News Column

Gillian Anderson Actress with a distinctive X factor: The star of TV series The X-Files has gone on to distinguish herself on stage and screen. Now she's playing Blanche DuBois, a role she's long coveted. By Ryan Gilbey: THE ANDERSON FILE

July 27, 2014

Ryan Gilbey



It is quite a feat for an actor to be intensely memorable without appearing needy or even demonstrative, but Gillian Anderson has managed it. The plume of scarlet hair she sported in the role that defined her, as the FBI agent Dana Scully in The X-Files, which ran for nine series between 1993 and 2002 and spawned two movies, is gone, replaced by dusky blond locks. Anderson keeps a low profile and is held in high esteem. She is well-known and yet exudes an aloofness that has prevented her from becoming a national treasure and not only because, divided between Britain (where she spent a chunk of her childhood and where she now lives and works) and the US (which has claimed most of the rest of her years), it would be hard to know which nation would have dibs on doing the treasuring.

But to get a measure of the respect still commanded by the 45-year-old, witness the buzz of excitement generated by announcements of her forthcoming work. This autumn, she will return in the second series of The Fall on BBC2, in which she plays DSI Stella Gibson, still in pursuit of a serial killer (Jamie Dorman, now the star of Fifty Shades of Grey). Her enigmatic but not invulnerable demeanour is especially well suited to this Scandi-style crime drama. Before that arrives, she is appearing as Blanche DuBois at London's Young Vic in A Streetcar Named Desire. "I auditioned for Blanche at drama college," she said in 2011. "I thought I could have played her then, but didn't - it's tragic. It's something I've always wanted to do before I die."

She has long displayed in interviews the sort of lacerating self-deprecation that will be ideal for Blanche. "I had a moment not long ago when my age hit me for the first time," she said last year. "There's a lot about getting older that I'm still very much looking forward to. But there was a moment - more than a moment, a couple of days - of proper, full-fledged grieving over my youth and loss. Years lost and time wasted."

It is no stretch to imagine those sentiments haunting the stage of the Young Vic when Anderson delivers these words as Blanche: "Physical beauty is passing - a transitory possession - but beauty of the mind, richness of the spirit, tenderness of the heart - I have all these things -aren't taken away but grow! Increase with the years!"

Anderson herself gives the impression of never having depended on the kindness of strangers, with the possible exception of The X-Files creator Chris Carter, who fought for her to play Scully when the network wavered. That aside, she seems not to have relied on anything but her own vim. She will own up to a fighting spirit, even if she prevaricates over the details. There was, she told a reporter in the late 1990s, "a particular dynamic of my adolescence, which I won't specify, but a particular equation of events [which] put me in a state of survival". Asked if she was alluding to having been threatened in some way, she replied simply: "Yeah."

Hers was, as she tells it, a difficult upbringing. By the time she arrived with her family in Crouch End, north London, at the age of two, she had already lived in Chicago and Puerto Rico. She stayed in London until she was 11, but found herself a perpetual outsider. It would be better, she convinced herself, when they returned to the US, but it wasn't. Her accent crisply English and her cultural reference points out of sync with her American contemporaries, she was a misfit all over again. She got into trouble -vandalism, underage drinking - and was in therapy at 14.

While she was going through puberty, her parents had two further children, "when I needed a great deal of attention". She once told a journalist that she came to identify, years later, with the teenage daughters in Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet. Pressed on whether she was including the fuming, anorexic girl played by Jane Horrocks, Anderson said: "We won't discuss that."

As an adolescent, she sported a blue mohican as wide as the blade on a circular saw and came top in many yearbook categories: Class Clown, Most Bizarre Girl, Most Likely To Go Bald at School. At 16, she was cast in a community play. It was an unexpected path but a fulfilling one: "I knew from the bottom of my heart that this was what I wanted to do."

She acted on stage but had logged only one TV role when she went up for The X-Files. Opposite David Duchovny as Mulder, whose belief in alien life forms was absolute and vindicated every week, she injected valuable levels of scepticism. Her character name even graduated into a verb (as in "Don't Scully me!") to describe a person trying to deny some unpalatable truth.

