by, Sheryl Garratt
Monday, 12.30pm. I'm in a bar in Vancouver called The Headless Woman. The downstairs lights are unnaturally bright, so I retreat to the cosier, darker confines of the upstairs balcony. Lots of other people seem to have had the same idea, and they're sitting around sleeping, reading, playing cards, all looking like they've been here far too long. The crowd downstairs is more animated: drinking, talking, eating, doing the kind of things you usually do when you're in a bar. Suddenly, the flame-haired woman who had been chatting to a man in khakis below jumps to her feet and pulls out a gun. "Get down!" shouts FBI Agent Dana Scully, firing off a shot. "Stay down!" And then she drops the gun limply to her side and gestures towards the panicking crowd in frustration. "Sweeties, you're in the line of fire," says Gillian Anderson, before sitting down wearily at her table.
A man in jeans and a pony-tail walks on to the floor. "Thanks for stopping, Gillian. That was smart," says X-Files director Kim Manners, before turning to lecture the extras who've been picked out from the crowd upstairs. They're to wait for a second gunshot before they panic, and to remember that when a gun is fired, people don't rush towards it.
As the cameras reposition and her gun is taken away to be reloaded with blanks, Gillian sits immobile while her make-up is retouched, her hair put back into place, imaginary flecks brushed from her black coat and trouser-suit. Twenty minutes later they're ready to go again, and Scully leaps into action once more.
Until the set breaks for lunch almost two hours later, Gillian Anderson continues to shout "Get down! Stay down! Get out of the way! Move! " as the scene is filmed from various perspectives. Someone has been caught in the cross-fire, and it turns out to be that nice Agent Pendrell, the one in forensics who has a bit of a crush on Scully. Between takes, the actor walks around dripping blood and laughing. Gillian's two-year-old daughter Piper runs happily around the set, supervised by her nanny and playing with the crew.
Six hours later, Pendrell is still on the floor, bleeding. At 6.30pm, the paramedics arrive to take a look. At 8.30pm, they are still looking at him. An hour later, they finally put the poor sod on a stretcher. "He's not going to die," says Scully, but it's still 10.30pm by the time they wheel him out to the ambulance and Assistant Director Skinner arrives on the scene. It seems there's some sort of conspiracy, and the US Army is involved. Tired now, the actors keep fluffing their lines. "Fuck!" shouts Gillian Anderson. "Fuck!" shouts Mitch Pileggi, who plays Skinner.
When the cameras finally watch Scully walking out of the door it's lam. Some of the crew has been in this bar - a real bar, as it happens, although they proudly tell me that the set designers are so good, I wouldn't know it if it wasn't - for over 18 hours. The sequence they have been shooting will appear in a two-part episode of The X-Files. On screen, it will last rather less than five minutes. The truth is out there, but it takes a bloody long time to film it.
This kind of day is normal on The X-Files. Each episode of the series is shot in eight days, with a second unit doing an additional five days' work. It's a punishing schedule that continues, relentlessly, for nine-and-a-half months a year. Today, Gillian was picked up at her home at 7am. Since contracts stipulate a 12-hour break before shooting can resume, the next day they'll start at l pm, and the next day at 5pm, finishing well into the night. This and fact that it rains constantly in Vancouver explains the series' dark, windswept look: a trademark born more from necessity than invention. "We try and film a feature in the time it takes to film a TV show," says Gillian as we talk between takes. "And we do it, but it kills us in the process."
Gillian Anderson grew up in north London. Her parents moved there from the States when she was two, and stayed for nine years. Gillian remembers being driven around in her parents' VW bug, buying sweets in Crouch End; playing by the lily pond and in the trees on Hampstead Heath; Guy Fawkes fireworks at Muswell Hill or Ally Pally. They're romantic memories, she says - most of the time she wasn't particularly happy. Her parents worked hard, her dad sometimes taking on two or three jobs at once. They didn't have a great deal of money, and Gillian was an only child with no real friends. She was bullied at school, and as a result became something of a bully herself. "I don't mean to sound as if I had a horrible childhood, because I didn t. I was born with some kind of unease inside, an unrest. All of my life, it's been about either squelching that, trying not to let it get out of control, or reacting to it in some way. And because of that I was always quite sad."
When her dad got a job back home and they moved to the small and none- too-liberal town of Grand Rapids, Michigan, it was a shock. The arrival of a baby sister, then a brother, just as she reached those awkward early teens can't have helped matters either. "I just felt completely out of place. I never felt like I was American. And I still don't. England has had a huge influence in my life. Eventually I may end up living there parttime. I love London."
She smiles. "if it wasn't for the bloody tabloids, I might get a place there now."
