THE ANDERSON FILES
X Files legend. Queen of theatre. Nail-biting TV detective. But can Gillian Anderson cut it as a bestselling novelist?
There’s a scene in the first series of The Fall when DSI Stella Gibson, played by American actress Gillian Anderson, summons a young policeman to her hotel room for sex. She spots him at a crime scene, calls him over and tells him her room number in the same matter-of-fact way she would ask a junior officer about witnesses. Afterwards, she dismisses him with same lack of emotion.
It’s powerful, graphic and, I suggest, quite shocking. ‘Why should this be shocking in 2014?’ shoots back a clearly exasperated Anderson, when I meet her in a tiny dressing room backstage at the Young Vic Theatre in London, where she stars in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire.
‘People have one-night stands all the time. Stella is comfortable with her sexuality. She has needs and if those are met by the occasional night between two consenting adults, what’s the problem?’ It’s the sort of no-nonsense response you’d expect from the actress who blasted onto our screens 20 years ago as the feisty, red-headed FBI agent in The X Files and who is about to publish her first novel – a sci-fi thriller called A Vision Of Fire. Since returning to Britain from America in 2002, Anderson has established herself as one our most compelling actresses, playing a succession of ballsy women in a man’s world, from Agent Scully in The X Files to the tough wife of a missionary doctor in Uganda, in Kevin MacDonald’s film about Idi Amin, The Last King Of Scotland.
Her latest is the high-powered detective in The Fall, the Belfast-filmed drama that returns this month for a second series. A psychological thriller about a serial killer, the first series won plaudits for its tension-building plot. But there were also complaints about the violence against women.
I had gone to interview Anderson with some trepidation, having been warned that she can be frosty. Perhaps she is more comfortable with women, but for most of our interview I found her to be warm, funny and quite open. There are definite no-go areas when she clams up with a frosty determination, but there is part of her that clearly likes to shock.
Two years ago in an interview with gay magazine Out, Anderson spoke about having had a lesbian love affair, saying, ‘I was in a relationship with a girl for a long time when I was in high school... I’m old enough to talk about these things now.’
When asked today why she had chosen to reveal this, her answer is illuminating. ‘She had died of a brain tumour a year earlier and I had never really spoken about her. (Anderson’s younger brother also died of a brain tumour, three years ago, which ‘had a profound effect on all of us. It did make me change priorities and realise life is short.’) She was a beautiful person who was very meaningful in my life and I wanted to honour her instead of hiding my experience. There was a point years after we had split when she phoned to tell me to say she had been offered a large amount of money to sell a photograph of us together and had chosen not to do it... I felt it was very important to take the onus off that type of relationship, to say this happened and I feel no shame about it.’ Given that Anderson has had two husbands and another long-term relationship with the father of her sons, she is clearly more inclined towards men, and they like her too. In 1996 she was voted the world’s sexiest woman. At 46 and a mother of three children, she is incredibly attractive, with mesmerising eyes.
She tel ls me very firmly that she is currently single but has a
‘People have one-night stands all the time. Why should this be shocking?’
very good relationship with the father of her two sons.
For most of the Nineties, however, the man she was most associated with was the actor David Duchovny, Agent Mulder to her Agent Scully in The X Files. It was a relationship that crackled with sexual chemistry on screen, and their fans have always been convinced that there have been close encounters of the bedroom kind in real life. Anderson has been quoted as saying, ‘It’s a nice idea but it’s never going to happen.’ You’d think it would be the ambition of any young actress to be in such a popular TV show, but Anderson says she never intended to work in television and only auditioned for The X Files because she was out of money and desperate (she described the pay disparity on The X Files as ‘massive’, revealing that she received half the salary of her male co-star).
She is unhappy when she finds out I only saw the opening night of A Streetcar Named Desire. ‘It got much better, tighter’ she assures me, before joking that one of the hardest aspects of playing Blanche was having to negotiate the revolving stage while tottering about in impossibly high heels.
Killer stilettos are part of her look in The Fall. As DSI Stella Gibson, Anderson gives Helen Mirren’s DCI Jane Tennison from Prime Suspect a run for her money. She plays a supercop who clicks down the corridors of Belfast’s central police station in her heels, terrifying male colleagues with her confident sexuality and incisive brain. She’s been brought in from the Met to solve a series of murders that conform to a pattern: all the victims are attractive brunettes with good jobs.
