Gillian, Looks Like a Million
By Stephanie Mansfield
The X-Files' fastidious fed takes an unfettered fantasy ride
Ask Gillian Anderson what it said under her high school picture, and she pauses, pursing her plump lips.
Most likely to appear on a cult television series, to become famous as the ferociously smart female half of the ultra-hip FBI investigative team searching out the dark underbelly of paranormal activity?
"I think," she says, a small smile forming, "I was voted class clown, and most likely to be arrested."
As in the slammer? Our girl Scully behind bars?
She cracks up, her giggle filling this sterile Vancouver hotel room with a disarming dose of pure outlaw mirth. She is sitting on the floor, nibbling fresh pineapple and crisp Italian bread in between setups of a daylong photo shoot in which she will transform herself from Esther Williams to Marlene Dietrich to a feather-robed Vargas Girl.
"I was arrested on graduation night for breaking and entering into the high school." It was, she confesses, a night of excess, after which "I called my boyfriend, who had given up and gone home earlier in the evening. I spent several hours in jail before he came to get me out."
And so, rabid X-philes, somewhere in a suburban Grand Rapids police station is a badly lit, cruelly stark mug shot of the teenage Anderson, pierced nose and all. "It was a punk stage I went through," she says, folding her legs.
The 27-year-old actress is a diminutive woman with a fetching smile and large eyes. Although she comes across as rather formidable on-screen, she is actually quite tiny, frail even, with fine strawberry hair and freckled ivory skin. There's a beauty mark over her upper lip, which is masked by makeup for the show because FBI agents presumably don't sport such alluring physical accoutrements.
Anderson straps on a pair of spiky, four-inch high heels and, walking to the elevator, nearly topples forward, face first.
Beauty mark or no, this is no glamour puss. "It's fun to dress up to a certain degree," she says, trying to decide whether the '40s-inspired black netting the stylist has placed over her eyes should be above or below her nose. "I wouldn't want to do it all the time. There's something to be said for putting a nice dress on and getting all glammed up, but that's not who my character is."
In fact, special agent Dana Scully may be the most humorless woman on television. In her serious suits and frumpy pumps, she exudes a certain self-righteous discipline. A woman who always puts the cap back on the toothpaste tube, and never, ever squeezes from the middle.
And no two personas could be more opposite than Anderson and the brainy scientist she portrays.
"I'm not that intelligent," she says. "I don't have that reference matter in my head. I'm more spontaneous. I laugh. I'm crass. I'm raunchy."
Ask costar Mitch Pileggi (FBI assistant director Skinner) what people would be most surprised to learn about Anderson and he doesn't hesitate. "Her sense of humor. Once she gets the giggles, it's like, forget it."
X-Files outtakes are filled with clips of Anderson cracking up, and these scenes are all the more bizarre because as Scully, she is forbidden to exhibit this natural levity.
She says she has laughed only once in three seasons, and smiled maybe three times in the last 73 episodes.
Series creator, executive producer, and writer Chris Carter begs to differ.
"Actually, she has smiled in more episodes than that. I think she also smiled in the pilot."
"Very few of us do smile," adds Pileggi. "It's pretty serious." And for Anderson, he says, "it's the nature of her character. She's a doctor, trying to deal with a partner who's off the deep end sometimes. Actually, there's more David [Duchovny] in Mulder than Gillian in Scully."
Carter describes her as "a classic beauty, who plays older than her years. I think she's very independent emotionally, very adult and mature." At the same time, he adds, "she's got the most easy and girlish laugh. She's a terrific comedic actress."
On this balmy afternoon, with the snow-tipped mountains of British Columbia forming a dramatic skyline beyond the plate-glass window, Anderson is lying on the floor, decked out in a vintage pink silk dressing gown bordered by a thick layer of marabou. The photographer asks her to shift her legs. With each move, the feathers come loose and drift toward her face.
She tries to stifle a laugh.
Then there's a small giggle.
Suddenly, the giggling grows more intense.
"Is she crying?" someone wonders aloud.
She can't stop.
"I'm slaphappy," she guffaws.
The photographer rolls his eyes. "Let's get serious," he suggests.
