Although stage and film were her aspirations, Gillian Anderson of The X-Files landed the lead role in a dramatic series that has a very loyal following, and that, indeed, has made her a star. Why, as an actress, didn't she like TV?
"Because I had no respect for television, the quality of the shows and the work," she says. "I actually never watch television, and don't own one," she adds with a laugh -- something fans of her hit show on Fox rarely hear when they tune in at 9 p.m. Fridays.
So her frame of mind was set after earning her bachelor of fine arts degree at the Goodman Theater School at Chicago's DePaul University a few years ago. "I moved to New York with the intention of never doing television, and never moving to Los Angeles."
Success in the theater, including a Theatre World Award for Absent Friends, an Off-Broadway play, followed. Then, "I moved to Los Angeles with the intention of never doing television."
But the intelligent X-Files character of Dana Scully -- and particularly her occupation, a medical doctor/FBI agent -- appealed. Anderson, though, doubted her own appeal. "I was convinced they were looking for someone leggier," she once said, "and with a bigger chest."
They weren't. And for three seasons now, Anderson has been doing television in Vancouver, British Columbia. With no regrets.
"We're on a quality show," she says, referring to co-lead David Duchovny, who plays agent Fox Mulder. As for Scully's and Mulder's creator, X-Files executive producer Chris Carter: "I'm trustful of Chris' vision.... Everything seems to be heading in the direction it needs to be going."
Indeed, the direction is up, up, up. The X-Files received a Golden Globe for best TV drama last season, earned an Emmy nomination for the same category, has seen big gains in the desirable "adults 18-to-49" audience category, and is tentatively scheduled to film a feature version after the '96-'97 season.
The series has brought a lot of pressure, Anderson says. "In order to produce the quality of show that we're producing, everybody who's involved has to do an incredible amount of work." And unlike ensemble dramas like ER or NYPD Blue, more is demanded of the stars of a series that has only two leads. "We work anywhere from 12 to 15 hours a day, five days a week.... I wouldn't wish it on anybody. But it's also the most wonderful thing, to have the opportunity to not only work on a specific character in detail, but to really explore" yourself every day.
Anderson's pregnancy, much in the news in 1994, had a profound impact on her -- and the show. "There was a huge chunk that kind of shook things up when I was pregnant. And everything that happens to a woman's body when she becomes pregnant -- the hormonal changes, your mood changes, your personality changes. I mean, I was a very different person. And I think Scully became a different person in a way during that time, too."
For a while, Scully's involvement was lessened (through hospitalization of the character, for instance) while Mulder's increased.
Anderson says she was "not especially" happy about the change, "because I think I was just starting to find out who she was. I think in the beginning it's perfectly natural that I was still trying to figure out who she was." And then "there was this big change."
Anderson felt vulnerable, too, fearing her pregnancy would result in her being replaced. But producer Carter wisely worked around it. Can you imagine Mulder without Scully?
Anderson takes her work seriously, and has come to understand that series production doesn't always allow for perfection. "On a daily basis, running through my mind are always things that personally I could have done better. But with this kind of schedule you just have to know that you've got to do better next time -- let it go and move on. There's always little things that come up and make it more difficult."
Unlike most adults cast as leads in new series, Anderson, now 28, really was a newcomer when The X-Files came along. Her series experience had been limited to an episode of Fox's Class of '96.
Despite the demands of The X-Files, Anderson feels she and Duchovny may have an advantage over performers in shows with large regular casts. "We do get to work with an amazing amount of guest stars, amazing actors."
Some aspects of a large ensemble would be an advantage: "We'd see some people here and there. It would be refreshing to see somebody again. I do have the desire for friends and companions in life."
The actress met her companion for life, former X-Files production designer Clyde Klotz, in Vancouver. Piper, the couple's 16-month-old daughter, and her parents make their home there, and recently settled into a new house. Anderson also keeps an apartment in Los Angeles.
On New Year's Day, Anderson and Klotz celebrated their second wedding anniversary. They married in Hawaii during a holiday break.
For her and X-Files viewers, Vancouver has advantages over Hollywood. "I like filming on location.... I already knew Los Angeles when I got the job, and I liked the fact that I didn't have the same frame of reference all the time. I think it's a very beautiful city. There are disadvantages in terms of weather and the cold; at the same time it adds to the look of the show."
Being a mother makes her appreciate the Canadian city even more. "It's a wonderful place to start a family. The crime rate is incredibly low up there.
"The people are wonderful; the environment is wonderful."
As for her own upbringing and surroundings, she gives a quick recitation: "I was born in Chicago, and raised in London, England, and Grand Rapids, Mich. My mother [Rosemary] was a computer programmer; my father [Edward] was a film cameraman, and now has his own tape post-production company." Anderson has two younger siblings.
Anderson, appearing at peace with herself personally and professionally, seems to take pleasure in discussing daughter Piper's name. "My husband is German and we were looking through his German yearbook. We came across that name. It just seemed to fit her personality and my belly so well. We knew right then that that was it."
When did she know acting was her calling?
"I don't know. I'm not exactly sure when that decision was made. It was something that I guess I always felt like I knew; it was just there."
Anderson's characterization keeps Scully believable even though some of the storylines, captivating as they may be, can be hard to believe.
As busy as Anderson is with her series -- "I'm never not working," she says with a big laugh -- she's open to some freelance work during the summer hiatus of The X-Files. "As long as it's different from what I'm doing now."
Farther along, when not restricted by a short hiatus, she says, "I would love to work with Jodie Foster, Robert Altman, Gary Oldman. There's a whole slew of people I'd love to work with." She pauses. "That will have to wait."