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US Magazine
October 1997
by Margy Rochlin

Let us observe Gillian Anderson. She is laughing. Judging from previous articles written about her, this is a significant moment. Invariably identified with Dana Scully, the FBI agent she plays on "The X-Files", Anderson is probably one of the few subjects in the history of entertainment journalism who has had entire pieces devoted to seeking proof of the existence of her laughter.

Perhaps it is because when you see her on television or in candid snapshots, her pretty Pre-Raphaelite features are usually arranged in a pretenaturally studious manner. The expression is a blend of braininess, strength, and something else, although you're not sure what. It leaves you wondering whether you should tread carefully or just assume that she uses her deadpan artifice to conceal roiling emotions. A men's magazine recently chose the latter by nominating her one of the women they would love to be handcuffed by. Upon being informed of this honor, Anderson says, "That's a compliment, right? I mean, that indicates a certain amount of trust in me," which is a perky way of looking at it but probably beside the point.

The 29-year-old rubs her large blue eyes. Last night she spent hours crashing through the cornfields of California's Central Valley with her co-star David Duchovny, filming the as-not-yet-unnamed top-secret X-Files movies. Now she sits by a Bakersfield hotel swimming pool, her girlish freckles concealed by the layer of beige foundation she neglected to wash off when she finally fell asleep at dawn. She says she'd like to go to a nearby amusement park, one that beckoned to her in all its garishly colored glory, but her driver, who she hoped would accompany her, is nowhere to be found. "I just liked the idea of driving little bumper cars and hitting balls with a bat," she says, shrugging. And so it is that she'll remain poolside, helping to complete what an X-Files fan would consider the wettest of dreams: Over the course of several hours, everyone from the cast and crew, including Duchovny and show creator Chris Carter, will congregate here, settling sleepily into white plastic deck chairs and socializing until it's call time again.

It's anyone's guess if Anderson's co-workers have spotted her, across the pool, protecting her pale skin from the blazing Bakersfield sun under a wooden lanai. To be certain, no one's waving at her or calling out hello, and she's not flagging them down either. After 15 hours together, you guess, you'd probably feel comfortable ignoring your co-workers, too. But because initially Anderson is so hard to figure out, even the smallest detail seems worthy of notice.

The first time you see Anderson, she is striding across the hotel lawn in her easy, sturdy gait. She is smaller than you'd think, younger looking. While her smile is open, her posture is not. Two entire hours tick by before she relaxes, finally tossing off her blue baseball cap and uncrossing her arms from her white tank-topped chest.

Though her punk-rock past--nose ring, multicolor mohawk, loss of virginity at 13--has been well documented by the press, it has always seemed like the exaggerated tale of a brand-new ingenue trying to imprint herself on the national psyche. But about 30 seconds after meeting her, you realize that all the stories are true, that she traded in her Doc Martens but not the do-what-I-want demeanor, that she's still, on one level, the sort of teen-ager who got off chucking empties at brick walls. "I'm peeing as we talk, is that OK?" she'll later report while conducting a follow-up phone interview from her XF trailer. "I figured you're going to hear it anyway, and if I at least put it out there you'll be able to pay attention instead of wondering, is she peeing?"

(Additional proof of Anderson's insurgent phase: When contacted, Dr. Lisbeth Margulus, who was vice principal at Anderson's high school in Grand Rapid's, MI, kicks off the conversation with, "Are we talking about the time she handcuffed herself to the doors fo the theater building? The handcuffs again! Margulus also says that her most famous detainee was bad but never to the core: "She'd be brought into my office and everytime it would be like {with affectionate dismay}, 'Oh, Gillian. Now what have you done?'".

Now what have you done? It's likely GA has heard this refrain regularly over the past 4 years. Since The XF's first season, she has gotten married, after the briefest of courtships, to the show's assistant art director, Clyde Klotz, followed up with an unplanned pregnancy (which nearly got her removed from the series but, on a happier note, resulted in the birth of her beloved daughter, Piper Maru) and , recently, became a single gal, again. For all that, GA keeps hurtling herself through life, trying to be reflective about her misadventures.

