Backstage West Magazine
June 17-23, 2004
ACTORS WE LOVE - Gillian Anderson: X-traordinary
By Sarah Kuhn
Actors who play iconic figures on cult television shows usually become so identified with their characters that it's impossible to think of them as anything else. And yet, when I think of Gillian Anderson, I don't just think of a skeptical FBI agent with a perpetually raised eyebrow. Other images come to mind: a disgraced socialite, a wary romantic. No matter what role she plays, Anderson always seems to end up fully embodying the character; it is a testament to the power of her performances that we don't see Lily Bart and automatically think, "Scully."
With this role, Anderson created a sci-fi icon — a pragmatist who was as down-to-earth as she was heroic. David Duchovny's alien-chasing Fox Mulder may have been the series' initial protagonist, but the program worked because Anderson's well-nuanced Scully balanced him so well. As the series progressed, Anderson peeled back layers of her character, revealing new depths without sacrificing the steely resolve that was at the core of her performance. In the end, Scully's character arc was the heart of the show — it's no surprise that Anderson netted an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards for her efforts.
This single role would be enough to solidify Anderson's rep as an actor to be reckoned with, but her film choices reflect a performer unwilling to be pigeonholed. In the ensemble romantic comedy Playing By Heart Anderson played Meredith, a jaded young woman who eventually falls for an easygoing charmer (Jon Stewart). Meredith's story only accounts for a small portion of the film, but Anderson makes her a standout. Her playful smile — which we didn't get to see nearly enough of on X-Files — and natural comic timing light up the screen in a way that sets her apart from other would-be ingénues. There's a naturalness there that can't be manufactured, a charisma that can't be faked.
In 2000, Anderson took on a different kind of challenge, playing the doomed social butterfly, Lily Bart, in the cinematic adaptation of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. Anderson seemed like an unlikely choice for the role, but her performance was a tour de force — somehow we are inside Lily's head for nearly every second of the film. Anderson illuminates her in such a way that we can't take our eyes off her. When Lily's messy emotions finally unfurl, Anderson makes it a moment of gut-wrenching tragedy. There's no trace of Scully there, but the role is at once as iconic and memorable.
Anderson's post-X-Files choices continue to reflect her desire to play a broad range of parts. She's starred in plays (Michael Weller's What the Night is For, Rebecca Gilman's The Sweetest Swing in Baseball) and is currently filming another movie (The Mighty Celt). There are also rumors of a second X-Files film. We predict that there's at least one more iconic character in her future. After all, while some actors struggle to create just one such persona, Gillian Anderson has already given us several, and we can't help but think she's got a few more in her.