December 1996 (Issue #233)
By Ian Spelling
Gillian Anderson has a bit of a new attitude about The X-Files, its fans & the movie.
I went to Italy, France, Munich, Bali and Tahiti, and I was also in Los Angeles and New York City," recalls X-Files star Gillian Anderson of how she spent her summer hiatus. "It was part vacation and part business. I know it doesn't sound like there was much rest involved in all of that, but there was a good deal of rest along the way. I got a good week here and a good week there with no promotional stuff."
That promotional stuff included a zillion interviews with media around the globe. After all, The X-Files must now be considered one of the most popular shows on this planet, and Anderson, it seems, has assumed the unofficial role as its strawberry-blonde, hazel-eyed goodwill ambassador. That means everyone, everywhere wants a piece of Anderson, a moment of her time, an autograph and the like. That means that throngs of people await her appearance at a hotel in some far-off land where just four years ago Anderson could have walked around naked without creating much of a stir.
"The obligations of fame are interesting," she notes. "I remember a period of time when I was pregnant. That's when it really hit me that the show was getting successful. I felt for the first time that I had a certain responsibility to the audience to maintain at a time when I couldn't maintain it anymore because I was pregnant, tired and I was going through the whole hormonal thing. So, that was the first time any obligation really hit me. I have an obligation to do the show, to play this character and, beyond my contract, to Chris Carter. I try to do good work and to remain a good person. No fan of The X-Files or any TV show, I think, wants to hear the star of a show they watch bitch about their life or bitch about the fans. So, I try very hard to maintain a positive frame of mind about everything."
Still, Anderson's fans have heard her talking about her past a great deal of late. It's a past that includes a punk period when she was about 13, a time that involved shaving her head, sporting a purple mohawk and losing her virginity. "Some people were surprised by the things I've said recently," she says, laughing. "Many of the things have been blown way out of proportion. I honestly have nothing left to reveal. I try to be open and talkative about things in interviews. Everything, like my punk phase, seems to me to be old news now."
It's time to move on to the new, namely the fourth season of The X-Files. As she speaks, Anderson is on a break from shooting a new episode. "So far this year I've gotten to kick some butt, which has been good. I enjoyed that," she says, again laughing a very un-Scully-like laugh. "In a change of theme, there's a show or two where I end up saving Mulder's life. That's a nice twist on things. That's the only real change that I can see. Basically, Scully is who she is, who she has been from the beginning. Chris has maintained the structure for these characters. Scully is the scientist, the medical doctor, and that's how she approached her work. I don't really think that will ever change."
"Once in a while there are scripts that come along that are more challenging than others. There are some that allow me to express more of an emotional range or allow me to deal with different situations that we haven't dealt with before on the show. Those are the most fun for me to tackle because I learn a bit more about the character, inside and out, and the audience gets to do that as well. Those kinds of scripts keep the show fresh for everyone, for me, for David Duchovny and for the audience."
Among those challenging scripts are the ones that make up the various hours referred to as the "mythology episodes." Those are the outings that delve deeply into the backgrounds of not only Scully and Mulder, but Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), Mr. X (Steven Williams), Cancer Man (William B. Davis) and others involved one way or another with the series' continuing alien abduction/conspiracy plotline. Anderson chuckles at their mention. "I understand very little of what was going on in those," she admits. "There are certain aspects of them we had to understand in order to be able to do the work, but they did get very, very complicated. We're going to do more of them, and you have to be very attuned to the history of the show and to the history of the characters to really understand what's taking place."
"Some of those shows revealed that Scully was developing more of an open mind about the unknown. She has become willing to accept that the government is not all-powerful. Well, it is all-powerful, but it's not as trustworthy and up front as she originally believed it to be when she stared working for it. She has finally realized that she must watch her back at all times. So, as complicated as the 'mythology episodes' may be, they serve an important purpose for us."
Asked to cite her personal favorite episodes from season three of X-Files, Anderson wastes no time in selecting "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'," "Piper Maru" and "Pusher." Charles Nelson Reilly was the main guest star in "Jose Chung," which focused on a famed writer's UFO interrogations. "Piper Maru" involved the investigation of a mysterious sunken ship, which sent Scully back to the naval base where she grew up, and "Pusher" focused on a man whose brain tumor gave him heightened mental powers, a talent he used to force Scully and Mulder into a game of russian roulette.