The opportunity for her to win best-actress awards (Golden Globe, SAG) and inspire an ungodly number of Internet shrine pages can be credited largely to executive creator Chris Carter. Though, when her first met her, GA had, like a two-inch resume and the Fox network was demanding he cast a chesty airhead, he chose her for the lead role anyway. Says Carter: "I was looking for someone who could play a scientist believably--young enough to have just graduated from med school and be an FBI recruit. I needed someone who is Mulder's equal. When she walked into the room, she had a poise and a gravity, if you will."

"No," is Anderson's flat response when asked if she'll entertain the idea of another series, after The XF finally expires. Instead she is hoping to return to the stage. (GA is a classically trained theater geek by way fo DePaul University's Goodman Theater School, in Chicago.) And she's prudently assembling a features career, having selected two projects that allow her to be as un-Scully-ish as possible. In the indie ensemble flick Hellcab, she'll play a big-haired gabber from Chicago's South Side. This winter, she'll appear as a drink-swigging biker chick in The Mighty, a secondary role that she was originally rejected for by director Peter Chelsom (Hear My Song), until she sent him a homemade videotape of herself, reciting dialogue from the script. "I realized that she has that Meryl Streep thing of transforming herself," says Chelsom, who had felt until viewing her tape that GA wasn't old enough for the part and was too refined looking. "Who do I want to be the lead in my next movie? If she was in any way right, I want it to be Gillian."

At least this is certain: GA is as thoghtful and honest as you could ask of an interview subject--just don't choose her to be on your team in a game of TV Trivial Pursuit. The eldest daughter of Rosemary and Edward Anderson was raised in Puerto Rico and in London before finally landing in the United States. Does she remember Green Acres Anderson's forehead wrinkles. "That's the show with the grandma and grandpa and the people in Beverly Hills, right?"

US: How big are the holes in your knowledge of television?

GILLIAN: Most of my television knowledge is holes. Actually, I think its unfortunate. I see how nostalagic certain television shows make people feel. I have no shared experience of that. I'm just not literate in that way. But I'm also not literate in many other ways of my life. Growing up in England, you don't learn American history. By the time I moved to the U.S., everybody in my grade had already learned it.

US: But your tinkly British accent made you the hit of the schoolyard, right?

GILLIAN: My accent--this really heavy North London working-class accent--was so strong, people couldn't really understand me. I had to keep repeating myself all the time. But I automatically got attention for it, which is what I always wanted. And all of a sudden, I started to take advantage of that. Then no one liked me anymore. {laughs} I just became bossy and pushy and completely self-centered and ego driven, and everything was about me.

US: You're the eldest of 3 children. How ofte did you wish your parents had stopped procreating after you came along?

GILLIAN: For 12 years of my life I was an only child and received all the attention there was to give. Then that attention was split. Now, that was difficult. I suggest to any parent who is thinking about having another child to do it before your child reaches puberty. Because during is just not a happening thing. That's a point in a young adult's life where they need all the love and understanding they can get. It's a confusing, scary time. When most kids start feeling those changes is when they pick up drugs and act out.

US: And thus your now-famous period of adolescent rebellion?

GILLIAN: Well, yeah. That was part of it. That was part of my way of dealing with the fact that I felt like I'd been abandoned.

US: If what I've read is true, it led to a lot of moshing. These days, do you watch people mosh and wonder, what was I thinking?

GILLIAN: One night about a year ago, I said to a friend, "Let's go to a hip bar." And we went to Bar Marmount. Now that's when I wondered, what was I thinking? {Pause} Actually, last May, I was in England and I saw Cake perform, which is not even real mosh music. But people were moshing in the pit. They were just slamming against each other and bumping heads. And I wanted to get in there so fast. Now I have a punching bag in my basement; that's how I physically let it go. But back when I was a teen-ager, my need to mosh was about needing an arena of release. And it always worked. It took off part of the edge, and created an edge, too.

US: Uh-oh, you're making a face. What's the matter?

GILLIAN: {guardedly} I don't mind talking about this as long as we're talking about the cause and effect of it. Normally, when the conversation comes up, I say, I'm not talking about this anymore.

US: Why?

GILLIAN: The concept of Gillian-was-a-punk does not interest me. I'm sure people are sick of hearing about it too.

US: Let's put that on hold for now. Where's the strangest place you ever had a Proustian experience?

