February 6, 2003
The X Factor
Richard Kimber is entertained, enthralled and enchanted by Gillian Anderson
With her current West End play coming to a close and nothing in the immediate future requiring promotion, there was essentially little reason for Gillian Anderson to accept the invitation of The Cambridge Union to be a guest speaker, and even less justification for her to welcome the attention of a student newspaper.
Her explanation revolves simply around the fact that having only previously visited Cambridge previously in a whistle stop few hours, "there was so much I didnít know, and so many places that I couldnít get into, I saw it as a great opportunity."
Anderson speaks fluidly and dreamily, in an accent somewhere between refined English and soft American, "It is very difficult for me to be around Brits and not fall into the cadence of the British dialogue. When Iím in America, or even if I get a phone call from America, I immediately fall into that cadence. Iím not particularly proud of it, but thereís not much I can do about it. Sometimes if Iím talking to a Brit and I get into an American accent, itís because I am conscious of the fact that Iím sounding like a Brit and I end up trying to be American. I donít know where I belong."
She is happy to let her answers take as long as they need, while apologising for what she describes as "a tendency to run off at the mouth a little bit," and imploring, "interrupt me at any time and tell me to stop if I have completely gone off the subject." She could well be addressing herself here, as it is when she allows her mind to wander that she expresses herself most freely, and while she is refreshingly honest in her views, she is ever wary of the all seeing power of the modern media, and its hungry lust to decontextualise impulsive comments, and contort the meaning of everything else.
"At the end of the day, you can have no f**king control. You can sit in front of somebody and think that you are having an intelligent conversation, and yet they will print what they want. That is where the invasion gets me the most. It makes my blood boil, especially when my daughterís concerned, it brings up so much."
"Fame does not interest me. I disdain it so much on the one hand, yet it is involved so intrinsically with what I do. It can become addictive, a drug of sorts. I think Iíve had enough experiences where that particular drug has left me so empty that, by the grace of God, Iíve been able to say that "I want nothing to do with that. I want to do something else"."
This experience-fuelled caution makes her deeply resentful of the seemingly inescapable level of publicity that accompanies celebrity status. "Thereís a certain amount of publicity that has to take place if you want what youíre doing to be promoted and seen, and that aspect of it I absolutely despise. There is a certain point where you have to self-promote yourself, and no matter what comes out has nothing to do with who you are as a human being. It is a terrible catch-22 situation, but unfortunately there is no way around it, and you have to realise that "this is what I have to do"."
Having spent nine years as a lead character in one of the most phenomenally successful television series in recent memory, not forgetting her 1996 accolade of The Worldís Sexiest Women in a British menís magazine, the mediaís hunger for her publicity is hardly surprising.
Her name has become almost synonymous with that of Dana Scully, her character in The X Files, and for this reason alone Anderson is understandable anxious for the programme not to dominate conversation. Looking back, she feels that The X Files "went on a couple of series too far," and recalls that the biggest challenge for her as an actress, was "showing up every day and continuing to find new things in the character and making it fresh."
She does, however, feel "blessed" that she was lucky enough to "play a character that I enjoyed living with for so long." And she is the first to acknowledge the benefits that the success of the programme has afforded. She celebrates the fact that she now has the freedom to explore areas of personal interest, and is grateful that "because of the fact that I have played this very intelligent, very strong character, I have a certain amount of authority as an actress. If I was to turn up to meetings or castings after playing Buffy The Vampire Slayer, it would be a very different situation."
It is only when Anderson recounts her life before The X Files that her innately humble nature is somewhat explained. Indeed, before her involvement with the series, Andersonís acting career was very much in its infancy, and thoughts of a career in marine biology were still a distant possibility. "I was out of work for a year and a half before I got The X Files. Itís shameful how quickly that all happened and how lucky I was."
What is even more surprising is that Anderson ended up acting at all. Born in Chicago, her family relocated to Puerto Rico before settling in London. Then, aged eleven, they moved to Michigan to a "heinous town" in which "I just did not know what to do with myself."
"I went through a particular time in my life where I didnít know what was up and what was down. My mind was all over the place, I didnít want to be told I had to study, I didnít want to be in school, I just didnít want to be doing anything. It was very difficult for me to focus. Then, at one point, for whatever reason, I found myself auditioning for a community play, and I got the part. All of a sudden it was like a light switch was turned on inside me, and I felt like I could express myself. All of a sudden I became happier. I donít know what drew me to the first audition," she muses, but "I donít think there has been any point where I have felt that this is not what I am meant to be doing."
Since the conclusion of The X Files, Anderson has relished the opportunity to explore her "desire to be creative." This journey has currently led her to the West End stage, serving as both a geographical and professional homecoming, as it is theatre through which she initially earned a living as an actress. "It was always quite a battle for me to justify why I ended up on television, which I never really watched to begin with."
She is adamant that the recent influx of Hollywood stars into London theatre "had no influence whatsoever," explaining that "there is a certain respect that surrounds theatre in England in a very different way than it does in New York, and Iíve always wanted to be part of that."
The challenge of moving back to the theatre after a ten year absence was, she feels, like "jumping into a fire pit. In theatre you have such a long period of rehearsal in which to research your character, you have this playing ground in which to discover. In television, you show up in front of this camera, you walk through it a few times, perhaps rehearse it for the camera moves, and then you are basically filming it."
It is this kind of new, fresh artistic challenge that Anderson now seems to crave. "Iím going to try and do things that are as far away from Scully as possible, but I donít feel like I am on this rallying train to prove to the world that I can do it." She concedes that she is "a bit theatred out right now" but among a host of other interesting "projects", she has recently acquired the rights to a book which she hopes to turn into a film that she will direct. It seems likely that her name will not be out of the artistic limelight for long.
One goal that Anderson is desperate to complete when time allows, is a return to academic study. "When I was a student I didnít respect the fact that I was a student. I didnít appreciate the fact that I was in a position where I had the world at my fingertips, it was just something that I was doing. Now that I have the perspective, Iíd really love to be able to attack it again with the respect it deserves."
A return to study seems perfect for a woman who seems insatiably inquisitive and thoughtful. She is frustrated by the way in which her nomadic childhood, and current hectic lifestyle seem to have denied her time she craves to immerse herself in academia and current affairs. "Because of the work that Iíve been doing for so long, there were nine years where I rarely read a newspaper. There is so much that I donít know and I feel very ignorant. I feel quite strongly about things and because my word is listened to, I tend to withdraw from saying things that are not based purely on a great deal of understanding and fact. Iíd rather not say anything, as much as I want to, because I just donít want to put myself in that position."
As ever, it is simply a question of finding the time. "Iím not concerned about it. Iím just doing what comes up in front of me, and trying to live my life as I would like my life to be lived, which is all about friends and travel and freedom and all that kind of stuff."
It is this relaxed frame of mind, maintained by yoga and meditation, that supports Andersonís attitude that this currently elusive period of total freedom from commitments will appear when the time is right. "I honestly think that if people truly understood on a fundamental level that this moment right here, this moment and this moment, is all that we have, then there wouldnít be 99.9% of the problems in the world there are right now."
It would be all too easy to dismiss this kind of viewpoint as idealist and romantic, and if it means that for Gillian Anderson, "if everything were to fall away, all the material things, all the fame, all the anything, I know that I would be okay. I am in a very happy period of my life right now, and I know that I can find happiness with nothing else around," then, to quote a certain country rock songstress, "it canít be that bad".
Transcript provided by Mia and appears courtesy of The Cambridge Student Newspaper.