The Gillian files

The Gillian Files

Emmy winner Gillian Anderson reflects on the success of The X-Files, her own stardom
and the series' move to Los Angeles.

By Alex Strachan,
Sun Television Critic
Vancouver Sun
Saturday, Apr. 18, 1998

Gillian Anderson

Gillian Anderson is momentarily lost in thought. It is late on a cold, clear Thursday night in mid-April, and she is considering The X-Files' impending move to Los Angeles.

When she finally speaks, the words come slowly but clearly, as though she is firm in her mind about what she wants to say but not entirely sure how to say it.

"There have been moments over the past week when I've let it kind of spill in and immediately my defence mechanisms flare up," she says softly. "I need to work, basically. If I were to let it sink in, I think I would be incapacitated.

"There are moments when the whole idea of no longer being around the people I've worked with hits me, and it's just devastating. I'm going to miss these people very, very much."

From a distance, the low-slung, sprawling soundstages of North Vancouver's Lions Gate Studios resemble compact aircraft hangars. On closer inspection, the studio reveals its true face: a community within a community, where the children of sound technicians, dolly grips and cameramen play together on a grassy field, surrounded by picnic tables and light stands.

David Duchovny is playing a game of pickup basketball in the parking lot with several X-Files crew members. His dog, a border collie-terrier cross, barks noisily in the background and chases a loose ball.

Shortly before 7 p.m., the impromptu game is called and the players return to film the final scenes of the day.

Hours later, Anderson emerges from one of the soundstages, a ski jacket wrapped around her slender frame to shield her from the stiff evening breeze. Her scenes are done for the day. Duchovny's will drag on for several more hours.

A few moments later, alone in her trailer, Anderson is pensive, reflective.

Her five years in Vancouver have shaped her life dramatically, and she admits she is finding it difficult to let go.

"The pendulum kept on swinging back and forth," she says. "There was a while ago when I thought there was a final decision. It came early enough that I didn't get too attached to it. But when it swung back the other way and there was some discussion that the show wouldn't be moving after all, I was surprised and a little taken aback.

"I've had mixed feelings about it all along. I think ultimately what I may have preferred, which would have been easier in all respects, would have been to continue up here but do fewer episodes. But that really wasn't feasible for [the network]."

In little more than three years, Anderson got married, had a baby, got divorced and became wildly successful in The X-Files, evolving into, as US magazine dubbed her in a 1997 cover story, "TV's hottest star."

Anderson is philosophical about the attention. She is first and foremost mother to her three-year-old daughter, Piper Maru, and second a working actor whose first love is and will always be the stage.

She has two years left in her contract with The X-Files, and has said she won't do another TV series after that. But that doesn't make leaving Vancouver any easier.

"I will never forget the personalities of the crew, and the things we have endured together over the past five years," she says quietly. "It took so many, so many hours to get where we are today, and in the most bizarre of circumstances.

"So often, the best times are the ones that, at the time, were incredibly uncomfortable -- situations that in retrospect we have to laugh at because they were just so ridiculous."

Anderson pauses.

"I came in when I was 24, and I'm going to be 30 this year. Those are formidable years in a person's life. A lot has transpired over a seemingly short period of time. And I think that as a result of having to basically deal with everything in the moment -- because of the constraints of work -- I have been forced into this Petri dish of learning where I have had to move forward constantly. Because there's no room to move backwards. No room whatsoever."

These are some of the adjectives used to describe Anderson in the dozens of cover stories written about her in the past two years, in Rolling Stone (twice), US magazine (twice), Entertainment Weekly (three times), People magazine, Movieline and countless others: Petite, shy, girlish, pretty, nervous, sweet, intense, guarded, tired, playful, wary.

The articles almost always mention her eyes -- they have been described variously as pale blue, azure and piercing -- but rarely mention her voice, which has the musicality and resonance of a trained singer.

In person, she comes across as more natural than anything else. She has an unaffected way about her, an easy charm that belies her image as one of pop-culture's icons of the moment.

Her character on The X-Files, FBI Special Agent Dana Scully, has been described in those same stories as detached, restrained and unemotional -- in short, everything Anderson isn't.

The show's fans, who have made The X-Files the most-watched program in the 11-year history of the Fox Broadcasting Company, might prefer to think of Anderson as Scully in casual clothing. The truth is more plain -- and more interesting.

Anderson is the actor's actor, a chameleon, an intensely private person who shields her true nature from all but a handful of close friends and confidants.

Scully tangles with extraterrestrials, mutants, serial killers, Satanists and government conspirators. Anderson's entanglements are more earthbound: the near-constant glare of the media, the demands of being a young mother, long hours in unfamiliar locations and a personal life that has been placed under the microscope by the tabloid press.

"She's not very spontaneous; I am," Anderson told Rolling Stone in 1997, comparing Scully with herself. "She can live without personal relationships, I cannot. She is obscenely intelligent, and I am not. She is at least five foot six, and I am not."

Anderson has reached an arrangement with her ex-husband, Clyde Klotz, a production designer with Mainframe Entertainment, to share the raising their daughter. "It is complicated, but we've found a way to make it work," she says gently, and guides the conversation in a different direction.

Anderson is naturally reluctant to talk about her personal life. She is still smarting from being hounded by British tabloid reporters little more than a year ago after being linked -- inaccurately as it turned out -- with Adrian Hughes, a Vancouver man charged (by other women) with several counts of sexual assault.

It is "incredibly stressful" to be placed under that kind of spotlight, Anderson says.

