The Northern Echo, UK
Gillian Anderson was surprised to have been chosen to star in a British revenge movie, but as the X-files star tells Steve Pratt, the script made her want to go over to the dark side
X-Files star Gillian Anderson is surprised to learn she was the reason new British revenge movie Straightheads got made. You'd think she'd know her worth and appreciate that, after the exposure accompanying a long-running hit TV series, her name on the cinema marquee would be seen as an incentive to get people into the cinema.
Writer-director Dan Reed, sitting beside her, has just revealed that the project only became viable, following years of wrangling with the money men, when Anderson expressed an interest in starring as a woman taking the law into her own hands to extract revenge on the men who raped her.
"Her endorsement made the whole thing much more acceptable for financiers," confirms Reed.
Anderson is shocked at the news. "I didn't realise until he just said that, I wasn't privileged to that information," she says, explaining that sometimes you don't consider those things until in a situation like this - doing Press interviews for the forthcoming release of Straightheads.
"In retrospect, I've been given quite a few scripts that had dark elements to them, but most took place in the countryside with a haunted house. I've probably had that script six to ten times over the last ten years," she says.
And, inevitably in the wake of The X-Files, many scripts contained a supernatural element. It sounds as if she'd almost brainwashed herself into believing that she wouldn't escape typecasting after the TV series came to an end.
Her Agent Dana Scully, working alongside David Duchovny's Agent Fox Mulder, achieved cult status as well as winning her, among many prizes, a Golden Globe and an Emmy as best actress. There was a feature film too - better than the usual TV-to-cinema knockoff - but getting casting directors to consider her for other types of role hasn't been easy.
When the BBC offered her the role of Lady Dedlock in the TV serial based on Charles Dickens' Bleak House, she thought they'd got the wrong person.
"Because I'd been so used to being typecast, when they came to me I was literally thinking 'are you talking to me? do you know who you are asking to do this?'," she recalls.
"I felt like I could do it but was amazed there was somebody out there who felt I might be able to do it."
Perhaps part of the problem was her background. Chicago-born, she lived in London from the age of two to 11, and then moved to Michigan.
Her English accent made her feel out of place, she's said. She rebelled, having her nose pierced and dying her hair various colours. When she began acting in high school, a career doing that beckoned.
"I became an actor because it was the only thing I could do. I didn't have any friends, I didn't fit in. But when I started acting everything in my life shifted and I felt happy," she says.
She's now settled in this country with boyfriend Mark Griffiths, with whom she had a baby boy, Oscar, last November. She's guarded about her personal life, even more so on this occasion as she'd come from talking to a journalist who'd asked about her Straightheads character being a male fantasy figure.
"I was saying 'there was once where I did something like that, and years later there was this guy..." I think I might have revealed a bit too much about my personal life," she says.
Having read the article, she's quite right in that she did give a lot away with tales of picking up someone on leaving a cinema and going off to Paris for the weekend with a virtual stranger.
Nothing remotely romantic happens to Alice in Straightheads, where her revenge on the rapists - of a kind I couldn't possibly repeat in a family newspaper - will be seen by many as a controversial move.
"This is the first time a script came across my path that floored me in a way with its darkness. I'm fully aware of the presence of darkness in the world today and in my own world, this juxtaposition between dark and light - the human being-ness. That's something I always wanted to jump into. I'd wanted to express that aspect of myself and this was an opportunity to do so," she says.
"I liked the script, met with Dan and had conversations about it and his intentions and his vision for it. That all contributed to my decision to do it."
Happily, she got along well with co-star Danny Dyer, playing the man badly beaten by the same gang who rape Alice. "From the moment Danny and I met in the audition, we just got along really well and understood each other on some strange level," says Anderson.
"He's a joy to be with and cracks everyone up, and everyone starts swearing like him. He made it really easy, it felt very natural."
Having the female character as the stronger, revenge-seeking one in the relationship is unusual and another reason why she was intrigued by the script. "It's not very often you see that kind of situation in a relatively realistic set-up that isn't like Tomb Raider, with a female coming on with a huge machine gun strapped over her shoulder.
"It was an interesting opportunity as an actor to explore that cathartic kind of rage that might build up over time as being the victim of such an atrocious act as rape.
"What I find very interesting still in a lot of conversations I have about the film is that not many people talk about the rape. They have a tendency to jump immediately to the last scene, to the revenge, and skip over the fact there's quite a brutal rape that gets her to the place where she can do what she does at the end of the film."
She likes the fact that the film gives rise to talk about the issues surrounding rape and revenge. "There are some really fascinating conversations I've had as a result, about all different aspects of it," says Anderson.
"It's fantastic if that's what comes out of it - people sitting down and having a discussion about the nature of violence, rape, forgiveness and questioning one's own morality and wondering 'would I be able to do that?'."
The hardest time she had was playing scenes where aspects of Alice were closest to herself. She admits to struggling to "find" the character at the start of shooting. "I had her in my head, but as we went into the filming, there were certain scenes where there was nothing I could hook into and it was partly because certain aspects felt normal, something that I might do. That was a challenge."
If Alice seems an odd role for her, she's not about to make excuses about her career choices. "It's all part of a bigger whole," she says. "At the moment they might seem disjointed and 'what the hell's she doing this for?' and doesn't make sense. But, overall, it makes sense to me and that's all that really matters."