Gillian Anderson has never been busier – so why go back to the role that made her famous?
I’m 20 minutes early for my interview with Gillian Anderson, which is not as good an idea as it seems. She arrives in the bar of the North London hotel just minutes after I do and raises a perfect eyebrow to find me clutching a heap of scribbled notes that say things like Money! and Killers? and Duchovny.
But then Anderson’s presence, I suspect, could make almost anyone feel untidy. Blonde, compact and minimally dressed in black and cream, she has all the cool self-possession and gravitas of Stella Gibson, the police inspector she plays in The Fall – who, as it turns out, is exactly the person she’s spent the past week in Belfast playing.
The BBC drama, which pits her remorseless copper against an equally remorseless serial killer played by Jamie Dornan, will return later this year. This week, though, it’s been a bit of a drag for its star. “Gibson has a lot to say this year,” says Anderson wearily as she folds herself into a seat by the window.
“Hundreds and hundreds of lines of dialogue. By Friday I was not speaking sense. Real words were not coming out of my mouth. And I have another week like that.” She must have got used to it by now, I say.
“Well, I don’t necessarily feel like my brain’s very good at it,” she replies. “I wish it were better. If I had three wishes, that’d be one of them. I’ll have lines [memorised] in the morning and later they won’t be there.”
A vaguely wistful look crosses her face as her strong coffee arrives. “It would be nice to be able to concentrate on other things and not worry about words.”
It’s not about to get any easier. Anderson has been prolific in the past year or two, with television roles in the serial-killer drama Hannibal and the BBC’s adaptation of War and Peace. On stage, her performance as Blanche DuBois in the Young Vic’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire won her an Evening Standard award and an Olivier nomination in 2014, and she’ll reprise the role when the production transfers to New York this April.
It’ll mark a return to the country of her birth. Anderson speaks with a flawless English accent, the legacy of a life spent moving between Britain and America. She uses one or two tell-tale mid-Atlanticisms – I puzzle, later, over the way she says “parity” to sound like “parody” – but this is evidently no performance.
“It is near to impossible for me to stay American in England, and it would be impossible to stay British in America,” she acknowledges, smiling. “If I’m sat at a dinner table talking to a Brit and there’s an American next to me, in my ear, it’s very hard. When I try and control it, I sound… like a Eurotwat, you know what I mean?” She cackles delightedly (there are whole videos on YouTube devoted to this anarchic laugh). “Like I’m putting it on!”
We’re really here to talk about Anderson’s decision to revive what obstinately remains her most famous role: that of FBI Special Agent Dana Scully in the paranormal drama The X-Files, which returned to screens on Monday in a six-episode run commissioned by the Fox network and showing on Channel 5.
Anderson was cast as Scully in 1993, when she was 24 (she’s now 47). Her role was that of the sceptical medic, providing a cool scientific counterpoint to the enthusiastic conspiracy-hunting of David Duchovny’s Agent Fox Mulder. In 2002 the series came to an end; since then, although she signed again with Duchovny for a coolly received feature film in 2008, it seems that Anderson has been doing her best to get away from Scully and her halo of geeky celebrity.
What was it that brought her back? “I guess it was having enough distance,” she says, “and feeling I had spread my wings sufficiently in the interim. David [Duchovny] and I have talked a lot about the fact that it wouldn’t and couldn’t happen unless there was a shorter run of episodes, which until about two or three years ago wasn’t even in the hemisphere of the studio’s thinking.
And for us, doing it on TV meant giving our lives up, and that wasn’t going to happen again.” She says the initial agreement was to “do six [episodes] and that’d be the end of it”, but now she is not ruling out the possibility of more. “We might all bite, for the right compensation,” she says, “And move our worlds around to make it happen”.
The decision to move her world around is not one that Anderson – who refers several times in our interview to her struggles with time and scheduling – takes lightly. The X-Files made her a star: “I think I was about to be fired by my agency just before it came,” she says. But it also swallowed nearly a decade of her life.
“What people don’t realise is that in order to audition for a pilot, you have to sign a contract prior to your final audition,” she says. “So young actors, who are looking at being paid more than maybe their parents have made in their whole lives, go – ‘Yeah! Five years? Sure! Why not?’”
She gives a thin smile and waves a hand that seems to summon up nine years of bug-eyed monsters and global conspiracies. “Cut to…” Returning to the series, then, wasn’t a straightforward decision for her. “But mostly,” she says, “once I sat back and contemplated the reality of it, when it looked like a real probability, I thought – actually, it could be fun; a present to the fans.”
To get back into character, did Anderson revisit her performances in the earlier series? “I don’t watch them!” she says. On rare occasions where she has seen her younger self on screen, she finds herself thinking: “Ooh, that sucked!”
