Lov­ing the alien

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by CEDRIC BUCHET. Styling by SO­PHIE WAR­BUR­TON

Best known for The X-files and The Fall,

Gil­lian Anderson has long had a love af­fair with the stage. She dis­cusses step­ping into Bette Davis’s

All About Eve shoes with Ga­van­ndra Hodge

From The X-files’ Dana Scully to DSI Stella Gib­son in The Fall, Gil­lian Anderson spe­cialises in tak­ing spiky fe­male char­ac­ters and turn­ing them into steely icons. As she pre­pares to star in a new stage adap­ta­tion of All About Eve, she tells Ga­van­ndra Hodge about mo­hawks, panic at­tacks and why she has pub­lished a man­i­festo for women

Gil­lian Anderson is hard to pin down. Is she Amer­i­can or English? (Her ac­cent slips be­tween the two, de­pend­ing on who she is talk­ing to.) Guarded or warm? (She can be ei­ther, based on her mood.) Tough or vul­ner­a­ble? (Or both?) ‘Be­cause my par­ents were Amer­i­can and we lived here in the UK, there was al­ways a sense of not quite fit­ting in. Be­cause of that I’ve al­ways felt a bit of an out­sider. I have per­pet­u­ated that be­cause that is what feels fa­mil­iar to me, it is what feels com­fort­able,’ she ex­plains.

When we meet Anderson is English and warm, talk­ing about the birth­day par­ties she has to or­gan­ise (she has three chil­dren, Piper, 24, Os­car, 12, and Felix, 10); and al­though she is very pe­tite, wear­ing white patent stiletto boots and slen­der black trousers, she ex­udes the com­mand­ing charisma that makes her per­fect for her im­mi­nent roles.

Ru­mour has it that she will be play­ing Mar­garet Thatcher in an up­com­ing se­ries of The Crown, the Net­flix se­ries cre­ated and co-writ­ten by her part­ner, Peter Mor­gan. No one is con­firm­ing this, but no one is deny­ing it ei­ther.

Mean­while, this month she stars in a new Net­flix se­ries, Sex Education, in which she plays a sex ther­a­pist who lives with her teenage son (Asa But­ter­field). And in Fe­bru­ary Anderson has an­other plum role: Margo Chan­ning in Bel­gian theatre direc­tor Ivo van Hove’s much-an­tic­i­pated adap­ta­tion of All About Eve, also star­ring Lily James as Eve, with mu­sic by PJ Har­vey. The play – a mod­ern rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of the 1950 film, which starred Bette Davis as Chan­ning, a blaz­ing Broad­way star who is grad­u­ally sup­planted by a younger ri­val – is about am­bi­tion and be­trayal, fem­i­nin­ity and anger, stardom and personal sac­ri­fice. Anderson’s is a bravura role, one that re­quires not just the cool in­ten­sity that we have come to ex­pect from her, but also hu­mour. Chan­ning is de­li­ciously droll, de­liv­er­ing end­lessly quotable lines with comic pre­ci­sion (‘I’ll ad­mit I may have seen bet­ter days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cock­tail, like a salted peanut’).

‘A cou­ple of years ago my boyfriend Pete said to me, “You know what would be a great role for you? Margo Chan­ning,”’ Anderson says. ‘So I re­watched the film and I thought, “Oh my God, how much fun would that be!”’ Anderson, not one to wait for op­por­tu­nity, dis­cov­ered that theatre pro­ducer So­nia Friedman had the rights to the script and was work­ing on it with van Hove – Cate Blanchett was set to be Chan­ning. ‘So I thought, “Ah OK, I’ll just slink into the back­ground.” Then my agents got a call to say that she [Blanchett] had backed out due to sched­ul­ing con­flicts, and there was in­ter­est, and was I in­ter­ested? So I was like, “Yes! When’s the meet­ing? Now?”’