The show became a phenomenon. But the most uncomfortable truth was that she was suffering. A year into the run, she married Clyde Klotz, an assistant art director she had met on the programme. The following year, she gave birth to her first child, Piper Maru. (She has since had two more.) She missed one episode - Scully was kidnapped by aliens to cover for her absence - and was back on set only 10 days later. Postnatal depression didn't take long to announce itself. "Except there was no time for it, which made it worse," she said. "I shed a lot of silent tears. At times, all I wanted to do was quit and be with my baby."

She and Klotz didn't last much longer. "There were times, especially during the divorce, when I was just in tears constantly," Anderson said. She was accompanied on the set of The X-Files by a team of make-up artists devoted to disguising the fact that she had been crying.

To appreciate the schism in Anderson's life, it is worth remembering what else was going on in the same period. She was the co-lead in one of the most popular series in TV history, a show to which she felt increasing ambivalence. "I'm exhausted by the series," she said in the late 1990s. "I would like to do different characters." And she was participating in glossy shoots for men's magazines such as FHM, which in 1996 declared her the world's sexiest woman.

Was she aware of her own beauty? "It's been pointed out enough that I'm starting to feel funny about it," she shrugged. How did she feel about being described as the thinking man's crumpet? "Well, it's better than being lobotomised man's crumpet, I suppose." Her disdain was comprehensive and richly merited. But it is obvious that celebrity itself, rather than just the inane demands that come with it, did not agree with her. She needed to leave The X-Files

With Duchovny appearing only part-time in the eighth series, and a mere guest star in the ninth, the donkey work in the latter stages fell to her. She "got very impatient" to pursue other projects.

One of her best extracurricular choices came up during the last years of The X-Files. The British director Terence Davies knew that he wanted Anderson to play Lily Bart, an unmarried woman searching for a husband, in his film of Edith Wharton's novel The House of Mirth. Davies had never seen The X-Files. "I wanted the film to look like Singer Sargent portraits," he said. "And I saw her extraordinary face and that kind of luminosity that one associates with Greer Garson in the late 1940s."

Anderson was heartbreaking in the part: she seemed to pour into it all the frustration and hurt that she had been dragging around with her since childhood, and a little more just for good measure.

With The X-Files behind her, there has been a genuine sense of liberty to Anderson's work. Her post-X-Files performances have been carefully chosen and doggedly unstarry. She was an affecting Miss Havisham (and, at 43, the youngest screen incarnation) in a BBC Great Expectations. She was Clive Owen's MI5 boss in the 1970s-set thriller Shadow Dancer, giving a quick run around the block to the flawless Northern Irish accent she would later use in The Fall. She was Lady Deadlock in the BBC's Bleak House, adapted by Andrew Davies, and was well-reviewed on stage at the Donmar in A Doll's House. As if to prove she had not abandoned US television entirely in favour of the highfalutin' and literary, she took a recurring role as Hannibal Lecter's psychiatrist in the current TV series Hannibal

She has been a celebrity - in fact, she still is - but her evident distaste for that world has only had the effect of making her look more serious about acting. The X-Files is to Anderson as an unasked-for hit single is to a painfully cool rock band - think Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. That is, something that makes your name, but which you can then rail against strategically: something you dignify yourself by refusing to exploit.

Twelve years after the end of The X-Files, Anderson has not had a pop-culture hit to match it. Quite splendidly, she shows no sign of giving a hoot.

Born Gillian Leigh Anderson, 9 August 1968, to Rosemary Anderson (nee Lane), a computer analyst whose career included a stint at the Daily Mirror, and Homer Edward Anderson III, who moved the family to north London when his daughter was two years old so that he could study at the London Film School.

The family returned to the US when she was 11.

She to school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and studied acting at DePaul University'sGoodman Theatre School, Chicago.

Best of times She was cast at the age of 24 as Scully in The X-Files. The show ran for nine series, from 1993 to 2002.

For the first of two spin-off films, she negotiated the same fee (pounds 2.6m) as her co-star, David Duchovny, after being paid less than him during the series.

Worst of times Following the birth of her first child in 1994, she suffered panic attacks and postnatal depression before divorcing her husband, Clyde Klotz, an assistant art director she had met on The X-Files

She says "I always had a tendency to be involved in things that have been on the edge in some way."

They say "She reaches genuine tragedy without making it sentimental and that's not easy." Director Terence Davies


For more stories covering arts and entertainment, please see HispanicBusiness' Arts & Entertainment Channel



Source: Observer (UK)


Story Tools






HispanicBusiness.com Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters