March 19, 1994
Anderson Surprised That Fans Find Dana Scully An Inspiring Role Model
By Douglas Durden
One week, Agent Dana Scully of Fox's "The X-Files" can be found nosing out the lair of a liver-hungry serial killer who can squeeze down chimneys. The next, she's helping her partner track down maniacal twins who are the product of a scientific experiment gone haywire.
No matter what the circumstances or danger, Agent Scully of the FBI almost never loses her cool or her healthy skepticism of the paranormal phenomena her partner so passionately believes in.
Agent Scully, played by Gillian Anderson, is one half of the season's best new dramatic series, which airs locally at 9 p.m. Fridays on Channel 35.
But you wouldn't know of "The X-Files" critical success from its ratings. Along with a handful of other Fox shows, the 6-month-old series usually shows up near the bottom of the Nielsens, making it one of TV's best-kept secrets.
The premise is hard to swallow only if you've never watched the show. The FBI has labeled cases it can't explain or solve under the heading of the X-files. In charge of the forgotten files is Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), an agent who specialized in violent crimes before devoting himself to the paranormal and supernatural.
Agent Scully, who has a medical degree, was assigned to be his partner; the half of the team who would seek logical answers to the inexplicable. As the series and cases evolve, Scully has found herself more willing to share Mulder's beliefs.
At the same time, the "villain" of the show has developed into secrecy-shrouded agencies of the United States government, powerful departments that keep the discoveries of aliens or secret experiments from the public by any means possible.
Sometimes, the most difficult part of the agents' assignments is sifting through the lies of their own bosses.
The rational vs. the irrational. Scientific research vs. gut instinct. The little man against the government. "The X-Files" has it all. What is doesn't have is the typical female vs. male stereotypes found on TV.
Unlike most of the women paired with male characters in TV series, Anderson's character is very much her own person, able to generate answers and solutions in a coolly professional manner. At the same time, she and Mulder function as a team. Neither half is superior; neither half less capable in his or her field.
"Initially, when I read the pilot, I was attracted to the character for those reasons, " said Anderson in a recent telephone interview from Vancouver, British Columbia, where the series is shot.
"But I didn't realize she'd have the effect on young women that she has. I'm amazed by the amount of mail I get about her being a role model. It wasn't something I initially thought would happen. But the fact that they're finding that in the character is great."
The only complaint about Scully seems to be that, in contrast to her partner, viewers don't know what makes her tick. In the first episode, Mulder's fascination with the paranormal was explained by the fact that, as a child, he believed his sister was abducted by extraterrestrials. He also gets to make the jokes on the show.
Viewers are almost clueless when it comes to Scully's background, however, much less what might bring a smile to her face.
Credit creator/executive producer Chris Carter for Scully's personality -- or lack of.
"He has strict guidelines about who she is. And he's pretty determined to keep her within those guidelines. There's not much room within the dialogue for her personality to come out," said Anderson, who tries to add a smile to the character whenever possible.
"But the issues we're dealing with are very serious. And people take them very seriously. It's Mulder who has the personality and, though he has to be careful in the way he approaches it, it's his character who approaches things more lightly. For both of us to do that might imply we're treating these issues without the seriousness that I think is important."
Ironically, when it comes to who's actually a believer in the weirdness that Scully and Mulder investigate, Anderson counts herself as more open than her co-star -- the exact opposite of the roles they play on screen.
"I'm much less skeptical in real life than Scully is," said Anderson, busy last week filming a sequel to the episode about the liver-eating (and that's human livers) serial killer. "David's more skeptical. His answer to the letters he gets from believers is usually something about believing in the possibility more than the actual events."
Another difference between the co-stars is their on-camera experience. Duchovny has a number of movie and TV credits.
Anderson, who studied with the National Theatre of Great Britain at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and the Goodman Theater School at Chicago's DePaul University, is primarily a stage actress. Before doing the pilot for "The X-Files", her on-camera time was limited to two appearances, one of which was an episode of Fox's "Class of '96".
"I was terrified," remembers Anderson, who had two days between being cast in the Scully role and reporting for the first day of shooting. "David helped me out when he could, teaching me the ropes. But basically, it was a sink or swim situation. But you learn."
She's also learned how much work a starring role in a weekly series involves. Although she managed to get married on New Year's Day ("He's an art director, and that's all I'll say about it"), she has been working steadily since the series started.
"I rarely see my husband. I barely have time for phone calls. That's something you don't have a choice about. There's no private life. [Your time] is all in the hands of other people," Anderson said.
"In the beginning, it created a lot of friction inside of me and some anger. 'I want to have a life; I want to have my own time', I thought. But then you've got to accept it."
Transcript appears courtesy of Times-Dispatch.