Van Hove, on the phone from New York, is equally ex­cited to be work­ing with Anderson. ‘Margo needs some­one who un­der- stands what the theatre is all about, some­one who can carry a play, who can oc­cupy the whole stage, and Gil­lian can do that; she is a fab­u­lous theatre ac­tress. Al­though, of course, she be­came iconic for me in the 1990s when she was in The X-files.’

There is some­thing a lit­tle sur­pris­ing about Ivo van Hove, an avant-garde direc­tor cel­e­brated for his rein­ter­pre­ta­tions of plays and op­eras such as Hedda Gabler, Antigone and Lulu, pro­fess­ing fan­dom for a mid-’90s sci-fi se­ries; but that is to for­get the huge cul­tural im­pact of The X-files, its qual­ity and its in­ge­nu­ity.

The se­ries was about two FBI agents, played by Anderson and David Du­chovny, who at­tempt to un­ravel var­i­ous nat­u­ral and su­per­nat­u­ral mys­ter­ies. No one ex­pected it to be­come such a suc­cess, least of all Anderson, who was 24 when she was cast in the show. It was her first ma­jor role and it made her a star. She won mul­ti­ple awards for her por­trayal of the scep­ti­cal Dr Dana Scully, in­clud­ing an Emmy and a Golden Globe. But such stardom of­ten in­volves sac­ri­fice and Anderson was suf­fer­ing.

The pro­duc­tion sched­ule for The X-files was bru­tal, in­volv­ing 16-hour days for nine months of the year. Fur­ther­more, in 1994, aged 25, Anderson mar­ried Clyde Klotz, as­sis­tant art direc­tor on the se­ries, and nine months later she gave birth to their daugh­ter, Piper. After three years she and Klotz di­vorced. It was while she was preg­nant that Anderson started hav­ing se­vere panic at­tacks. ‘I was hav­ing them daily,’ she ex­plains, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing pal­pi­ta­tions, numb­ness, ‘hal­lu­ci­na­tions, all of it’. Things didn’t get bet­ter once Piper was born. ‘I was a young mother, and shortly after that we were separat­ing, and I was work­ing these crazy hours. I re­mem­ber pe­ri­ods of time when I was just cry­ing, my make-up was be­ing done over and over again and I was not able to stop cry­ing.’

Anderson sought so­lace in med­i­ta­tion. ‘I went to some­body and there was a med­i­ta­tion we did to­gether. We went to some quite dark places and I got to see that I could still sur­vive those dark places, I was stronger than they were, and after that the panic at­tacks stopped.’

‘I was hav­ing panic at­tacks daily’, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing pal­pi­ta­tions, numb­ness, ‘hal­lu­ci­na­tions, all of it’

Anderson had been hav­ing panic at­tacks, on and off, ‘since high school’. As a teenager she was a day­dreamer and a trou­ble­maker who felt dif­fer­ent from her peers in Michi­gan be­cause of her child­hood in Har­ringay, hav­ing left the ‘incy-bincy flat with a bath­room out­side’ that she and her par­ents lived in when she was 11 years old, when her fam­ily moved back to the US. ‘I started fall­ing in with groups and try­ing to fit in, un­til it got to the point when it was like, “I don’t f—ing want to fit in. I want to look com­pletely dif­fer­ent to all of you, and stop star­ing at me be­cause I have a mo­hawk.” I’d shave the sides of my head with a ra­zor blade and dye my hair dif­fer­ent colours.’

Anderson’s par­ents, Rose­mary and Ed, were liv­ing in Chicago and were both just 26 when she was born. Soon after­wards the fam­ily moved to Lon­don so Ed could at­tend film school, while Rose­mary worked as a com­puter pro­gram­mer. ‘My par­ents were work­ing very hard and would of­ten work late. I have lots of mem­o­ries of play­ing by my­self in the back

gar­den and search­ing for friends in the neigh­bour­hood be­cause I didn’t have sib­lings.’ After mov­ing back to Amer­ica, Rose­mary and Ed had two more chil­dren, a son and a daugh­ter. Anderson ad­mits that her ado­les­cent way­ward­ness might have been re­lated to the ar­rival of two new ba­bies in the house. ‘I made trou­ble and I got at­ten­tion that way.’

