National Post (Canada), Toronto Edition
Special Agent Scully resurfaces: Fans can stop wondering where Gillian Anderson, star of The X-Files in the 1990s, has been hiding
By Alex Strachan, CanWest News Service
Gillian Anderson is in southern California to talk about Bleak House and the weather is appropriately -- and uncharacteristically -- bleak. A shroud of mist hangs over the green lawns, a pall of gloom has settled over the Huntington estate and a lonely drizzle taps against the tall glass windows, while inside Anderson huddles, waif-like, under a blanket in a private room.
She has just faced a ballroom full of reporters alongside her Bleak House colleague Charles Dance, writer Andrew Davies and long-time Masterpiece Theatre producer Rebecca Eaton, and she is now in a more pensive, reflective mood.
Bleak House, Davies' sprawling six-week showpiece for PBS's Masterpiece Theatre, originally produced for BBC-TV, is based on the sprawling 1852-53 serial classic by Charles Dickens -- a work some Dickens scholars rank as the author's finest achievement -- which kept Victorian-era readers on the edges of their stuffy, high-backed seats when it was first published in daily newspapers.
Dickens envisioned his tale about the clash of wills over a contested will as a tightly wound mystery, with cliffhanger endings at the end of each instalment and more blind alleys than Whitechapel in a London fog: part gothic thriller, part social satire, with a sprawling cast of social climbers, star-crossed lovers and lonely eccentrics, from gin-soaked illiterates and conniving lawyers to vengeful moneylenders, eccentric bird collectors and mysterious lodgers.
Anderson plays the haunted, glacial beauty Lady Dedlock, a claimant in the suit, whose recognition of the handwriting on a legal document sets Bleak House's labyrinthine events in motion.
"Dickens's work, and specifically this book and the way Andrew has crafted it, really highlights the tragic situation of human injustice in so many ways," Anderson says. "Even though we're seeing it in period form, there's still a through-line to our lives today, no matter what country or society you live in. It's not just about injustice in the form of social etiquette. It's also about greed and selfishness and bad behaviour -- and love and passion and grief and pain. They're all part of the human condition."
Bleak House first aired last October and November on BBC, where it lured more than six million viewers a week and was hailed by the Guardian as "a creative triumph," and by the Times as "luminous ... instantly addictive TV." The Daily Telegraph went one further, citing a "top-notch cast almost [chomping] at the bit with the delight of being able to get their teeth into such wonderful characters."
Anderson is not exactly chomping at the bit on this day, but she's quick to sing the praises of Davies' adaptation as well as touch on her new life in London, her memories of Vancouver during her X-Files days and how she opted for the London stage over Hollywood and celebrity.
"I try in my life to follow my heart," she says softly, "not just in relationships but in terms of what moves me and what is important to me in my life. I know what it feels like to do things that are soul-decaying, and a large aspect of life in Hollywood I find incredibly soul-decaying. I choose -- albeit with some frustration to other people in my life -- not to expose myself too much to that. I now live in a country I absolutely love, in a city I am awakened by and educated by on an almost daily basis. I [also] spend a lot of time in Africa. I get to do amazing theatre. I get to live this incredible life."
Anderson just recently sold her Vancouver home, one of the last vestiges of her years in the city making The X-Files, but she remains close to the city and the friendships she formed there. Her memories of the city are fond -- for the most part. "My daughter is a nationalist, she considers herself very much Canadian, and very proud of it. My fondest memories are always of the peacefulness of the city, and how it very much felt like, not just an escape from Los Angeles and this world, but a refuge.
"I could move about the city very easily and just enjoy being there, and enjoy my friendships and the beauty of the city. It's such a beautiful city, and so easy to get around -- except for the bridges. That part of it I don't miss. That's a memory that's not so sweet -- the bridges. But, even then, it doesn't compare at all to the traffic here in L.A."
Anderson is quick to point out that she doesn't consider herself the star of Bleak House: Lady Dedlock is just one character in the kind of sprawling ensemble Dickens was known for.
"I play a big part, but it's not Lady Dedlock's story," Anderson insists.
Her appearance in stage plays and period costume dramas is no accident. "After I did nine years of a television series, I didn't want to do anything really that involved going to a set and being in front of a camera," Anderson says. "My focus was on the theatre. When I did start to want to do things, I wanted to focus more on film. In England, I get offered films. I don't get offers in America. People don't know what to do with me in America. I've disappeared."