August 28, 2005
'I'm not good at playing the game'
By Rachel Cooke
Gillian Anderson has made no secret of her dislike for the paparazzi, so why did she marry a journalist, asks Rachel Cooke. And why does this American love England so?
It tells you quite a lot about Gillian Anderson that she is conducting interviews to promote her latest movie in the crepuscular Bloomsbury offices of a film publicity company. Even to my weary eyes, they seem depressing, all dirty woodchip and trailing cables that lead who knows where. In the loo are damp blue towels; on the wall are laminated signs reminding employees to turn off the lights. What I want to know is: where are the coffee and croissants? Where is the giant, flat-screen TV permanently tuned to Sky? Call this a film junket? Anderson lurks in a vast room with grubby skirting boards; it has bad light, a single bulb emitting a yellow gloom of a kind that would make even Marilyn Monroe look liverish. A make-up artist is leaving and I wonder how she coped. Perhaps she keeps a miner's helmet among her brushes and powder; either that, or she made Anderson stand at the window, gazing at the driving rain.
None of this seems to bother Anderson. She never enjoys being made up, or having her picture taken, so the room's sallow aspect is, to be frank, neither here nor there. In fact, I get the impression that she finds it pleasingly ironic. In the years since she left the television show that made her so very famous (its sci-fi element meant that nerds took her to heart - and nerds make more scary fans than your average autograph hunter), she has done everything in her power to put some distance between herself and her old life. Refusing to be typecast, she chooses roles carefully, the more grungy or difficult, the better. Keen not to relinquish her hold on what passes for normal life, she has said goodbye to Los Angeles, with its agents, early nights and kidney-shaped pools, and hello to Notting Hill, with its estate agents, late nights and - let's be honest - rather poor outdoor swimming facilities. Most days, she leaves the house without lipstick and no one gives her so much as a second glance. This she regards as progress.
She loves living here, but then, it was her home until she was 11, when her father, who had been attending film school in London, moved the family back to America (afterwards, he worked in video post-production; her mother was in computers). 'It's easier to be myself here,' she says. 'I can go out wearing whatever the hell I want, no matter how ridiculous it looks. If I do that in America, people look at me like I'm insane. There are aspects of the British press which are incredibly intrusive, but then you'll go to a premiere and someone will ask permission to take a photo, and when you say, "That's enough", they'll back off. In the States, you go to a restaurant and there are people lined up outside with eight-by-10s of you. Or they just follow you with a video camera. I had someone deliberately rear-end my car a few years ago in LA, and there was a video camera: they were videoing my reaction.' And what was her reaction? 'Luckily, I was in a good mood.'
Did she feel under pressure to be groomed? 'I often showed up ungroomed. It didn't occur to me. Then I'd end up at a premiere and I'd think, what are you doing? I remember being at a restaurant with a famous British actress. I knew there were paparazzi outside. My intention was to make a beeline for the car. But then, as we were walking outside, she applied lipstick. I thought, what is she doing? But her public image is very glamorous. It's a different mindset.' The way Anderson talks, it is as if fame is an addiction, one she managed to avoid even though the drug was widely available to her and she was surrounded by addicts.
'I think it can be addictive. But something happens in my stomach if something feels disingenuous, whether it's a charity event that's just too glitzy or a person I'm having an interview with who doesn't seem genuine. I get such an awful feeling, like I'm betraying myself. I will do anything to stay away from that kind of situation. For some people, that's a good feeling - or they play the game better. But I'm not good at it - I don't particularly want to be - and so I don't; and because I don't, that has enabled me to maintain a certain level of sanity.' She pauses. 'Actually, I would never really claim sanity, to be honest with you.' Another pause. 'But I put on a good front.'
In person, Anderson is a surprise. I guess lots of people know by now that she is not, unlike Dana Scully, a redhead (they dyed her hair for The X-Files), but still, the blonde locks, also dyed, were news to me. She is short - 5ft 3in - and small-boned, warm and quite funny, in a batty way. She used to be quite difficult in interviews: prickly, reticent, the usual. In part, I suppose, this chatty demeanour is a natural concomitant of her new life. These days, it is her duty to talk because she is either plugging plays (she has done two in London, to mixed reviews) or small, independent films that need good box office, in this case, The Mighty Celt, a sweet picture about dog racing and the Troubles (her Irish accent is brilliant and she is convincing as a council-estate single mother). Then again, perhaps it also has to do with the fact that she is now sleeping with the enemy; Anderson's new husband is a journalist.
