Every actor has their ways of getting into character, including the Emmy-winning television icon.
On the other end of the phone, near the end of our conversation, Gillian Anderson laughed. “Did you think that your entire interview was going to have to do with hair?”
The answer was no, that had not been the plan. But the topic proved to be surprisingly insightful.
Anderson has been called the Queen of TV upon multiple occasions — such as when, in 2014, she starred on three different series (“Crisis,” “The Fall” and “Hannibal”) while also turning in acclaimed work on the stage as the doomed Blanche of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” IndieWire spoke to her just as she was preparing for “Streetcar’s” New York debut, but the focus was on the role for which she remains best known.
As Special Agent Dana Scully of “The X-Files,” Anderson became one of television’s most iconic characters, inspired an entire generation of young women to pursue careers in science and earned one Emmy win and three nominations. And this spring, she, David Duchovny and series creator Chris Carter once again returned to Fox for a six-episode Season 10.
Returning to the role over a decade after the series had ended, though, wasn’t the easiest thing — especially since, unlike returning to Blanche for “Streetcar,” she was playing the same character in different scenarios. “It’s quite different to go back with text that is kind of ingrained into your system and redo text, that it is going back to a character with a different text. We’re going back to repeat something in its entirety. It’s not just a character I’m repeating. It is moves, it is words, it is everything,” she said.
Returning to Scully was a whole different challenge, especially since instead of dying her hair back to that iconic red for Season 10, she chose to wear a wig — and yes, hair matters much more than you might think.
Below, Anderson explains the nuances of physicality that help her build characters, and also admits that while she originally thought the “X-Files” Season 10 finale would be a “final goodbye,” she’s glad it didn’t exactly end that way.
In going back to Scully, were there key things to rediscovering the character that were physical?
I mean, Scully walks like I walk. I think characters that I’ve played since her have had their own distinctive walks, but Scully very much has Gillian’s walk. There were vocal aspects to Scully, that I had forgotten were a part of who she was, that took some remembering and getting used to. And I guess also some mannerisms that I think I hadn’t actually realized were a part of her personality, until I really started to ask myself why I was struggling to find her again. And then remembered that I wasn’t allowing certain aspects of her to come through. Anyway, yes is the answer.
What about other elements like that? For example, I’m always curious about, say, how important the shoes you’re wearing are.
I’ve actually thought they were important —I always find that it’s important for me to, for instance, be in the character’s wardrobe when we’re rehearsing a scene. Not necessarily for Scully, but other characters when rehearsing a scene, as well as filming. Because once I feel that one’s wardrobe impacts on the character and etcetera, etcetera.
But I guess I didn’t realize how much other aspects… It was a year when I was playing three different blondes. Not even including Blanche, there was Stella [on “The Fall”], there was Meg on “Crisis” and there was… Oh, I can’t remember. [ At one point, it was important for me, playing three different blondes simultaneously, that one of the differences between the three was how they styled their hair. I mean, how else… I’m keeping the same blonde and it’s the same length because I can’t change it, because I’m on a plane from one of them to the next every other day. So it’s got to be in hair and makeup.
And there was a time when we actually needed to stop using hot irons on my hair in “The Fall,” because my hair was falling out. I was [laughs] doing so many different things, my hair was going through so much processing, that it was starting to fall out. And so they started to use rollers and that day, having rollered, my hair started sitting differently on my shoulders than it usually sat as Stella. And I couldn’t figure out why I was struggling to get into Stella that day. I felt like every way that I stood, everything that I did, the lines were coming out differently. I couldn’t figure it out. And then finally I figured out that it actually had to do with the fact that in my body, I don’t feel like her because my hair [laughs] is different.
On the one hand, it’s just kinda crazy, but on the other hand, I wonder if that’s just how it is for me. One of the ways that helps me to get into character is much more profound of a tool than I had even realized.
Was the wig on “The X-Files” a blessing?
The wig for Scully was a blessing in that my hair was going to be saved at that stage. But it was also weird because I was used to feeling Scully’s head… with the natural hair head [laughs]. So I think that that’s the difficulty that I was having with her, which also contributed to the fact that I felt fake in that I had this fake skullcap on and I was used to being Scully without that feeling on my head. And so, yeah. Did you think that your entire interview was going to have to do with hair?
I did not, but I’m enjoying the conversation!
[laughs] Okay, good!
Looking back on Season 10, how are you feeling about the series?
Good! I think that Chris [Carter], he created and designed what it was we delivered in the tenth season, and I feel like we gave the audiences what they were asking for, ultimately — that feeling that they used to get when they used to watch it on Friday or Sunday night. Whatever that feeling was that they got from our show that they haven’t been able to get from other shows, it sounds from feedback that I have read or have heard that fans were satisfied with the particular version of the episodes that they received in Season 10.
When you were reading the script for Episode 6 [“My Struggle II”] and you found out that it was a cliffhanger, what was your reaction?
It can be a cliffhanger that is forever, so it didn’t really at the time… it didn’t alert me to anything untoward, I think. [laughs] I mean, I went into the sixth [episode] as it being our final goodbye. And I think I feel a little bit differently about that now. It’s all going to come down to logistics and various other things, but whether we were continuing or ending, I feel like it needed to be some kind of a cliffhanger.
So, do you have any sense of what will happen next?
I think it’s more likely than not, but it’s not a given.