X Files legend. Queen of the­atre. Nail-bit­ing TV de­tec­tive. But can Gil­lian An­der­son cut it as a best­selling nov­el­ist?

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - The Fall re­turns later in the au­tumn. The novel A Vi­sion Of Fire will be avail­able from Thurs­day

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

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