She and Julian Ozanne, a Kenyan-born, former foreign correspondent and now documentary maker, married last December on Shella Island off the coast of Kenya. Doesn't she think it's funny that he's a journalist? 'The only time I ever thought, "Dammit" was when I was really pissed off about something [that had been written], and he was more sympathetic to the journalist,' she says. 'I have never thought of him as a journalist - he was covering war zones [for the Financial Times]; that's completely different.' She rolls her eyes. 'Though there was somebody outside our house waiting in a car. I went ballistic about it, and he just said, "It's what they have to do. Don't get so upset about it." Then he went out to talk to them in a very calm way.'
Anderson met Ozanne in 2002, at a dinner party hosted by a mutual friend. 'He was sitting next to me. At the time, I wasn't drinking or smoking, no wheat or dairy or any of that kind of stuff, and he was a journalist living life to the full.'
So you were his idea of a total Hollywood freak? 'Exactly. And I thought he was obnoxious, large living. Then, after that, we'd see each other around London, and those opinions of each other continued until one day... there was this fondness that developed into something else entirely. We went to see a play and we spent the entire time talking about how happy we were to be single. It was genuine on both our parts. I'd never been single for so long and I was so happy. But I think that's when people are most attractive. Men have never approached me - I think they're really afraid of me - but when I was single, they all came out of the woodwork. I felt bright, light and positive. It's something everyone should strive for at some point, because then you will know that if a relationship ends, you will be totally OK in the end; that you can be happy by yourself.'
Anderson had a difficult adolescence (she was unhappy in all the ordinary ways, but she seems to have felt it more viscerally than most), during which she became a punk and glued shut the door of her high school. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, her English accent meant she felt out of place; she began seeing a therapist at 14. When she landed her role in The X-Files, a 24-year-old unknown, she nearly messed the whole thing up by marrying a production designer, Clyde Klotz, and then swiftly falling pregnant (on screen, her bump was covered with lab coats, then she was 'kidnapped'). Later, but not much later, she and Klotz divorced.
She is painfully aware of the precariousness of contentment. In the past, she has referred to herself as a survivor. Now, she says: 'My tendency is towards the opposite of health and taking care of myself. My natural tendency is destructive. In order not to act on that, I have to be careful. The minute I don't feel like that, if I let down my guard, I'm in trouble.'
Does she fear another divorce? 'We have a wonderful life, but one never knows. You can hope, but the minute you start to attach too much importance to something, you're stuck in the situation of feeling: what would I do without it? As long as I give as much as I possibly can, whether it's five years, or 50 ... ' Her voice trails off.
When she moved to London, her 11-year-old daughter, Piper, stayed with Klotz in Vancouver; recently, however, she has moved to London. Anderson is straightforward about the old arrangement. 'It was healthy for her to be in one place. She had so much family there on her father's side, and friends. I said, "I'll be the traveller, I'm in a position to do that." But we were just winging it, really.'
Does Piper understand the nature of her mother's fame? 'For years, she didn't, even though she was on set for the series; she didn't get that that's not what everyone's parents do. It wasn't until I took her on a Harry Potter set - she was fascinated - that it meant something. She is incredibly well-adjusted. Sometimes, she does get impressed - if I know someone in a movie she likes. But that's just a natural stage. At some point, most kids have posters up.'
She has no qualms about life in London. 'It is unfortunate that this [the terrorist attacks] happened right when my daughter was coming here. But this is where we have decided to make our home, and I'm one of those people who don't like to act on fear, whether it's in my work or my personal life. Something might happen, but acting on that would feel like giving in, somehow.'
In any case, she has no desire to be in America; if she hadn't been here already, she would certainly have moved after Bush was re-elected. 'I know people who are embarrassed to be American. They don't like showing their passports. It's becoming a scary place. It takes someone very brave not to be quiet, someone who doesn't mind death threats, their life being turned upside down, news cameras outside their door. There is no freedom of speech in America anymore. They are not living up to the constitution. There's so much fear in America and control.' For this reason, she relishes our overtly critical press, for all that it used to send its photographers to stand outside her house.
I cannot ever see her going back to Hollywood. She sounds British and she acts British, plus, at 37, she dislikes the idea of cosmetic surgery which means that the kind of work she is currently pursuing - she is in Michael Winterbottom's version of Tristram Shandy, and will soon be seen as Lady Deadlock in Andrew Davies's pacey new adaptation of Bleak House for the BBC - will serve her far better than, say, romantic comedies in the long run. Would she ever go back into an X-Files type show?
'Part of me would love to be in a position to pick and choose, but part of me knows there is a price. I want to live between here and Africa and I don't want to be in a situation where I can't walk out of the door because of the paparazzi.'
Not all actors mean it when they say this kind of thing, but I think she just might. As for her loyal nerds, she is tolerant - up to a point. In a recent message on her website, she puts it this way: 'Guys ... get some sleep!'