Unlike most TV murder mysteries, we know whodunit. Played by Belfast’s Jamie Dornan, who is poised to become a huge star after being cast in the much-awaited film adaptation of EL James’ 50 Shades Of Grey, the killer is a good-looking, married bereavement counsellor with two children.
Anderson has been gushing in her praise of Dornan, saying that he is ‘very funny and good at telling stories. He’s a good mimic as well. He’s a lovely lad. On the first ser ies, people said, “Who is this guy? Is he an ex-model or something?” Now people don’t want to talk to me about The X Files. They only ask about Jamie Dornan.’
But when I ask about working with him, she replies cautiously, ‘We will be sharing some screen time later in the series but that’s all I’m prepared to say.’
It’s clear that Anderson likes to be in charge. ‘Ask anyone I work with and they’ll tell you I’m OCD about my schedule. I even colour- code it.’ Whenever she takes on a new role, Anderson lays down her conditions right from the start. ‘I say this is it: I am coming home for the weekends, half-terms, parents’ evenings... I must have time for my children.’
She prefers doing plays during the school holidays so she can spend time with her children during the day. But the Young Vic extended Streetcar’s run by two weeks and it ran into the beginning of term, meaning she could only see her two boys at the weekends. But, she says, ‘I have a great nanny and they have a great, very present father.’
Before Streetcar, Anderson spent five months commuting between Belfast and Toronto for serial killer drama, Hannibal. ‘I tend to go out to film in Belfast or the US for no more than four to five days and then come home. I learned that lesson working on The X Files when my daughter was little.’ She enjoyed getting to know Belfast and believes the setting brings something extra to The Fall. ‘We are so used to seeing London in police dramas – in Northern Ireland there is a definite and palpable edge in the air all the time. Also, we are not used to seeing Belfast outside the context of the Troubles.’
Amid her hectic schedule, Anderson has found time to write a novel on her transatlantic plane journeys. A Vision Of Fire – out this week – is a sci-fi thriller co-written with American author Jeff Rovin. Anderson says she is not a fan of science fiction but a friend thought she and sci-fi geek Rovin should try and write a book together. The book is a pageturner with a strong female protagonist. She’s a brilliant child psychologist who works in the world’s trouble spots. ‘That was my idea,’ says Anderson. ‘Jeff is probably the world’s greatest expert on science fiction but I came up with the main character because ultimately I want this to be made into a film, so I was writing a character for myself.’
There are parallels between Anderson and her protagonist. Both are competent and ambitious single mothers who manage to combine an exciting international career with being good parents.
Anderson says she wanted to create a character who ‘is my age but not stuck in any of the stereotypical aspects of how women are usually portrayed. Caitlin O’Hara is raising a deaf child on her own but she is also at the top of her field. She manages to balance these worlds while remaining level- headed and capable. She’s not an alcoholic and she’s quite happy being single.’ There’s no reason to think that Anderson won’t enjoy the kind of success with her book that she has done with everything else in her career. For the moment she’s happy with a foot on each side of the Atlantic, weighing up her options. ‘I have also been extraordinarily lucky at this time in my life to get plenty of offers of work. Right now in America there is an influx of TV series led by women of a certain age. On the one hand it’s great on the other hand it’s slightly tokenistic.’
She gets animated on the subject of female directors and can’t understand why they don’t get more work. ‘I recently shot a series in the US called Crisis. I was in hair and make-up and this woman in her 50s came in and introduced herself as the director and I nearly fell off my chair, it’s so rare.’
When I say it’s because women tend to be less confident and pushy she disagrees. ‘I honestly think there is an assumption that women are not as competent.’ So it’s sexism pure and simple? ‘Yes, I believe it is.’ Anderson has railed against the ‘intolerable’ sexism women still suffer from men in everyday life, saying it’s ‘built into our society… it’s easy to miss and it’s easy to get used to it… the expectation that if a woman is wearing a short skirt she is asking for it.’
Given that The Fall is about a serial killer, a voyeur who stalks his prey for days and steals their underwear, what does Anderson feel about the levels of violence against women on television?
‘I wouldn’t have done this series if I felt the violence was gratuitous,’ she says. ‘We get to know and like the victims, we see the grief and devastation it causes their families. I think it engages the viewer with the wider issue – there is a huge amount of violence against women in the world today and most of it is committed by men...’ Despite her tough, no- nonsense image, some things clearly do get to Gillian Anderson.
‘There is a huge amount of violence against women in the world today’
36 pages of Ireland’s best TV listings
Above: Anderson in
The Fall. Left, with David Duchovny in The X Files, and, right, in A Streetcar Named Desire