Evening Standard Magazine
The Magnificent Anderson
Since Gillian Anderson moved to London, she's got married and divorced, secured a BAFTA nomination and had a new baby with a new man. As her political thriller, The Last King of Scotland, garners praise, she talks to Annabel Rivkin about her unconventional life.
Gillian Anderson speaks slowly. Her three-month-old son Oscar was awake until 4:30 this morning, 'and that's not normal,' she says, calm but bleary. 'The thing is, I moved house at the same time as he was born so I started from a place of tiredness.' She was meant to move with her boyfriend, businessman Mark Griffiths, and her 12-year old daughter Piper, a good month before Oscar was born but he decided to come early. 'He was 6lb 8oz, which is a decent weight,' she says, 'but he had a lot of fluid on his lungs and so he was quite tubed up and was in intensive care, and I couldn't pick him up. But we got to take him home [from the Portland] after a week so we actually were very lucky.'
Anderson became famous 14 years ago when she embarked on a ten-year stint playing Dana Scully on The X-Files and, over the past year, there had been much speculation over the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy. It was widely reported that Anderson's marriage to the former journalist and now bio-fuel entrepreneur Julian Ozanne officially ended only after she became pregnant by Griffiths. She declines to comment except to say that she finds it highly offensive when people assume she is only in her current relationship with Griffiths because she 'fell' pregnant and that the reported dates are inaccurate.
Married to Ozanne for 16 months but with him for three years, she suffered both a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy. 'So after you've had that, you don't say, "Oh, I'm pregnant but I won't take this one, it's not convenient, I'll take the next one."' She had wanted a second child - she had Piper with her first husband Clyde Klotz, an art director on The X-Files - for some time but she's not entirely blinded by her own happy situation and acknowledges with a discreet nod that her ex-husband must find this entire episode very painful. 'I wouldn't have planned it this way,' she says. 'I wouldn't have wished it this way but it happened and at 38... Complicated but, at the same time, 38. There was no question. It shocked a couple of people, but the ones who really know me and who have known my history over the past couple of years, well, they also know when I'm sane and when I'm not sane. And me being sane and pregnant was a much better recipe for their friend than me being not sane and not pregnant.'
One journalist likened an interview with Anderson with wrestling a crocodile and she has certainly been vocal on press intrusion, but when I first meet her she's eight months pregnant, round yet compact in a tight black dress, and I find her terribly kind and very good company, even if she does put it down to a hormonal flood that is allowing her to 'float above everything'. Even though she was voted sexiest woman in the world many times during The X-Files years, and had more than 9,000 websites devoted to her red-haired charms - it was dyed, she's a blonde - it wasn't until her luminously miserable, virtuoso performance as Lady Dedlock, in the Andrew Davies adaption of Bleak House, that her bone structure and poise began to read properly.
During her ten years on 'The Series', as she refers to The X-Files, the producers had a habit of dressing her in dowdy trouser suits; not that deterred her devoted fanbase. The costume designers even managed to disguise her first pregnancy with lab coats and eventually an alien abduction. 'Most of the time I look like shit,' she says merrily. 'I mean, I don't brush my hair and half the time I don't look in the mirror before I leave the house and at the moment I own three things that fit.' Indeed she is no Victoria Beckham when it comes to dressing up to go shopping and her red-carpet outfits do not lead one to believe that she sets much store by stylists, yet her face is getting better and better. With age, her aquiline nose gets haughtier and her pout looks self-assured rather than childlike. Her eyes are unusually changeable in both colour and mood.
She is, by turns, daffy and focused but always wilful. 'I was, from early on, incredibly self-ruled,' she says, 'and I was going to do what I was going to do no matter what, and that was very challenging for my parents.' She uses 'challenging' to mean difficult and painful, as do many people who have spent any time in Los Angeles. 'I felt that I was an adult from the age of 14.'
Her perfect Received Pronunciation comes from a childhood in Crouch End. She and her parents moved to London when she was two so that her father could attend film school. They returned to Michigan when she was 11 and her father set up a video post-production business. Soon her brother and then her sister were born - Aaron is now doing a PhD in California and Zoe is an artist and teaching assistant in Minnesota - and from when she was 14, Gillian was in therapy. She still is. 'It's very casual for me,' she says. 'It's no big deal; it's just there in my life and I find it helpful. I like self-examination.'
She shaved off her hair, pierced her nose and brought home drug-addict boyfriends who stole. Her high-school classmates voted her Most Likely to Get Arrested and on prom night she duly was, for attempting to glue the school doors shut. 'Most of my life I've felt as though something was wrong,' she says. 'I've always had a feeling that I've done something or something's happened or something's about to happen. Something's not quite right.'
The sadness that she's always felt lurking is not, she says, depression. 'I don't know where it comes from and although some of it certainly comes from my life, some of it just seems to surround me and I'm sure it can be really pathetic and annoying for people who've spent time with me. Just the endless f***ing seriousness.' She doesn't come across as a moaning hysteric, but perhaps this access to her strange reserves of grief is why she has played such serious roles on screen and is currently receiving lots of offers to play mad women. 'I don't know why I can do sad,' she says cheerfully, 'but it seems to come naturally.' Actually she's rather funny and girlish and a little flirty, very different from any of her on-screen personas from Scully to Dedlock to Sarah, the character she plays in Kevin Macdonald's The Last King of Scotland - a film about Idi Amin and his crazed butchery in Seventies Uganda - more of which later.
