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October 1996

Discreet Agent
By David Huges

She's becoming more famous than that other Anderson woman. But she hasn't had to fill a bikini to achieve it. David Hughes has a close encounter with the very real Gillian Anderson.

It isn't a bright, cold day in April, no black cats are crossing my path, and the clocks are not striking 13. But they might as well be, for I am in the same room as Gillian Anderson. And she is swearing. Not a lot, but all the same it's not the sort of thing you expect from the normally staid FBI agent Scully. But then actors are rarely like the people they play. Unless, of course, they're Jack Nicholson.

We're in a gothic suite of the Athenaeum Hotel in the heart of London's Piccadilly. Before me, spread out on the sofa, is five foot three inches of off-duty actress about whom I have already concocted several fantasies.

I have imagined myself clamped to a steel table while she performs experiments on me; I have imagined she and I running naked and feral in the woods of New Jersey like the Jersey Devil and her mate; I have imagined submitting to the forbidden fleshly desires of vampirism, Gillian and I stalking the streets together after dark, devouring our victims and biting each other's bits with glorious abandon. But it's not going to happen, mainly because - sod it - Gillian's husband, former X-Files production artist Clyde Klotz, is in the room next door.

Meeting Gillian Anderson in the flesh is something of a paranormal experience. She is dressed, clearly for my benefit, in a fashionable deep blue suit with matching heels. Stripped of Scully's no-nonsense FBI trenchcoat and matching attitude, Gillian is even more attractive than my feverishly overactive imagination can muster. Up close she radiates an unaffected sexuality, a luscious cocktail of emerald-green eyes, milk-white skin and the sort of smile that could derail a train.

Three years after The X-Files first hit the screen and Gillian is surprised to be here at all. The show was launched in 1993 as a low-key paranormal drama series with a projected life-span of around eight months.

It quickly shed its Sapphire and Steel potential and captured both the public imagination and fin de siecle paranoia in a way that makes Twin Peaks look like The Waltons. Gillian laughs, a bright, spontaneous chuckle, which is as unlike her on-screen counterpart - of whom she says, has not laughed "since the pilot episode" - as her occasional use of the word "fuck" during our conversation.

Asked about the extraordinary appeal of the show, Gillian comes over all philosophical. "Well, first of all, it's the subject matter," she says. "There are a large amount of people interested in the paranormal, and I think that... Oh God..." she stops herself in mid-sentence, perhaps aware of the fact that our interview is running to a publicist's schedule. "I was just going to bring something up, but it would take about an hour to explain it."

Nevertheless, she decides to carry on, drawing her legs up and crossing them under herself on the plush sofa - another reminder that her naturalism and Scully's stiff professionalism are a world apart.

"I think that as the millenium approaches, people are honestly looking for an answer of some sort. The end of the millennium also touches the issue of the end of the world - umm, 1999, you know - everybody is looking for answers. They haven't found the answers they're looking for in religion, and so they're moving towards something which is not so much God-worldly as alien-worldly."

She also admits that The X-Files is rather less lowest common denominator than other currently-running US TV shows.

"It's a very intelligent, very slick show, and there isn't much like it on television. Or at least," she adds, suddenly remembering the recent onslaught of paranormally-themed series spring up on both sides of the Atlantic, "there didn't used to be."

Perhaps the key to the appeal, however, is less the zeitgeist-harnessing subject matter than the central relationship, the sexually charged but no-shag alliance of the sceptical, antiseptic Scully, and Mulder, her moody partner. "There's a huge amount of sexual tension - but unconsummated," she says with a smile.

In the X-Files, only Mulder seems to have a sex life. Scully has had only a single date, while Mulder has slept with a vampire, had fling with an old flame and been seduced by a female cop. Even their boss, assistant director Skinner, gets a sex scene with a hooker in the new series.

Another potential source of frustration is the fact that Gillian earns considerably less than her $100,000-per-episode co-star, David Duchovny, despite the fact that she is the one doing most of the tub-thumping for the show. Duchovny prefers to do the minimum publicity required under his contract, thus allowing him to keep his private life - including his split with long-term girlfriend and one-time X-Files actress Perrey Reeves - as far away from public view as possible.

It is also Gillian whose acting has been more noticeably honoured than her laconic on-screen partner, winning a Screen Actors Guild Award earlier this year (Duchovny, also nominated, was beaten by ER's Anthony Edwards) and earning a Prime Time Emmy Award nomination, the television equivalent of an Oscar, while Duchovny was overlooked.

Fame, however, she seems to take in her stride. "I'm excited that people are responding so positively to the show, but," she says, adding quite unconvincingly... "it's just my work, that's all."

There is a further downside to all this attention - the strain her almost stratospheric profile is rumoured to have put on her three-year marriage to Klotz, who recently finished carving a four-poster bed for their Vancouver home, and is now working on a television series of his own. Does she feel that her new-found status as the intellectual "it" girl has brought unreasonable pressure to bear on her relatively short relationship?

"There's no reason why it should, but it does. So let's not talk about it," she snaps, a tad irritably. To put it another way, then is she tough to live with?

"Anybody in the situation I'm in right now would be a difficult partner," she admits. "I'm incredibly strong-willed. I have goals. I have things I want to accomplish. I will do what I need to do to move forward to whatever is my destiny."

