I needed to be shaken up, I needed to be grounded, I needed for the focus to get off of me, and I needed to understand the concept of responsibility on a whole new level."
She continues her self-analysis: "When I got pregnant, I was young and thrust into a situation and a lifestyle that is not grounded and sometimes fleeting, and not necessarily based in truth or anything real. And I had been swallowed up by it, and I had allowed myself to act out in different ways to handle that pressure and the elusiveness of the supposed reality around me." Gillian declines to elaborate on how she "acted out" (no stories of drunken fits of rage), but her use of the phrase makes me wonder if she is in therapy. "Yes, since I was 14," she says. "The man that I'm working with right now is amazing and also a healer. He's able to help shift and move out energies that are blocking us from processing information in a productive way. When you do work with this man, you have to be ready to have your butt kicked, and I'm always ready to have my butt kicked."
When Gillian started with therapy, she was a somewhat rebellious teenager, who liked punk and piercings. She had been an only child until the age of 13, when her brother was born. Her mother is a computer programmer, and her father owns and operates a post-production company. "You know, my parents didn't do the greatest job, and a lot of parents don't, but I am aware of how my response to my past, as a child, has strengthened me into the person that I am today. And I don't regret anything that took place, or did not take place," she says. She lived in England for nine years of her childhood before moving to Grand Rapids, Mich. "I was excited because I had been teased for a good deal of my life in London for being a Yank," she says. "Coming back, it was a much harder transition than I expected. I didn't stop speaking with an English accent until I was in college. I hung on for a long time, I think as a defense mechanism. It separated me when I felt threatened. It made me feel important."
That's a pretty honest revelation. Gillian is not as closed off as I have been led to think. She may not dish the dirt on why she and her husband divorced, or why she and ex-boyfriend/actor Rodney Rowland broke up - in fact, the only thing she'll say about her romantic life is that she is "kind of" seeing someone. But then she'll go and reveal deep psychological stuff that is ultimately more interesting anyway. She even starts to cry when she is telling me about a 30th-birthday gift some fans sent her: 'These girls put together this notebook for me with people from six different countries involved, and it was little individual notes and letters and pictures, and just amazing. It's so kind and generous, and respectful, and open ... and it made me cry."
While Gillian is tearing up, I try to think of a way to distract her. If I were Barbara Walters, I probably would bring up a dead relative at this point to really get her going. If I were Joan Rivers, I would crack a joke about a dead relative. If I were David Letterman, I would try to flirt with her. But I'm me, so I suggest we get the check and go on the errand Gillian had planned, to have some art framed. She gets into her gray Porsche and whizzes off. My driver and I follow. "That's a fast car," he says, when she does an insane U-turn.
Inside the frame store, Gillian lays out something like 10 photos of plants taken by the man who invented the macro lens. Because the photos were taken so close up, the plants appear unnaturally fuzzy. "They look like they're not even from this planet," I say. Then I recoil at my unintentional X-Files metaphor. But Gillian either doesn't notice, or she ignores it. "Yes," she says, with Scully-like calm and concentration. "They do." Insert X-Files theme here. Dee dee dee dee dee dee dee.
Transcript provided by Alfred Tow and appears courtesy of Jane Magazine.