After drama school in Chicago and a year waiting tables and partying in LA, she was, aged 24, cast as Agent Scully opposite the more seasoned David Duchovny. The X-Files was filmed in Vancouver on a rigorous schedule involving 16-hour days over ten months of each year. Soon after starting the show she married Klotz, whom she met on set. Piper was born months later and the pressures of work, marriage and motherhood took their toll in the form of panic attacks. 'I have a tendency to throw myself at life,' she says. 'There's a wonderful aspect to that but there's also a price and the price for me has been my emotional and psychological stability. The panic attacks started when I was pregnant with Piper. They started at work and then they would happen every day and I felt like I was going mad. After Piper was born, I would nurse her, shaking from anxiety, and then I started having them in the middle of the night, so I would get home from work at one in the morning and then be having one until four. It was hell on earth. If it hadn't been for my newborn child I wouldn't have been able to handle it.' She tried anti-anxiety drugs but they made her sick. Meditation has helped because she says, 'I have to stay very present in my body to stop it happening.'
Her marriage to Klotz was over within two years and there followed a couple of on-set romances - such was the workload that it was the only place she really met and got to know men.
In 2002, The X-Files finished and she was released into her future, which is a big place when you have been so fiercely managed for so long. 'I don't think I realised what an impact the ending of it was going to have on me emotionally. I was so excited about the freedom that I don't think I allowed myself time to process what had happened. I am terrible with time now because I still feel as though I've only got half an hour and I have to make the most of it. I had to learn to be a mother in 20-minute time slots. I'd come back to the trailer, give full attention and then full attention an hour later for five minutes. It's been amazing with Oscar because I have the time to spend with him. When Piper was born I was 26 and my working hours were ridiculous. At 38, I feel like I've earned motherhood and the right to take it all in and not feel distracted.'
Piper lived most of the year in Canada with Klotz while she was at school there, but now she is at school in London. Anderson is keen to ensure that her daughter doesn't find the transatlantic move, combined with the arrival of a younger sibling, as difficult as she did. 'The irony is that I moved from England to the States when I was 11 and within two years I had my first sibling. I found it very challenging. And I am trying to make sure that she doesn't have the same experience. But no matter how much love, family and everything you give, it's still a very complicated thing for a child who has been the centre of everyone's attention for such a long time to suddenly feel that they are being usurped. You have to be mindful of everyone's experience. I don't think Piper was prepared to love Oscar so much.'
After leaving The Series, Anderson came to London to do theatre (she played at the Royal Court and the Comedy Theatre) while periodically nipping off to film the tough, independent movies she favours. For four years she's been adapting the novel The Speed of Light by Elizabeth Rosner which she hopes to direct.
During her time in London she met Julian Ozanne at a dinner party and they loathed each other. He thought she was a Hollywood nutter and she thought he was rather wide, but they became friends, married in 2004 and lived together in Notting Hill, an area in which she has lucratively bought and sold ever since.
She was hesitant about accepting the part in Bleak House. 'I knew that the films I'd made weren't going to come out until afterwards and my whole thing was about moving from television to film, which was what I'd always wanted to do. It absolutely turned out to be the right thing to do - it was blessed from the start.' She was nominated for a BAFTA, an Emmy and now a Golden Globe.
The Last King of Scotland is a relentless bullying, political, violent film that is attracting huge amounts of attention. It co-stars her fellow Golden Globe nominee Forest Whitaker as Amin and James McAvoy as the young Scottish doctor who gets pulled into the dictator's web of brutal madness. In fact, Anderson's part, as a missionary doctor's wife whom McAvoy attempts to have an affair with, is a small one. 'I'm generally drawn to complex, real-life characters. Coincidentally I'd been to Uganda three or four times in the years before we started shooting because Julian was working there and I'd met women like her; women who were brave and ballsy and willing. Something clicked and I thought, "I know this person." I've intimately watched the rise of the movie and I've been as surprised as anyone that a film of this kind can gather so much heat.'
She has another film called Straightheads, co-starring Danny Dyer, coming out in April. In this she is brutally raped and then exacts her revenge; but then no one expects a romcom from Anderson (which may well compel her to make one). Beyond Straightheads and her screenplay, she plans to 'sit back for a while'.
She doesn't know whether she and Mark will get married and, despite Oscar, thinks it's 'way too early for me to tell. I have to start looking at what part of me jumps into things too early and f***ks things up. I do believe that it's all 50/50 and that it's never one person's fault but I'm the common denominator in my two divorces. Sometimes my reasons for doing things are not the best. It's like a childish reasoning; not informed or fully thought out. I just think I need to pause a bit more before I leap.'
There is an appealing quality about Anderson who alternates between reckless dashing and myopic, blinkered focus. 'But I don't like hurting people,' she says. 'And my intention is not to hurt people. And that starts somewhere; it doesn't just happen at the end bit. I'm trying to use this time and this experience to slow down.'
I hope she gets what she wants. I hope the sadness stays at bay and her relationships are what she wants them to be. 'I have no regrets,' she says. 'I've had some extraordinary men in my life and most of them are still part of my life and I think that's really beautiful.'
The Last King of Scotland is out now.