Gillian is no stranger to these shores. Between the ages of two and eleven she lived with her parents in Crouch End, a leafy north London suburb, which then, as now, drew all manner of artist, writers and media types to its environs. Indeed, her parents, a movie post-production specialist and a computer analyst, have kept a "holiday home" there. It was there that 13-year-old Gillian returned in 1981. This was where the now-notorious troubles of her youth began, as she fell in with the burgeoning punk scene and began to dabble, firstly with fashion, but later with whatever - or whoever - came to hand.

"I used to be a good little girl in corduroys," she says of her time in Grand Rapids, Michigan, hardly the most liberal and easy-going of American towns. "All of a sudden, I put red dye in my hair, started to wear funky miniskirts and gradually progressed to more outrageous outfits," finally capping her creativity with a stud in her nose. "I would walk sideways around my dad so he wouldn't see it."

College allowed her to express her creativity in other, more useful ways, most notably acting. Her image toned down and soften as her ambition to succeed at acting solidified, and so she moved to Los Angeles, bagging the supposedly short-term role as Dana Scully in the pilot show The X-Files - on the day her last unemployment cheque arrived.

Knowing nothing about the character she was auditioning for, Gillian had gone in wearing casual clothes, with her naturally ash-blonde hair - the auburn is Scully's - spilling unfussily down her back. ("I honestly don't look in the mirror very much," she admits. "I get up in the morning and most of the time I get to work and have my hair and make-up done before I realize I should have checked to see if I had sleep in my eyes.")

It was only later that the then 24-year-old - whose character is six years her senior - realized that what the TV executives were looking for was someone more like Pamela Anderson than Gillian Anderson.

"What it came down to," says the show's creator, executive producer, millionaire and occasional writer/director/extra, Chris Carter, "was that the network wasn't sure how Gillian would look in a bathing suit."

Gillian was more interested in giving a credible portrayal of a female FBI agent than displaying lots of cleavage. It was an attitude she believes won over Carter, if not quite making an impression on the network. "They wanted a big-breasted blonde," she scoffs, "but I knew the character wasn't a bimbo. It was like, 'This is me - take it or leave it."

One of Gillian's ambitions is to appear in a feature film, a goal she hoped to accomplish during her summer hiatus from the grueling schedule of The X-Files (which is said is like shooting a feature film every week for eight months), but a mooted part in an action movie with Morgan Freeman fell through. Although she has somehow found time to make a science series, Future Fantastic, for the BBC, narrate several Discovery Channel documentaries and play herself in an episode of The Simpsons, she is now back at work, filming the fourth series of the X-Files.

There appears to be little escape from the show. During her next summer break, Gillian will be filming the first The X-Files feature film. Unlike Duchovny - who has a dozen films (including a co-starring role opposite Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis in the serial-killer thriller Kalifornia) and at least two long-running television series (including Zalman King's soft-focus, soft-porn series The Red Shoe Diaries) to his name - Gillian has relatively little acting experience outside The X-Files. Does she find it stifling to play one character continuously?

"It helps that she's growing, and it helps that she's such a likeable character," she says, adding that during her time off she was surprised to find herself actually missing Scully. "But I guess what becomes a bit stifling is the fact that she is a sceptic, and listening to myself being so sceptical all the time - I go through stages where I imagine that the audience is going to get sick and tired of it."

It's true - there can't be too many people who can hold an alien embryo in their hands and remain rigorously sceptical about the existence of extraterrestrial life.

"I know," she smiles, pausing to pour another cup of decaffeinated coffee from an enormous pot that threatens to snap her delicate wrist. "But the big argument is that once you witness something paranormal, it doesn't necessarily mean that you believe in all things paranormal."

Besides, as she correctly points out, "Scully is much more open-minded than she used to be." Indeed, the show's scriptwriters have recently made some real attempts at bring forth Scully's more sensitive and spooky side, giving her flashbacks, premonitions and other evidence of a sixth sense that her scientific mind is reluctant to address.

Gillian names the episodes where this occurs, most notably "Beyond The Sea" and "Irresistible" as particular favorites. "I don't know if this is actually a conscious thing that they are doing," she admits, visibly relishing the idea, "but that would be a wonderful storyline if we were to go in that direction."

Perhaps, given her real-life interest in the paranormal, she could work on storylines for the show? After all, Duchovny, who received several story credits during the second and third series of The X-Files, has already had that kind of involvement.

"Yeah, more or less. In a way," she laughs, shedding some doubt on the extent of her co-star's contribution. "In a way."

Our allocated time is up and the hour has come to return to the real world, the one where aliens don't really abduct people, where immortal serial killers don't enter your house by squeezing through the ventilation grille, where shadowy individuals don't sit smoking and plotting labyrinthine conspiracies, and where governments wouldn't dream of hushing up evidence of extraterrestrials. Stranger things have happened. Ask Gillian.

"The strangest thing about being famous is hearing your name called, you know - somebody says 'Gillian' and you turn around expecting to see somebody that you know and come face-to-face with a perfect stranger." Or an alien, for that matter.

Transcript provided by Alfred and appears courtesy of SKY.

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