Interviewed by: Greg Williams
December 1996 / January 1997
Nothing is as it seems. Gillian Anderson stands in the middle of a New York street wearing little more than a pair of black gloves and some transparent trousers. Even on New York's Lower East Side this might seem a little outlandish, but Anderson is more bothered by the chilly breeze than by being half-naked and surrounded by strangers.
The New York setting, is little more than a facade, a set designer's construction for NYPD Blue which is filmed here at Twentieth Century Fox Studios in Century City in Los Angeles, where Gillian Anderson is being photographed for Esquirer. Sometimes the streets double as a backdrop for Fox's hospital drama Chicago Hope. A Fox employee tells me that the apparently authentic graffiti is carefully rendered to ensure that gang passions are not inflamed.
Today Anderson has her own gang. The obligatory SWAT team of publicists, stylists, hair and make-up plus their respective assistants and their assistants' assistants. "You're a breast man!" Anderson says to the photographer, as he rejects a cleavage-unfriendly dress. "You're enough to drive a woman to implants." Everyone laughs at Anderson's jokes, as they might at those of any movie star. But, of course Anderson is not a movie star. Not yet. Currently she's a TV star and possibly the most famous female TV star in the world. As agent Scully in The X-Files, she's known from Tel Aviv to Tokyo, London to L.A.
The day after the Esquirer shoot, 29-year-old Anderson sits in her hotel in Beverly Hills on a rare day from filming in Vancouver where The X-Files is based, for reasons of cost, for nine months of the year. She forgoes breakfast, ordering decaffeinated coffee and a bottle of Evian, but hands the waiter a packet of nutritional supplement which is mixed up in the kitchen. It's brought to the table in two tall glasses with straws, like milk shakes from a soda fountain.
Anderson admits that initially she had "no expectations -- I didn't expect it to fail and I didn't expect it to be successful", and is slightly baffled by The X-Files's success. "I don't think that ten years ago the show would have lasted a series," she says. "But people are ready for it now. I think that something started to take place in the early Nineties. There is an acceptance of the idea that we are not alone, that we are being taken care of by angels."
"There's obviously a need for it. The whole world on a political level, on an environmental level, on a social level, it's been a really hard one hundred years for everybody. As we're getting close to the end of the millennium there's a great deal of metaphysical reflection on where we've been and where we're going. I think that people want to feel hope. I mean this is separate from the show. The show is more paranormal than spiritual. But I think that the reason why there is an acceptance of things otherworldly in our society right now is because of a need to feel safe, to feel unafraid, to feel powerful, to feel love, to heal all the anger that we've been creating for ourselves."
Anderson is petite -- she puts a cushion on her chair to elevate herself while we talk -- and pretty in a girl-next-door kind of way. There is a small mole beneath her left nostril that is usually covered by the icing sugar make-up used in the show. She wears a fitted pink cardigan unbuttoned at the top, so that a slash of black bra is visible beneath. In person she lacks Scully's school ma'am frumpiness, but not her intensity.
She claims to be oblivious to the forces that she's unleashed on the Internet -- a paranoid global army of sweaty-palmed keyboard fans punching their shift keys and double-clicking their mice in a quest for increasing levels of Anderson and The X-Files minutiae. There is even a website named The Church of the Immaculate Gillian.
"I have no fucking clue," she laughs when asked why she provokes such interest in men. "I have no idea. If they really knew me... It doesn't compute. I think my mind automatically thinks it's a mistake, it's a joke. Somebody is pulling a joke. It's a huge form of flattery, but it doesn't mean that I have to agree with it. When it bothers me is when I know that I can't go on vacation without being followed y cameras. Twice now I felt certain nobody was around taking pictures and I was wrong, pictures showed. And that's disturbing, really disturbing."
Does she ever feel as if she's being consumed by the character?
"There's a feeling of suffocation once in a while," she says. "It's stress basically. The hours and working hard on the show and doing lots of press and if constantly have someone saying, 'do an interview, answer these questions...' it's exhausting." However she adds that her dislocation from L.A. has made her transition from unknown to supernova a great deal easier.
Whether The X-Files will run its scheduled five season (the fourth is currently being made) Anderson won't let on. "We're the only show Fox has right now. We know we're going to be picked up at the end of the season. At the beginning it was a little iffy, but that's not an issue any more. But whether everybody who's involved now is also going to be involved in the next season I don't know. I can't answer that question."
Another bone of contention is that Anderson still earns half what David Duchovny is paid. She makes it clear that she's fighting for equality rather than the money. "I'm more than adequately compensated," she says before embarking on a detailed explanation of the Machiavellian machinations of television contracts. "It sucks," she concludes.
Over the last couple of years her life has changed beyond all recognition. She married, The X-Files's former production designer Clyde Klotz on New Year's Day 1994, and has a two-year-old daughter, Piper. Ultimately she wants to move into feature films, citing an interest in working with Mike Leigh. But whether the capricious winds of fame might dump her suddenly as they've thrown her headlong into stardom is anybody's guess. For the moment she's got her work cut out just stopping The X-Files from taking over her life.
"This is my life's work, this is what I know how to do and what I care about as much as anything in my life," she says. "I'm not going to give it up because I can't handle the attention. It's about following one's heart and one's dream. It's not about fame."
Transcript appears courtesy of Esquire Magazine.