GILLIAN: There's this little dive that a friend of mine and I go to in Malibu that has been there forever. There's something about the bathroom there that just immediately depresses me. It's like a saloon bathroom, with a lot of dark wood. I mean, I can be a having a good conversation at the breakfast table and I'll go to the bathroom and, for some reason, it'll make me think about loss and lack and sadness. And it also makes me grateful for everything I have in my life and what my life has become. {pauses} There's something about the lighting and the smell that brings back some elusive memory of a previous bathroom in my life. But I just haven't pinpointed it yet.

US: Which sense do you most rely on, sight or smell?

GILLIAN: First sight, then smell. I'm a very visual person. Last night we were running through these fields...{quietly confers with herself} Am I allowed to talk about this? Oh God. The'e nothing I can throw out without giving everything away. OK, let's talk about smell. You know when you leave loofahs in the shower and they get a little moldy? When I was pregnant, I had a loofah in the shower that smelled musty. And it was the most amazing smell. It reminded me of London because there's a lot of dry rot there. It was this comfort zone for me: to go into the shower when I was pregnant and spend the entire time with this long, moldy loofah up my nose.

US: Your daughter is a fixture on the XF set. Does it encourage or inhibit her creative mind to know that boogeymen are made in a makeup trailer?

GILLIAN: Piper's curious about life in general. I think that comes part from being around such a creative enviroment. We have prosthetic people and aliens walking around all the time. She wants to touch them, wants them to hold her. If there's someone who has an eyeball hanging out of their face, she'll reach out and say, "Can I touch?" and then say {sympathetically}, "ohhh. I'm sorry." I think it's been healthy for her. She loves the crew, and they love her energy.

US: Has motherhood forced you to do things that you would never imagine yourself doing in the pre-Piper days?

GILLIAN: I can't imagine stepping foot in a Chuck E. Cheese. But if Piper wants to go for her seventh birthday, I'm taking her. I'm preparing myself now for the plastic insanity of it. And the noise. Unless it's a U2 concert and I've geared myself up for the entertainment aspect of it, I will not put myself in a situation where there are a lot of people who are loud and fake. [pause] I'm not saying that people who go to Chuck E. Cheese are fake. It's just that in those situations, I feel like I've stepped into another dimension of reality and I'm afraid that I'll never get out.

US: Piper is an interesting name. What else were you thinking of callingher?

GILLIAN: My name is pronounced with a soft g, not a hard one. It's Gill like jam, as opposed to gun. I wanted to keep the soft g in the family. I was thinking of Geneva, but it's too pretentious. But that sat in my head for a day--I think I saw a street sign. You know, there's a certain point when you're pregnant that you can look at a candy wrapper and think you've found a name. I mean, I could have named her Saccharine.

US: Has Piper done anything recently that you just didn't expect?

GILLIAN: She must have seen Beauty and the Beast at her cousin's house, because she hasn't seen it with me. But lately, when you play games with her, you say "What's your name?" and she always says [coy, girlish voice], "I'm Beauty." I mean, that's so not who she is. [contemplatively] She's constantly surprising me about how much of a girl she is. I was a tomboy. And she's a tomboy, too. I mean, I'd think she'd more likely to play the Beast, and she's into playing Beauty. I guess that 's my own projection. Because I would have definately been the Beast. That's the power role, right?

US: Are there other ways she reminds you of yourself?

GILLIAN: Well, Piper's very outgoing. When I was 6 or 7, something switched adn I closed down quite a bit. But I have a very strong memory of myself at her age as being very alive and happy and social. And she's that way. She also likes to get away with things. There's this mischievousness about her that I completely identify with myself as a kid.

US: Have you done something that you thought was funny at the time but that you had to apologize for later?

GILLIAN: I'm a huge prankster. You know how the craft-service girl will walk around the set with gumdrops or jelly beans or whatever? Well, there was this one jelly bean that had rolled around the floor and been kicked by a few people. So I picked it up and I walked over to the dolly grip--who is a friend of mine--and I said, "Look, I've completely eaten too many of these jelly beans. Do you want this one?" So he put it in his mouth and ate it, and everyone went, "Ewwwww." Right afterward, someone told him that it had been on the floor. [pause] I felt so bad. I went up to him and said [remorsefully], "I'm sorry. Don't take it personally. I just don't know what got into me."

US: What else really gets your conscience going?

