High School Hellcat Saves Earth from Aliens
by Rick Schindler
Gillian Anderson went from rebellious teen to TV's X-Files.
Gillian Anderson looks good even while doing autopsies on aliens, one of her jobs on the hit series The X-Files, in which she plays FBI forensic scientist Dana Scully. Her aplomb in the face of UFO abductions, sinister conspiracies, and general weirdness is so unshakable it's sexy, and fans from Malibu to Melbourne - and across cyberspace - tune in eagerly to stare into her hazel eyes, imagining Scully is dialing them on her cell phone, instead of her partner, Fox Mulder.
But Anderson will be the first to tell you that Scully is very different from the 28-year-old actress who has won an Emmy nomination, a 1996 Golden Globe award, and international fame playing her. “She's not very spontaneous; I am. She can live without close personal relationships; I cannot. She is obscenely intelligent, and I am not. She is at least five foot six and I am not.”
So just how did this petite (five feet, two inches tall) and passionate young woman become the ice queen of the small screen with hardly any previous TV experience? (Anderson has admitted that when The X-Files debuted in September 1993, “I was so green. It was only my second time in front of a camera.”) The truth is out there, to borrow the show's slogan - or, to be more precise, back there, in Anderson's roots.
Gillian Anderson was born August 9, 1968, in Chicago, the first of Ed and Rosemary Anderson's three children. By the time she was two, her family had lived briefly in Puerto Rico and then moved to London, “because my dad went to film there.” (Today, Ed Anderson runs a film production company; Rosemary is a computer analyst.)
After nine years, the Andersons moved again, and young Gillian suddenly found herself a stranger in the strange land of Grand Rapids, Michigan (“I felt kind of English; I had a very strong accent”). But the family retained a vacation home in London, and “one summer when I was 12 or 13, I went back and was suddenly taken by the punks,” Anderson recalled recently. She returned to Michigan with a pierced nose and a truculent attitude.
At Grand Rapids' City High School her grades were bad, and she adopted a punk persona: nose ring; purple, black, and blue hair; black garb. She admits to having been confused, a loner, and to dating a man 10 years older than she. Young Gillian even spent a few hours in jail one night shortly before graduation - for trying to glue shut the doors of her school.
But the angry adolescent had begun to glean a purpose in life. “In 11th grade, I decided to audition for a community theatre play, and I got the part. I felt extremely happy, like I had found my place. My grades went up, and I was voted most improved student.” Abandoning a flirtation with marine biology, she returned to her birthplace in the fall of 1986, entering the prestigious Goodman Theatre School of Chicago's DePaul University.
The high school hellcat buckled down in college, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and even doing “bits and pieces” in the National Theatre of Great Britain's summer program at Cornell University. Then, following the footsteps of generations of hopeful young actors she beat a path for New York City.
At a Japanese restaurant in the East Village, Anderson waited on tables and waited for her first break. It came when she replaced Mary-Louise Parker in Alan Ayckbourne's Absent Friends at the off-Broadway Manhattan Theatre Club, for which she won a 1991 Theatre World award. But it was a play called The Philanthropist at the Long Wharf Theatre in new Haven, Connecticut, that indirectly put her on the path to The X-Files. She went to L.A. to visit a man she'd met in The Philanthropist. Though she'd only planned a two-week trip, she sold her return ticket and stayed a year.
It was not her favorite year. “I went out on three or four film auditions a day for a year and didn't get anything. I didn't have any money, and I was relying on my boyfriend to help me out financially.” Though Anderson had once vowed she would never do TV, she swallowed her pride and appeared in an episode of The Class of '96, a short-lived Beverly Hills, 91210 wannabe. Then, just as her last unemployment check arrived, came the chance to read for something called The X-Files.
Instantly Anderson sensed the show was something different. “I remember precisely where I was, what I was wearing, what I was doing when I was reading the script for the first time,” she recalled last year. “I had this huge feeling about it.” Huge enough to put her on a plane to Vancouver, British Columbia, for an audition that left X-Files creator Chris Carter impressed. “She came in looking a little disheveled, a little grungier than I'd imagined Scully,” Carter told Entertainment Weekly, “but you can't miss those classic features. And she had a seriousness, a believability as a scientist.”
Executives of the Fox Network were less enthusiastic. They wanted an established television actress to pair with already-cast male lead David Duchovny, who had already done feature films, including The Rapture and Kalifornia. (Anderson's only movie credit was a supporting role in a low-budget drama called The Turning, released in 1992.) Besides, “I was convinced they were looking for someone leggier, and with a bigger chest,” she recalled. But Carter was intractable; Anderson was his Scully. Fox relented and she got the part.
Suddenly everything began to happen at once. In September 1993, as America was meeting Dana Scully, her portrayer met a German-born production designer nearly ten years her senior named Errol Clyde Klotz on the X-Files set. By New Year's Day, they were exchanging wedding vows before a Buddhist priest on the 17th hole of a Hawaiian golf course.
Then, after returning to the mainland, Anderson attended a Fox party where she encountered a fortune-teller who predicted she was soon to have a baby girl. “I am not!” she later recalled saying.
The morning sickness began a month later. There was no getting around it. Just as The X-Files was struggling to get off the ground, its fledgling female lead was pregnant.
Anderson feared she would be fired, but once again, Chris Carter came to her rescue, devising an ingenious alien-abduction story line to explain Scully's temporary absence. And that absence was brief; the actress worked into her ninth month of pregnancy before giving birth to an eight pound, ten once daughter, Piper, on September 25, 1994. Even though the difficult birth required an emergency C-section, Anderson was back at work after only ten days.
With the help of a nanny, Piper has grown into the terrible twos on the X-Files set, completely undaunted by a weekly assortment of aliens and monsters. At the same time, the show's popularity has expanded from an initial cult of “X-Philes” (as the series' admirers call themselves) to become a full-fledged hit.
And Anderson's own popularity has grown right along with it. Internet fans groups quickly sprang up, including a cadre of male admirers called the Gillian Anderson Testosterone Brigade. Her 1995 Golden Globe nomination was followed by a 1996 Emmy nomination. The cover of the May 1996 Rolling Stone, picturing Anderson in bed with Duchovny, was a hot seller, and other magazine covers have quickly followed.
Nor is Anderson's appeal limited to American viewers. In France, The X-Files has aired three nights a week. In England, she hosted a science series for the BBC. And when the actress made a personal appearance at a shopping mall in Melbourne, Australia, last June, ambulances had to be haul fainting fans away from a screaming crowd of 10,000. It is also testament to her stature that she was recently signed to costar with Sharon Stone in an upcoming movie, The Mighty.
In recent months, the actress has landed in tabloid stories that reported her husband moving out of their Vancouver home - and linked her with a small-time actor who, it turns out, faces several sexual charges in Canada. (That actor, Adrian Hughes, had denied a romance with Anderson, who in any event has reportedly broken off communication with him.)
So the troubled teenager who grew up to become an unlikely, thinking-man's sex symbol still has troubles as well as triumphs. Which aspect of Anderson - self-possessed Scully, or angry punk rocker of the past - will prevail? The truth is out there - in her future.
(Rick Schindler is a writer/editor at TV Guide.)
Transcript provided by Alfred and appears courtesy of Biography Magazine.