Her parents kept their fiat in Haringey, and they ail went back to London every other summer. It was on one of these trips, when she was 14, that "it just hit me", and Gillian became a punk. She went to Wood Green Shopping City and got her nose pierced: "To my parents' chagrin," she laughs. Before they returned to Michigan she went back to have the stud changed to a ring, but it was too early and the hole was still healing. She fainted. There was no infection, no sign of trouble at all from the outside, but inside, it was growing into her nose.
"I finally took it out because people in Grand Rapids were starting to get nose rings and I decided it was pass6. So I've got the tweezers up my nose and it won't come out because it's grown into the side of my nose. It was horribie!" She laughs at the memory. "I remember standing in front of the mirror just about ready to puke trying to get at this thing."
By then, Gillian was a fully-fledged member of the Grand Rapids underground scene. She had her hair in a mohican. She attacked it with razors. She dyed it almost every colour possible. To add height (she's a petite five feet three inches), she took to going to school in five-inch spiked heels and fishnets: "in the wintertime, in the snow."
Her parents were shocked but fairly supportive, she says, but then they didn't know the half of it. When she first started going out with someone from the scene who was ten years older, she lied to them about his age. At weekends, she and her friends hung out at the local burger bar eating french fries, making a lot of noise and swearing at people. Nothing too nasty. "it was mostly appearances. We would make fun of anyone who stared. If we knew that they were going to walk around to take a better look at our mohawks, we'd give them the finger or something. It was just an attitude. And it made us in some way feel better than everybody else. "
They'd go to nearby Kalamazoo to see bands like The Circle Jerks and The Butt-hole Surfers, or to concerts in basements with local bands. "There was some good stuff out there, but it was mostly just an excuse to get together and bang heads. It was a big part of my life. I was involved in that world until I left college in 1990. And even after that I stuck with the look, or a milder version of the look. I still get affected by and attracted to the music. I'm just completely drawn into it." She looks wistful. "There is still a very strong part of me that yearns to go in the mosh pit every once in a while."
When Gillian auditioned for The X-Files, she was wearing black. black jeans, a black baggy sweater. Her hair was long, dyed red, brown and blonde, and it hung down her back in clumps: "] didn't brush my hair for about four years." Talking to London fans via a live satellite link-up recently, the series' creator Chris Carter described her as looking very urban, very SoHo". Which was a polite way of saying a mess. The network was looking for a babe and Gillian didn't quite fit its definition, but Carter fought until she got the part. The network asked her if she was willing to be made over. Of course, she agreed. The hair went first.
"That was weird. They cut it and I looked like my mother, for Christ's sake! It was a big transformation. I'd never styled my hair. I never went through the curling-iron-every-morning kind of thing, so I still don't know what the hell to do with this bloody straight hair at the weekends. For the longest time, I couldn't stand to feel soft hair on my head. I couldn't stand what it was like when I first washed it, so I put as much gunk in it as possible. Even now, it drives me nuts when it flows nicely as I'm walking down the street on a weekend. I just want to, you know, gunk it." I ask what colour it is naturally. "This is my natural hair colour."
She laughs. "No, but I'm not supposed to talk about that."
When they first dyed her naturally dark-blonde hair, they chose a medium brown. But somewhere between the pilot and the first season, Scully became a redhead. Gillian wasn't asked about the hair or the make-up, although she did have some input into the clothes. Forced to spend her free time looking like Dana Scully for the past four years, she said it's only recently that she realised she had at least some control.
"The haircut is shorter now, the look more streamlined. I didn't pay much attention to how she looked in the first couple of seasons. Looking at some of the pictures now, I wonder if it's a testament to how I actually felt about myself, that I would allow myself to look so unattractive often on screen."
Recently, the otherwise curiously asexual doctor even had a bit of a fling. In an episode that has already aired here on BSkyB and will appear on the BBC later this year, Scully rebels and picks up a man in a tattoo parlour. "it's ambiguous as to whether she actually got it on, but it got pretty steamy. Not as steamy as I thought it was going to be - Scully's steamy is different from my steamy. She ends up taking off his shirt and grabbing him and it could have been very hot. And there's a tattoo scene, where she gets a tattoo done on her lower back and he's staring at her."
You look pleased about that... Gillian laughs. "Yeah. It was fun." (Gillian has a tattoo of her own. She had it done in Tahiti last July. On her inner right ankle, it shows two Polynesian-style tortoises: "I wanted something that represented peace of mind.")
The last time I searched, there were 8,900 sites on the Internet dedicated to or mentioning Gillian Anderson. There is the Gillian Anderson Testosterone Brigade, the GA Estrogen Brigade, GAGA (Genuine Admirers Of Gillian Anderson), endless galleries of pictures and collections of trivia... I could go on, but I can hear you snoring out there. FHM magazine voted the actress the sexiest woman in the world. Playboy offered her serious money to pose for them (she won't say how much; she will say she wasn't tempted).