GILLIAN: If I say something mean to somebody. When I was growing up, I was the brunt of that--and I really dished it out, too. My sarcastic wit was just a part of who I was. I would say things to people out of the blue that could just tear them down, and then I'd just walk away. I was so bad. But today I wll do anything in my power not to say those things. And if something slips out, I'll use the first chance I get to apologize to them. To me, that's what it means to take advantage of an opportunity to change. [Suddenly swings around and fixes her gaze on a lanky, shirtless man with quite well-defined abdominals as he slumps into a lounge chair by the pool] Hey, you get to see David Duchovny in shorts. {laughs happily}

US: David and Tea Leoni recently got married. Were you surprised?

GILLIAN: I was and I wasn't. At that point, I'd met Tea once and I knew just by the way they were together that there was something different about the relationship than there'd been with the previous girlfriend. So when I heard, I wasn't surprised they got married. But I was sort of surprised that he didn't tell me first. But I don't tell him stuff, either. I mean, he's a friend, and I care about him. And once in a while we share initimate information. Basically, we just work together. What I also didn't expect is that he called me from New York when he was making his "I'm sorry I didn't tell you" calls.

US: How many calls do you think he made before he got around to you?

GILLIAN: I wouldn't venture to guess. [laughs]

US: As long as we're on the topic of love: Why is Scully such a failure when it comes to affairs of the heart?

GILLIAN: That's not true. She had one date in the first season. [pauses] and another last year.

US: My point exactly. Do you have any tips you'd want to offer her?

GILLIAN: I'd like to say to her, "Loosen up. Just be yourself." Wait. That's not true. She is herself, but her life is about her work and not about personal relationships. When she's put into those intimate situations she's a bit stiff. Last season there was this episode where Scully gets a tattoo. And this guy that she's attraced to is standing right over her, staring right into her eyes. And how does she react? Her reactions are all about the pain of and fear of getting a tattoo. Now, somebody else--like me, for example--would have really played up the erotic possibilities of the situation. I would have taken advantage of looking into his eyes and playing up the pain and sensuality.

US: What exactly are we talking about here? Wasn't Scully's beautifully cheekboned companion played by your boyfriend, Rodney Rowland?

GILLIAN: [laughs] Well, we didn't start going out until months later. At the time, neither of us was in the right place to be in a relationship. We were just friends and would talk on the phone now and again. Eventually, we went out with some mutual friends for dinner and then...[trails off]

US: Wait a second. Technically, you're still married right?

GILLIAN: We're separated. But by the time this come out we may be divorced. You know, I believe people are in our lives for a reason. We're here to learn from each other. And sometimes things change. Um, things change.

US: Did you marriage turn you off to whirlwind courtships?

GILLIAN: At the time, everybody said, "It's not long enough" and "You guys should date for a while." Now I honestly have to say--although I don't think it's a mistake, because he's great person and we have Piper--but if I ever get married again, it will be after knowing someone for a long time first.

US: Describe the past three years.

GILLIAN: You mean, like, marriage, pregnancy, divorce, the series? There were times when I thought my heart was going to just stop and I'd keel over. I didn't think I could stand any more stress and live. Or be sane.

US: You were just in a Sharon Stone movie called The Mighty. Who said hi to whom first?

GILLIAN:[primly] It's not a Sharon Stone movie. It's a Peter Chelsom movie. He's the director. It's his vision, it's his film. Sharon Stone plays a small part in it.

US: I apologize. Can I rephrase my question?

GILLIAN: No, I'd rather that you put me on the record as saying that.

US: OK, OK. But who said hi first? You or Sharon Stone?

GILLIAN: We didn't even work together.

US: You were giving me grief for nothing? For that, you have to tell a Gillian-was-a-punk story. How about recalling your arrest on the night of your high school graduation.

GILLIAN: [laughs] I'd had an amazing idea: Me and 3 or 4 freinds should glue the locks of the school so that, in the morning, people wouldn't be able to get in.

US: What did you learn from your night in the holding cell?

GILLIAN: What I learned is that the police can be swayed by somebody in a good enough mood. And let's just say I was in a really good mood when it happened. I was just chatting and chatting with them. And they knocked it down from breaking and entering to trespassing, which was a huge difference. I didn't have to pay a fine, and they let me do that night, but I still had to do community serivce. For a week I had to clean this YMCA, which was entirely humilitating. The guy who ran the place was kinda mean to me when I had to scrub floors and polish windows and do all that kind of yucky stuff that you don't want to do on a summer day. [turns around and in a polite but stern tone addresses a group of beefy men chatting loudly in a nearby Jacuzzi] Is your conversation going to continue for a while? Because if it is we can move. You're more than welcome to make a lot of noise; it just doesn't work for us.