However, she acknowledges that Scully is the kind of person she likes to play. “Somebody at one point said something about the fact that I’ve ended up with, or have chosen, these roles where it’s me. . . not necessarily against, but rivalling these [male] characters: the triptych of Mulder, Hannibal and Spector [the killer from The Fall].
“That I find myself in those situations, those roles. I mean, Mulder’s not really a predator, we’re not in that dance, but there’s tension. Various forms of both intellectual and sexual tension.”
Great swathes of the gossiping internet have long hoped that a real life relationship might follow on the heels of the tense sexual dynamic between Mulder and Scully: the same swathes of the internet went positively wild with excitement when photos surfaced this year showing the couple sharing a kiss on stage, or relaxing on a bed with X-Files merchandise.
People who want to read more into that closeness, however, should “know there’s nothing to it,” says Anderson. “It’s a game”. She shifts in her seat, and fixes me with a cool gaze. Does she really think people believe that? Plenty, as a quick Google search reveals, seem absolutely convinced that there’s more to it.
“Does he live in London?” she snaps back. “Does David live in London?” Not to my knowledge, I say; but were they ever romantically involved? “Nope,” she replies crisply. “Is that going to be the headline of this interview?” Clearly not.
Perhaps an alternative headline could reflect another line of gossip popular among X-Files watchers, one entirely contrary to the imagined love story: namely, that the two stars couldn’t stand each other.
Anderson has little time for this narrative. A few days ago Fox sent her a compilation of outtakes and bloopers from The X-Files, she says, “and there’s such a lovely, supportive, really genuinely caring feeling” about the relationship between her and Duchovny.
“From a bird’s eye view, now, it looks quite sweet. I was moved by it. We’ve always had an element of that. That was there, I think, from the very beginning.” There’s no doubt, however, that the pair’s closeness also brought with it a degree of friction. “I think the grind of working every single f—— day, 17 hours a day, with each other, in those circumstances, just took its toll.
“I think when we did the last film, we got closer, as time had passed and we’d, I don’t know, matured, grown up, gotten a different perspective on life and work.” When Duchovny received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last month, Anderson sent a mocking message that appeared to mistake the ceremony for a funeral, commenting that he would “always be my shining star” and wishing that his soul might be forgiven.
She grins when I ask if there was an edge to her message. “No!” she exclaims. “They asked me to write something, that was exactly what came to mind, and I pressed ‘send’. I mean, it’s such a weird thing, anyway, that whole idea of a star on Hollywood Boulevard.” She laughs again. “It is akin to a gravestone!”
We move on to less controversial topics – but only just. As Anderson recently revealed, during negotiations for the reboot she was offered a salary half that of Duchovny’s. “I don’t think infuriated is the right word,” she says evenly, “but I think, probably, all of us who heard what figure they came in at were gobsmacked.
I think my agent may have just put down the phone. We knew what he was being offered, and we knew what I was being offered.” It must have been tempting to walk away altogether. “Well, yeah. And I would have. So then it just became: don’t talk to us until it’s parity. We worked really hard at parity many years ago” – it took three years of the original series before her agents were able to negotiate an equal salary for her – “so it’s not even a conversation until we can get it there.
I think this happens everywhere, in every workplace around the world.” Would she contemplate lending her voice to a campaign for equal pay? “Yeah!” she says. “I mean, I haven’t got politically involved yet, but if somebody were to approach me about giving voice to, or being part of that systemic change, I’d be interested.”
But this, like everything else, would have to be fitted into one of the busiest schedules in the business. Anderson has book deadlines looming: she’s working on a sort of feminist manifesto called We with the writer Jennifer Nadel, and she’s also doing a third volume of the Earthend sci-fi novels she co-created with the prolific thriller writer Jeff Rovin.
Then there’s childcare to manage. Anderson shares the parenting of her two younger children – Oscar, 9, and Felix, 7 – with their father, her former partner Mark Griffiths, and she also has a grown-up daughter, Piper, from a previous marriage.
“My schedule right now is not the way I would want it,” she says. “I’m gone all week and I’m home on weekends, and there’s not enough time. It was meant to be different. Normally I will only take work if I can say, ‘This is how I need the schedule to be, or I can’t do it.’”
She’s looking forward to half-term with the children, though, even if it will be overshadowed by the run of Streetcar that starts in New York shortly after.
“That is also going to be cramming lines,” she says, “because I’m not going to have a second to work on those before I get there. It’ll literally be that, the minute the boys are in bed.” Little surprise, then, that she thinks there is no room in her life for a partner. “Oh God, where would they fit, really?” she asks, smiling. “It’s a nice idea, but I really don’t know, I honest-to-God don’t know, where they would fit into this madness.”