Act­ing is an­other way to get at­ten­tion, some­thing Anderson learnt early on. ‘I re­mem­ber be­ing in a play when I was in pri­mary school. I was meant to be a Chelsea fan. I started chew­ing gum on stage and blow­ing bub­bles and got all the at­ten­tion. I thought, “This is all right, ev­ery­body is watch­ing me!”’ But when she reached 16 and started do­ing more pro­fes­sional pro­duc­tions in Amer­ica, per­form­ing be­came fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant to her. ‘I en­joyed the con­nec­tion be­tween per­former and au­di­ence, the con­trol. And I re­mem­ber think­ing, “I can do this. They are show­ing me I can do this.” It changed ev­ery­thing in my life, know­ing I could do some­thing. Prior to that there hadn’t been that mo­ment yet when I found pur­pose and di­rec­tion.’

Anderson de­cided that she wanted to pur­sue act­ing as a ca­reer and was ac­cepted at The Theatre School at Depaul Uni­ver­sity in Chicago. ‘From the very start of school I didn’t go into the dorms, in­stead I found an apart­ment with a room­mate in a funky neigh­bour­hood. I was the only one who was liv­ing out of school. That is my pat­tern, carv­ing my own thing. All through [theatre] school I dressed like I was a mem­ber of The Cure. That was how I was in the world, grungy, not con­sid­ered, not ma­ture. I was forth­right and gutsy – I drove my­self to Chicago in my dad’s VW van – but slightly fall­ing apart.’

She al­ways knew she would re­turn to Eng­land. ‘My child­hood here, the smell of north Lon­don, it has such a mas­sive tug on me. I re­ally felt, when we moved to the States, that I would even­tu­ally have a life back here.’ She and Piper moved to the city after The X-files ended its orig­i­nal run, and she went on to have two more chil­dren, Os­car and Felix, with her now ex-boyfriend, busi­ness­man Mark Grif­fiths (there was also a mar­riage to Bri­tish doc­u­men­tary maker Ju­lian Ozanne, which lasted for two years, with the cou­ple separat­ing in 2006).

In the UK Anderson’s ca­reer de­vel­oped in a way that might

not have been ex­pected for the golden girl of ’90s sci-fi. She took juicy roles in big-budget pe­riod dra­mas – Lady Ded­lock in Bleak House, Miss Hav­isham in Great Ex­pec­ta­tions –and ap­peared on stage, at the Royal Court and the Don­mar Ware­house. But it was her per­for­mance in the BBC de­tec­tive drama The Fall, start­ing in 2013, that so­lid­i­fied her rep­u­ta­tion as the go-to ac­tor for fe­male char­ac­ters who are charis­matic and pow­er­ful. Anderson, as DSI Stella Gib­son, was im­pe­ri­ous in her white silk shirts and high heels, un­wa­ver­ing in her pur­suit of the se­rial killer played by Jamie Dor­nan. The screen­writer Al­lan Cu­bitt cre­ated the role of Gib­son with Anderson in mind. ‘I wanted Gib­son to be an enig­matic fig­ure. Gil­lian is a rivet­ing ac­tress, but there is an aloof­ness to her as well. Also I was at­tempt­ing to re­claim the idea of the pow­er­ful femme fa­tale, with­out the fa­tale; some­one who is aware that her beauty can be used to help her ends. That she is un­afraid of that was rad­i­cal.’

Anderson was deeply in­volved in the cre­ation of Gib­son’s look, al­ter­ing the way she thought about her­self in the process. ‘What fas­ci­nated me about her, and I feel that we were able to find that in the cos­tume de­sign, was that the way she dressed never felt like it was for any­one else but her. I don’t think I have nec­es­sar­ily changed the way I dress since her, but I feel like I am cer­tainly more con­scious of what I wear and what it says.’ As a younger woman her style was ‘messy, like a dis­carded urchin’. She would wear over­sized suits and ‘floppy dresses that I had prob­a­bly stolen from the thrift store’. Whereas now her look is sleek, and she favours brands like Jil San­der, Prada and Dries Van Noten.