[Picks up her plastic bottle of water and moves to a table across the pool}

US: That was very straightforward. You probably expect that approach from others.

GILLIAN: Give me your hand. [Gives a moist, limp handshake] I am, like, out the door when a woman walks up to me in a business situation and shakes my hand in that way. To me that says, "I'm better than you. I'm not getting too close. I'm not interested enough in our communication to commit to this." I love it when a woman gives me a strong handshake, I think, I like you. Right on, girl.

US: An actress I once interviewed expressed her belief that when women masturbate it's not about sex. Is that what all celebrities think, or is it one woman's weird opinion?

GILLIAN: Well, I'd have to disagree with her. [Laughs] It's about pleasing yourself when the hell you want to. You know, like even when you have a boyfriend, sometimes you're in the mood and they're not around. [Pause] Are we really having this conversation? [laughs]

US: Do you know that, except when you laugh, you always have a serious look on your face?

GILLIAN: I know this from people telling me. People are always saying, "Is something wrong?" or "You look so serious." You know, I laugh a lot. But I take life seriously. There are so may thoughts going on in my head at one time. If I allow them to run their gamut, they can take over. Part of my surivial mechanism is about quieting those voices. When I'm looking that way, I'm either thinking or I'm in a space where I'm purposely not thinking.

US: So you thing you're misunderstood because of your air of solemnity?

GILLIAN: My first reaction would be, "Sure, but so what?" But in a way, I think that it might not be such a good thing in my life. People automatically assume that I'm in totally in control even at times when I'm not. Even at times when I need help, I make it appear that I don't need it.

US: Does anyone have a pet nickname for you?

GILLIAN: My grandmother called me Gilly, but that's the extent of it. Name diminuizations--is that a word?--haven't been something that's been a part of my family or my life. {Pause} [Rod] has a funny name for me. It's cute. But it's not endearing. He's one of those people who have to abbreviate everything. You know, sushi is "soosh." So he calls me Gla. Those are my intitials: G.L.A. Gillian Leigh Anderson.

US: You walk very tall. Do you ever forget that you'r only 5 feet two?

GILLIAN: It depends on how I feel about myself in a given moment. Sometimes I forget I'm short. Sometimes I totally feel how short I am.

US: Like when you have to stand on a box to do a scene with David Duchovny?

GILLIAN: I don't have to stand on a box. Sometimes when we're ina situation walking side by side, like up to a door to pull out our badges and say we're from the FBI, I have to step up onto something so that we're on the same level. I mean, I don't walk on boxes or have boxes attached to my feet. It's funny: Sometimes I forget I'm on the box. Like, I'll have this very serious moment in a very serious scene and I'll turn to the camera and fall right off the box.

US: A couple of times during this interview you've hit on the topic of self-awareness. At what age do you think you started to becaome a better person?

GILLIAN: I think I became a better person at age 25. It had something to do with being pregnant and being with my husband. If there was one hughe thing that my husband--um, ex-husband--taught me, it was to have respect for the work that every single person does, and on this show in particular. You know, the X-Files was my first real job, and as far as I was concerned, it was all about me. It was about me and David. And it had nothing to do with me. I was just one of the workers.

US: But you're a former waitress. You should know what it is like to be spoke in the wheel.

GILLIAN: Well, I was a rude waitress.

US: Did your rudeness every bite back?

GILLIAN: Once, I worked at a health-food restaurant on Eighth Street in Manhattan. And a woman came in and ordered mixed fish stew. And it came and it had fish in it. And she said, "I didn't know it had fish in it." And I said, "Mixed. Fish.Stew. Which part didn't you get?" So she ordered something else. But I know that I made her feel like a piece of shit. Afterward, when she was getting ready to leave, she came up to me and put me in my place. She said, " You know what? That wasn't OK. I'm a human being. I don't deserve that kind of treatment." And I felt sooo bad. {Pause} I'll always remember that moment because she was completely right to confront me. She had no reason to be treated that way. I mean, we all make mistakes. At some point we all don't see the fish part in the mixed fish stew.

Transcript provided by Liz Tunison and appears courtesy of US Magazine.

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