"Jose Chung had such a smart script, sharp and tight. It was so well-written and fabulous. It had some wonderful twists and turns in it," Anderson enthuses. "Charles was excellent in it I thought that Rob Bowman, who directed that one, really did it justice. He pulled it together in a way that I don't think any of us expected when we first read the script. In reading it, it was great but confusing. Overall, it turned into what I found to be a really exciting, tight episode."
"Piper Maru went into Scully's head a little bit more than we had for a while, and dealing with some of her past. That's always something that makes for extra work and challenge and excitement on the set for me. It was such a great script, and I think it turned out really well. I was relaxed while we were making that one, for some reason, and that came across a little bit in the end. I seemed less stiff and more in the show and more in the moment. From my standpoint, of being so critical of myself, I like the relaxed nature of my work in the show."
"And Pusher was another great episode. It was really intense. I thought it was a great idea that this guy could get inside people's minds to such a degree that he could write 'Pass' on a piece of paper, stick it to his chest and that somebody who was looking at it would see it as a real FBI pass," she continues. "It's the stuff like that in the series as a whole that I find very clever. I also love the scene at the end, where Mulder is playing russian roulette and almost shoots himself, then he pulls the gun on Scully. It was just a very intense show to work on, and it came out great. That one's popular with many people."
It sounds as if there's a direct correlation for Anderson between episodes that are challenging to her as an actress and those with which she's most satisfied. "Exactly," she says. "Generally, the harder the episode and the more I show up and do good work, the more I like the episode." Anderson, too, also enjoys those episodes that feature interesting guest stars. Over the years, The X-Files has had more than its fair share of intriguing visitors. "We've been very fortunate to get some great guest stars we've gotten. It's always a wonderful boost for us to have those episodes where we have a great guest, because we get to be really challenged," she notes. "A good guest star keeps you fresh, keeps you on your toes. We just did an episode with Pruitt Taylor Vince, who you might know from Heavy and Nobody's Fool. He and I had a lot of scenes together, and it was just wonderful working with him. He was the sweetest guy in the world and we really hit it off."
"We've had some really great people on the show. Steve Railsback was great in his shows from the second season, Duane Barry and Ascension. J.T. Walsh was great to work with, and I adored Peter Boyle [who won a Best Dramatic Guest Star Emmy for his work in Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose] and Charles Nelson Reilly, who is one of the most hysterical people I've ever met in my life. Everything is a joke to him, and he really made life on the set light and fun and a joy. Peter is a very, very sweet man and he was just so good his show. I thought he was perfectly cast for that role. I have very strong feelings about Peter and about that episode as a whole because of the work that we got to do together in that one. I just thought it was a great episode."
When it comes to the directors of The X-Files, there are three men who have helmed the bulk of the series' finest shows: Rob Bowman, David Nutter and Kim Manners. Bowman's episodes include Our Town, End Game and GenderBender, while Nutter's include Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, Firewalker and Ice. Among Manners' shows are Humbug, Grotesque and Die Hand Die Verletzt.
Anderson happily compares and contrasts working with the trio of directors. "David is an actor's director. He was an actor, I believe. Well, so was Kim Manners. But David is truly an actor's director in that he really gets into the characters' minds and is really very specific about what's needed for each scene. He's very soft-spoken and gentle in his work."
"Kim is the polar opposite in the gentle side, simply because he is very rambunctious, very outgoing and very loud. Those are elements that are just as effective for us. It's just another side of how we get things done on the show. He always says, 'Kick it in the ass!' before we shoot a scene. And he yells it. He has a very, very loud voice. He couldn't have a conversation without half the town he's in hearing exactly what he's saying. The crew loves him."
"And Rob knows exactly what's going on in a scene, in terms of what work needs to be done between the actors. But he's more focused on how the shot looks and the creativity of the setup and doing risk-taking shots no matter how long it takes us or whether or not we can actually do it. What else can I say about Rob? He's kind of a guy's guy."
There are, of course, two other men, David Duchovny and Chris Carter specifically, who figure prominently in Anderson's professional life on The X-Files. "David and I have a good working relationship. We come to work and we do the work on some days, and on other days, we goof around and have a laugh," she says. "We have a good camaraderie." Mercifully, X-Philes have not had to endure the sight of Scully and Mulder becoming romantically involved, a situation that suits Anderson just fine. After all, how many TV shows have gone irretrievably downhill after the lead characters jumped into bed? "I think the elements of their relationship, their platonic intimacy, are very intriguing. There have been episodes, and there is one in particular this season, where we say a couple of things to each other that are very shocking to the audience. When I first read the script, I was shocked. The longer Scully and Mulder get closer without ending up in bed, the better, I think that will be more interesting, intriguing, satisfying and titillating for the audience."