I ask how it feels to be the subject of such attention; she just shrugs. "I think that they're off their rockers. I think that if they really knew me, they wouldn't think that. I just don't get it. I'm not a model. They're responding to something that they think I have that I don't. They're responding to the photos. Which are always taken from the right angle, and make you look bigger than life. When I first heard that people considered Scully sexy, I was like, 'Scully? You've got to be kidding me!"' Still, she sees it as positive that such an intelligent, hard-working character can get male pulses racing without exposing acres of flesh, and that her relationship with her partnerfox Mulder can be seen as sexual even though they've only ever shared a single, platonic kiss. "I heard that recently on the Internet we were voted the most romantic couple of all time. Which is interesting, because we have only a platonic working relationship, so it's brilliant that people are able to see the romance, the intimacy, within that."
I m here talking to Gillian Anderson because she has made a record. Last year, when she was presenting a BBC science series called Future Fantastic, she liked the background music so much that she suggested they put it out as a compilation, or at least release the title track - an ambient doodle by Liverpool studio boffins Ha[ - as a single. The show's producers sold the idea to Virgin, which is putting out "Future: A Journey Through The Electronic Underground" - a double CD of ambient electronica selected by Gillian and featuring the likes of Brian Eno, The Chemical Brothers, Massive Attack, Fluke and FSOL. And the single chosen to promote this is "Extremis" - the Hal track, reworked with a breathy voiceover by Gillian and a saucy video depicting her as a voyeur watching two robots engaged in cybersex.
Hal flew to Vancouver last December to meet Gillian, and they spent a weekend in the studio together. They were impressed by her ordinariness, the fact that she turned up dressed in jeans and drove herself to the studio rather than arriving in a limo. Gillian was impressed by their technology. "it was great, because everything they do is computerised, and I'd never experienced that before. I started offering ideas, and they were completely open. It just happened so smoothly - we had fun, and hopefully people will get a kick out of it."
This isn t the start of a pop career, she stresses. It s a one-off. Her high-school boyfriend was in a string of local punk bands, and once or twice she went onstage to do backing vocals, but other than that any singing has been strictly confined to the bathroom and the car. If The X-Files really is to the Nineties what Star Trekwas to the Sixties, then "Extremis" makes her William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy: talking, rpther than singing to the music.
A fan of Brian Eno and Philip Glass, Gillian says she also likes everything from Cowboy Junkies and Mazzy Star to jazz, blues and classical. She's been getting into the British dance music marketed in the US as electronica: Future Sound Of London, Underworld, The Prodigy. Especially The Prodigy. "There's one track I've been listening to that's so whacked-out." Once in a while, she'll listen to her old punk records too: X, Black Flag, early Clash, The Dead Kennedys. "Usually not around my daughter; just when I'm on my own or driving and I need to just escape, to release some... tension in that way."
Thursday morning. Whe're sitting an the verandah in the comfortable but far from grand house in Vancouver where Gillian lives with her daughter and nanny - she is separated from her husband Clyde Klotz, a former set designer on The X-Files whom she met during the first season and married weeks later on a golf course in Hawaii. Wind-chimes are tinkling, a plastic baby swing sways in the breeze, and Gillian's dog Cleo, a large, friendly Neopolitan mastiff, pads happily around the garden.
I comment on the stunning view across the ocean, and Gillian says she has always loved the sea, even though "for many years I wouldn't go to a beach at all, or if I did I would completely cover myself up". She once had some vague, romantic notion of becoming a marine biologist: facing down her fear of sharks, studying animals, being on a boat, getting sunburned and just being on the ocean. But then she got a role in a cornmunity play and discovered acting. "I just knew it was something that I wanted to do. I felt... joy for the first time. I felt like I had a purpose."
Before that, she was the class clown at school, a bad student constantly in detention for acting up, stealing, putting shaving-cream on the walls. After she discovered acting, her grades went up, and she was even voted most improved student. Were it not for acting and a couple of teachers who took the time to give her some encouragement, she says she's not sure what would have happened. "it saved me. It really did."
She went to college in Chicago to study drama, and a year later won an award for her performance in an off-Broadway production of Alan Ayckbourn's Absent Friends. But she ended up waitressing again, and a move to Los Angeles produced little more in the way of work. And still this unease she mentioned, these demons, seemed to chase her.
I've worked very hard to try and get to a place where I like myself, and most of the time I do," she says. "it's not so much about liking versus hating: it's more punishing versus taking care of myself."
What were you punishing yourself for?
"Even now. just stuff."
There's a long pause.
"3ust... stuff. "
Gillian gets a lot of letters from girls who see Scully as a role model. She has a daughter herself now. She knows from painful experience how the tabloids can take a few facts and twist them into a fantasy. "I'm not going to go into detail about what I was doing, because I know that it will be distorted. But I got into some pretty heavy-duty stuff."