The Fall was about gen­der, power and desire; and it was while film­ing it in Belfast that Anderson be­gan think­ing more about the strug­gles that women face in the 21st cen­tury. ‘I was read­ing all these statis­tics about young girls be­ing sui­ci­dal and hav­ing such low self­es­teem and I thought, “Surely, given ev­ery­thing that we know, and the fact we are all hav­ing these feel­ings, can we not start a con­ver­sa­tion about whether we want this and how to deal with it?”’ This mor­phed into her writ­ing a book, We: A Man­i­festo for Women Ev­ery­where, with her friend, the writer and ac­tivist Jen­nifer Nadel, in 2017. Al­ter­nat­ing be­tween pieces by Anderson and Nadel, it de­tails their own personal strug­gles, and in­cludes prac­ti­cal sec­tions on how to deal with is­sues such as anx­i­ety and low self-es­teem us­ing prac­tices such as med­i­ta­tion, af­fir­ma­tions and gratitude lists. ‘We both know how it feels to be in emo­tional pain,’ says Nadel. ‘Both of us have felt lost, and found a spir­i­tual way out. Both of us have ex­pe­ri­enced rad­i­cal transformation as a re­sult of the things that we wrote about in that book.’

Cu­bitt and Nadel each say that among the most im­pres­sive things about Anderson, as a col­lab­o­ra­tor, are her fo­cus and drive. ‘I have never met any­one with Gil­lian’s abil­ity to fo­cus. And she has a cer­tainty about things, she is not mired in in­de­ci­sion,’ says Nadel.

What this means is not just an in­cred­i­bly long CV, but nu­mer­ous satel­lite projects. Anderson has a line of smart, grown-up clothes that she has de­vel­oped with the brand Winser Lon­don (‘I didn’t re­alise I was so opin­ion­ated about but­tons!’). She also works for nu­mer­ous char­i­ties, fo­cus­ing es­pe­cially on women’s rights and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

‘Be­cause of my work ethic and also hav­ing had such high ex­pec­ta­tions, both of my­self and other peo­ple’s of me, at such

‘I am con­stantly re­minded of the fact that I am not nor­mal’

a young age, I think it be­came near to im­pos­si­ble for me to re­lax at all, to do any­thing that wasn’t work-re­lated, so a lot of my later adult life has been try­ing to force my­self to do that, and I strug­gle so hard, and some­times I lose sight of it. So there is a part of me that won­ders if I am slightly ad­dicted [to work], I learnt it so young.’

The scant spare time that Anderson al­lows her­self is spent ‘go­ing to the cinema, to the theatre, watch­ing doc­u­men­taries’.

Piper, who has just com­pleted a de­gree in pro­duc­tion and cos­tume de­sign, is now liv­ing in her mother’s base­ment, and the two of them re­cently went on a trip to Am­s­ter­dam to see van Hove’s four-hour stage adap­ta­tion of the Hanya Yanag­i­hara novel A Lit­tle Life. That might not sound like ev­ery­one’s cup of tea, but Anderson loved it. And de­spite all the se­ri­ous­ness and the self-ex­am­i­na­tion (or per­haps be­cause of it), she is good com­pany, thought­ful and witty. She has, she says, got hap­pier as she has got older, less self-crit­i­cal, more self-ac­cept­ing.

‘I am con­stantly re­minded of the fact that I am not nor­mal. But for­tu­nately I have enough ab­nor­mal peo­ple around me to help me feel that it is ac­tu­ally OK.’

All About Eve is run­ning at the Noël Coward Theatre from 2 Fe­bru­ary to 11 May; al­labouteve­play.com

Right Anderson with part­ner Peter Mor­gan, cre­ator of The Crown, last year. Be­low She will star along­side Lily James in All About Eve

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