As for Carter, he's the man who took the chance on casting Anderson, and she will be forever grateful. Still, one can only wonder how the actress feels about the show's guiding force splitting his focus by creating, overseeing and writing episodes of Millennium. "I'm not worried about that kind of thing. If anything, I worry about his state of mind, his stamina. But," she adds, "I don't worry about Chris dropping The X-Files. He has promised us that he won't. He still spends a great deal of time writing scripts of his own and going over scripts or rewriting episodes written by other people. So, he's putting just as much energy into X-Files as he did before he got started on Millennium. He is always going to have the same vision for The X-Files."
In earlier interviews (PLATINUM #2, STARLOG #213, EXPLORER #11), Anderson expressed no interest in following in Duchovny's footsteps by coming up with the story for an X-Files episode, but noted that she might want to someday explore the task of producing. Now, she feels exactly the opposite. "I know I said those things," she says, laughing. "I'm not necessarily interested in producing anymore. I like creative input. When David started coming up with a few storylines and I was asked if I was going to do the same, it was actually at a time when I'd just had a baby and I didn't feel like I could do anything more than what I was handling at that particular time. So, coming up with story ideas, getting involved at the creative level, wasn't anything I was thinking about or interested in doing at that point. Now that things have balanced out a little bit and I have a few more minutes here and there, I've had a bit more time to put some of my ideas on paper."
Anderson has, in fact, met with Carter to discuss a few of her ideas, and she reports that there will "definitely" be an episode that carries a "Story by Gillian Anderson" credit sometime in the future. What the story is, however, she won't reveal. It certainly will not involve the beginning of a relationship between Scully and Skinner, which is something that X-Philes have been clamoring about ever since it became the X-Files rumor du jour. "First of all, I think it would be a great plotline for something to happen between Scully and Skinner. I love working with Mitch. He's one of the sweetest people in the world," she raves. "He's very professional. He's very good as Skinner, very mysterious and hard to read. But I've read a couple of interviews with Chris, and he said a relationship between Scully and Skinner will never happen. So, I assume it won't."
Another thing that may not happen is an X-Files film with Anderson in it. Carter has said that 20th Century Fox would like an X-Files film to be shot during the show's 1997 summer hiatus. During that same period, Anderson hopes to act in something, anything other than an X-Files project. It's not that she has no interest in a big-screen version of the Scully-Mulder exploits, but she would prefer to wait until after the series finishes its small-screen run. "To be honest, I don't know if I'm going to be in the X-Files film. I would love to do it. I would love to be involved with Chris and David and whoever else is involved with it. But," explains the actress, who will appear in an upcoming X-Files CD-ROM game, "I'm in the process of looking at some other scripts. It's really important to me to find something that speaks to me in a different genre, and I would really like to sink my teeth into something else before I do an X-Files movie."
On other X-fronts, Anderson chats for a few moments about the Topps comics and the official companion book written by former STARLOG contributor and Variety TV Editor Brian Lowry. So busy is she with the show and raising her daughter, Piper, who is now two, that Anderson hasn't had time to pay much attention to such X-Files offshoots. "I do like the comics. I recently commented that I wasn't crazy about the original artwork done for the comics. They've since changed it and I'm much happier with the artwork now. I just want to put that on the record. I felt kind of bad saying what I said originally. I have seen all the stuff," says the actress.
"I've skimmed through the X-Files companion, the book on the show and behind the scenes, I know that all the fans enjoy that stuff, which is great, but most of the time I stay away from that kind of thing because I don't have the time. It really has little to do with the work that we're doing here on the show."
As Gillian Anderson prepares to head back to the X-Files set to shoot her next scene, she's asked to contemplate life beyond the show. Clearly, it's something she has already done. "The next steps are to do features and, eventually, to go back and do some theater, preferably in New York. Hopefully, it will be something as far from The X-Files and Scully as possible. I would love to do a comedy," she says. "I'm an actress. The X-Files was my foot in the door. I'll always be thankful to Chris and the fans, but I want to do other things, too. And, hopefully, I'll get the chance."
Transcript provided by Alfred and appears courtesy of Starlog.