The tabloids have described you both as a "reformed alcoholic" and a "reformed addict". Would either of those be true?
"The term 'reformed' just sounds so bloody stodgy," she says. "I don't drink, and I don't do drugs. Any more." She stopped three months before her 21st birthday. "It suddenly hit me when I found myself in another situation where I thought, 'I'm in big trouble here. "
I say that America tends to be extreme about these things, that people who would be classed as social drinkers in Europe end up in AA meetings across the Atlantic. "With alcoholism, it's not necessarily the amount, it's what's underneath, what's driving you to do it. Those things distracted me from being present in my life. They numbed me. And it became important that I become awake and make consciouschoices. The threat was that I was not going to do the things I dreamed about doing, because there was stuff getting in the way. I was covering up my feelings - the pain, the angst, the frustration and everything - and I needed to face them in order to move forward. So I did. And I know that if I hadn't taken that step, I wouldn't be here today. I might not even be alive."
Thursday, 5pm. I'm in an airplane. Actually I'm not: I'm in a life-size $100,000 model built on top of hydraulics in a film studio, but inside it all looks real enough. They've been working on this plane for four months, and some time after I've left to catch my real plane home, they're going to film this fake plane crashing, horribly. Everyone is very excited about it - one of the crew says that when they tested the hydraulics yesterday it shook so hard that bits flew off the side. There is much joking about the actors needing sick bags. But for now, at least, the plane is still: an air stewardess is passing down the aisle, and David Duchovny seems to be chatting to passenger. Between takes, David's stand-in shows me how to get a kiss from his dog Blue, who is on-set as often as Piper. (You put a cube of cheese between your lips and the dog takes it gently from you. In my three days on set, I don't get to meet Duchovny, but I do get to snog his dog.) Normally, an episode of The X-Files costs $2 million or less. The budget for this two-parter has already gone over $6 million. Everyone is enjoying this fact enormously.
This summer, the cast will be spending their break making an X-Files it's a chance to use the kind of big-budget SFX denied to them on TV, although when we spoke, Gillian couldn't confirm that she would definitely be in it. Contracts were still being negotiated. She has spoken before about the disparity in pay between herself and her male co-star, and was unwilling to go over it again. But you sense that if her pay isn't close to Duchovny's reported $4 million, then Scully will not be joining this particular investigation. It isn't just about money, says Gillian - she stresses that she is paid well enough - it's about principles.
In the meantime, there's a small role in the upcoming Miramax film Freak The Mighty with Sharon Stone, Geena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton. They're writing her out of an episode so that she can take six days off to do the film. She smiles wryly. "I'm playing an alcoholic."
Both Gillian and David Duchovny fit in other work around The X-Files, but it must be frustrating to be such hot properties and to be trapped in rainy Vancouver for most of the year. At times, they both talk about the series like it' a prison sentence. I got into trouble for saying that. But it is. We're all incredibly blessed to be in this situation, and I'm very grateful. I've been able to have a child and have her on set with me, and working with a fabulous character on a show that's so popular has been amazing. I've learned so much over the past few years. But something within us is just being worn to the ground. I think we all wonder at different times whether we're just going to crack."
Gillian's contract is for seven seasons. Chris Carter's obligation ceases after five, and David Duchovny has announced his wish to leave then too. "I think five is a nice round number," says Gillian, "even though it's not a round number. I just hope that they know when to end, that it doesn't start getting boring for the audience and they stop when we're on the up. I'm sure that Fox want it to last as long as it can - it's their number-one show. I just don't know whether we can all keep doing it that long. We've put in some good years, and I can't imagine doing it for ever."
The truth is, though the ratings have never been higher, The X-Files' tricks are starting to look tired - even more so since many of them are now being recycled in Chris Carter's new series Millennium. Torches in dark buildings. Computer screens. Blue light. Shadows. Instructions barked into mobile phones. Meanwhile, Mulder's- sister has been kidnapped by aliens, his dad has been murdered, and his mother has slipped in and out of a coma. Scully's father and sister have another also died. Can they take much more? Gillian laughs. "We're going to have to get some other personal relationships or we won't have anybody else left to kill off."
Perhaps it's fitting that we end this with a dream sequence. The dream is Gillian Anderson's, and it's a recent one. She says it had a big impact on her. "] was walking on a wall made up of blue crystal stones. It was a very thin wall, yet I felt completely safe. I was by myself, but there was something on my back. It was like a pony, but it represented either his Piper or someone protecting me, a spirit guide or something. The sun was shining and there were waves coming up and crashing on both sides, but they weren't touching me. I felt at peace with myself and so OK being alone, that I could walk this road alone"
Transcript provided by Diesel and appears courtesy of Face Magazine.