"We've seen how an absolutely devastating event [the death of Diana, Princess of Wales] can happen and yet, in the long run, not influence things too terribly much. Basically, the question is, what will it take to make a difference? The problem is, it's all about money."

Anderson will not do another TV series. Her reasons have more to do with the time involved and the demands on one's private life than with any misgivings she has about the medium.

She reads film scripts voraciously, and this year will appear in four feature films, including Hear My Song director Peter Chelsom's The Mighty and the X-Files film, The X-Files: Fight the Future.

As far as future roles go, she would rather take intriguing bit parts in interesting films than be the central character in empty-headed blockbusters.

"I like intelligent scripts that show me something different, teach me something new, that move me in some way, that have something important to say, whether it's on an emotional, psychological, creative or social level.

"Every so often, I read a script that is just a good script, and everything else just sort of bleeds away. There's nothing like a powerful script. There's nothing like a powerful movie."

Anderson takes the magazine covers in stride.

"It's never been weird, I think, because I really don't take it that seriously. It's just something that you do. It's part of the process of growing into the world of business.

"Often it has absolutely nothing to do with who you are. But it kind of puts you in people's faces, so that people might actually go to see something you're in because of something you might have said that inspired them in some way. It gets you out there in different ways. But that's all it is, really."

Then there are the accolades: two consecutive Screen Actors Guild Awards, a Golden Globe Award, an Emmy Award. They're good to have, Anderson says, and she is deeply grateful. But they're not everything.

"I was relieved not to have won [this year's] Screen Actors Guild Award because if I had, I think it would have been too much. Three in a row wouldn't have felt right. I was very excited for [ER winner] Julianna Margulies, and I understand she's done some great work this year.

"It's always a wonderful surprise to win. But awards are not what it's about."

Many of the directors who have worked closest with Anderson over the years remark about her growth as a performer.

X-Files executive producer Robert Goodwin, who will direct Anderson next week in the last episode to be filmed in Vancouver, describes her early work as that of an amateur who constantly struggled with her lines.

"From the beginning to now, you can see just a huge difference," Goodwin says, "not only in the fact that she's learned her craft and grown as an actor, but also the way her appearance has changed since we began this. She's an extremely hard-working young woman."

David Nutter, who directed some of Anderson's strongest performances in the early years of The X-Files, recalls the younger Anderson as a struggling actor who was intimidated by her first job in television and needed to be drawn out of her shell.

"She really worked hard to find a truth in her character," Nutter says, "and it is very rare that an actress on television finds that truth. I always wanted her to go for it, to do it better and better, and not settle for less. Good enough isn't always good enough. You've got to go for it, and once she had her confidence, it was as though there was nothing she could not do.

"To this day, she is one of the most remarkable performers I have had the privilege of working with, and I would work with her again in a second."

Anderson understands that a move to Los Angeles is just one more part of that learning curve. But she is torn by the prospect of leaving a city she has grown to admire -- even though she still finds it hard to find her way in some neighbourhoods.

"I don't know Richmond-Delta at all well. I think I know how to get to Richmond because I know how to get to Ikea. I don't know New West. I still have trouble, when I'm on Robson, knowing whether I'm facing north or facing west or facing wherever."

She will keep her house in West Vancouver and is trying to convince her Los Angeles friends and family to move to Vancouver so she will have more of a connection to return to.

"I'm constantly overwhelmed in the morning, on my way to work, as I go over the Lions Gate Bridge. My breath is just drawn from me on so many occasions, in so many different ways. It's a beautiful, beautiful city.

"I'm just so grateful to have had this experience. I will always have a very, very close connection and very fond memories of this place."

Anderson will appear with fellow X-Files cast members at Monday's benefit for the Canadian Cancer Society, 8 p.m. at the Orpheum Theatre. Tickets are $25, plus service charges and GST, through TicketMaster, 280-4444.


Awards: Won 1997 Emmy Award for outstanding actress in a dramatic series for her role as FBI Special Agent Dana Scully in The X-Files. Anderson also won back-to-back Screen Actors Guild Awards in 1996 and 1997, and a Golden Globe Award in 1997.

Background: Anderson, 29, is the oldest of three children and was born in Chicago, Ill. Her father is a film post-production supervisor, her mother a computer analyst. The family lived in London, England for nine years before settling in Grand Rapids, Mich., when Anderson was 11.

After high school, Anderson returned to Chicago to study acting at DePaul University's Goodman Theater School. She was spotted by several New York-based theatrical agents and moved to New York to pursue a career on the stage.

At 22, she won a Theatre World Award for her performance in an off-Broadway production of Absent Friends. She moved to Los Angeles, but roles were scarce and she had to work as a waitress to support herself.

In 1993, she auditioned for an obscure TV pilot called The X-Files. Twentieth Century Fox Television executives wanted a sexier, more buxom actress, but X-Files creator Chris Carter insisted that the more thoughtful, believable Anderson be cast in the role of an FBI agent.

Anderson learned she won the part the day before her final unemployment cheque arrived. Two days later, she boarded a plane for Vancouver.

What's next: The X-Files resumes production in Los Angeles in late July after five years in Vancouver.

Anderson is moving to Los Angeles but will maintain a home in the Lower Mainland, where her three-year-old daughter Piper was born. She will appear with X-Files co-star David Duchovny in the X-Files movie, The X-Files: Fight the Future, which opens in theatres June 19. Anderson also has a role in The Mighty, which will open in October.

This article appears courtesy of The Vancouver Sun