This only makes it worse. The hair stylist frets. The makeup man turns away, trying not to smile.
Anderson drops her head to the floor, surrendering to her giddiness. Everyone in the room is giggling uncontrollably.
Finally, the photographer admits defeat and calls it a wrap.
Anderson stands, wiping tears from her eyes. "The feathers," she gasps, "were going up my nose!"
This giddy Vargas Girl image is a long way from Anderson's tortured teenage years, when she cut her hair in a Mohawk and lived with a musician 10 years her senior. With her all-black uniform and her penchant for slam-dancing, she embraced the punk movement. "I've paid my dues in life," she says softly. "It was something I needed to do. I don't regret it."
After graduating from Chicago's DePaul University, she moved to New York and found work in the theater. Bent on a film career, she migrated to Los Angeles, spent a year auditioning, and finally won the X-Files part the day her last unemployment check arrived.
In September 1993, two months into production, she began dating an X-Files colleague, art director Clyde Klotz (he's no longer with the show). They were married New Year's Day 1994 on the 17th hole of an oceanside golf course in Hawaii. The ceremony was presided over by a Buddhist priest.
The following September, 10 days after giving birth to daughter Piper by cesarean section, Anderson returned for her second season on the series. Fortunately, the script called for the new mother to be in a coma. "During the first season, I didn't know who the hell I was, let alone who this character was," says Anderson, who is committed to The X-Files for four more years. "I didn't feel until we began the third season that things changed for me on a personal and emotional level. I really started to feel grounded."
Part of that growth was becoming a mother. "It took the attention off me. It was such a relief." She adds, "I feel a lot stronger as a person in the world now.
I remember, after going through the birthing process, feeling that no cut, no abrasion, no knock to the head will make me whine again."
And while Anderson went through a period of not liking her looks very much, she is more comfortable with her visage now, if somewhat oblivious to its effect on others. "I honestly don't look in the mirror very much. I get up in the morning, and most of the time I get to work and have my hair and makeup done before I realize I should have checked to see if I had sleep in my eyes."
It's easier, Anderson says, for the cast to be in remote Vancouver, away from all the Hollywood hoopla. "It's probably much better. It's been a fast enough change for me as it is, even being up here. I can't imagine it being faster and still being able to stay sane through it all." But she calls Vancouver "a small town" and says the nine months a year she works on the show are lonely ones. "I have a support system in L.A., which I don't have here," she says. "I feel at home there in a certain way, which I don't feel here. It's lonely in that I don't feel comfortable here. It doesn't feel like my place."
Suddenly, she seems melancholy. "I think too much," she says, looking away.
She is asked if she believes there is one person we are meant to be with, a psychic partner, a soul mate. "I think people come in and out of our lives to teach us. And we teach other people. It's part of the process. They come in and they go out. Some stay for longer than others."
She has admitted that her marriage has gone through stressful periods.
Is she hard to be married to?
"Very," she says emphatically. "Anybody in the situation I'm in right now would be hard to be married to. I'm incredibly strong-willed. I want to do what I want to do. I'm not controlling, but I know what I want."
She says she is more ambitious than her husband. "He understands, but at the same time he's very family-oriented. I'm family-oriented and career-oriented at the same time. 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."
We get on the subject of men and women and sex and friendship. The subtext: Scully and Mulder.
Why can't we sleep with our friends?
"Because it would ruin the friendship," she cries. "Because most people, once sex happens, cannot be the same with the person again."
She changes back into a pair of black jeans and dons a pair of wire-rimmed glasses and a black baseball hat. We head to the elevator. One last question: What does she think is the one thing men would like women to know about them?
As she rounds the corner, a short, dark-haired man approaches. "OK, wait a minute," he says excitedly. "I know"
Anderson looks extremely puzzled and a tad frightened. Does he recognize her? Does he know who she is? Is he one of those crazed Internet fans?
"Maybe not. Maybe I don't know," he says. He just stands there, arms waving.
"What are you talking about?" she queries the stranger.
"The answer. To the question," he says, sounding eerily like an X-Files sort of character. From out of nowhere.
The elevator opens. She gets on. He doesn't.
Transcript appears courtesy of TV Guide.