May 17th, 1997
by Dominic Wills
From punkette to pin-up, the star of the staggeringly successful 'The X-Files' has always beem a music fan. And she's just made a single to prove it. We arranged a rendezvous in Vancouver with Specia; Agent Dana Scully, aka GILLIAN ANDERSON, where we quizzed her about spooks, success and inter-species shagging.
WELL, she certainly doesn't enter like a superstar. Bursting into a hotel room hastily reinvented as a photographic studio, she's immediately lost within the melee of hairdressers, make-up artists and wardrobe specislists that have preceded her. Yet tinily sparrow-thin and seemingly plain, she out shines none of them.
This is not as it should be. Gillian Anderson is one of the biggest TV stars in the world, and perhaps on the verge of becoming the biggest of them all. As Special Agent Dana Scully, she co-stars with David Duchovny(SA Fox Mulder) in 'The X-Files", a worldwide sci-fi phenomenon successful even by the awesome standards of "Independence Day".
In this counttry, as in the US,it started small, on Sky TV, with just a cult following. The Beeb consequentiy picked it up cheap and first screened it in the autumn of 1994 on BBC2, with the audience rising from fourto six million within th me months. The second series proved way too hot for the channel, controller Alan Yentob transferring it to BBC1 and immediately saw viewing figures rise to 10 million. A rerun of the first series took six million again, with many of these suspected to be first-time watchers. You have to imagine that any new episodes will approach even the figures of "EastEnders* and "Coronation Street". Meanwhile, "X-Files" videos like "Tooms" and 'The Unopened File' are everywhere, bestselling book-lists are endlessly populated by the likes of "The Official Guide To The X-Files" and "The X-Files book Of The Unexplained" . Anderson's site on the Internet - lovingly put together by a shady, yet strangely unembarrassed group known asThe Gillian Anderson Testosterone Brigade - outweighs that of Pamela Anderson and, in comparison, makes Teri Hatcher's site look like a scribbled note. (Duchovny has his own site, built and ever-extended by the David Duchovny Estrogen Brigade.) The effect is worldwide. Ten thousand fans turnd out to greet Anderson on a visit to Melbourne. Sharon Stone wouldn't get that. Or Alanis. Probably not even Madonna. And That's not counting the on going furore in North America. Amazing.
SITTING in the hotel bar with her back to the outrageous Vancouver panorama. Gillian Anderson quickly adapts. She laughs openly and often, with a sound not far removed from a deep, hacking cough - particularly when discussing 'Extremis",the new single from Scouse elect-duo Hal to which she contributes guest vocals. When she talks, she holds your gaze with a rare ease. Her answers are long, studied and usually resoundingly professional. Like, she's done it all before, says what she wants then shuts up and stares back- utterly unfazed. She's intense, for sure, what they call a real character and, as she moves, you can see how her face works in the tenebrous lighting of "The X-Files". Yep, it's Scully alright. Now, who is Gillian Anderson?
THE MAKING OF A SPECIAL AGENT
GILLIAN Anderson was born in Chicago, her parents moved to Puerto Rico when she was six months old. Her dad fancied going to film school in London and, needing to save some cash, he dumped his family on grandad, who was employed by the Airforce. After about 15 months, they shifted to London -first to Clapton Common, then Tivoli Road, Crouch End and finally Harringay.
Here the young Gillian was the victim of a fair degree of bullying. Once she was asked out and then decked by a male classmate. Another time, a boyfriend, having been left waiting in the rain for a couple of hours, sent his mates round to bash her up. As you do.
Anderson remained in and around N8 until the age of 13. For music lovers, it was a spectacularly opportune time to be there, Hornsey Art College was a notorious punk breeding-ground. The Queens on Tottenham Lane a hive of spiky activity. Anderson was a punk. Just not yet.
"I may well have picked up a vibe and taken it back to America," she says "because I was very Britiish, with a very heavy accent. Coming from Landon to a small town there was something exotic about me in an unworthy way. I think I relied on that to give me self-esteem in a new environment."
In the conventional sense, Grand Rapids, Michigan was No Fun. For a start, since her parents had the temerity to drop two more sprogs, Anderson had to pull her weight as babysitter. Depressed and displaced, now she got punk. "My parents still had a flat in Harringay, so every other summer we'd go back and stay there for a month or two during my vacation. On one trip. I think when I was 14, all of a sudden I became aware of clothes. I bought these little red pointy shoes and this purple mini skirt that, back in Grand Rapids was like'Oh my GAAAHD!' That was the beginning, the mild beginning.
"So then I fell in with this group who were heavily in tothe so-called punk scene in Michigan - lots of local underground bands all getting together at weekends to pay homage to the Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys. I was into that whole punkthing, and it crossed over into Bauhaus and Einsturzende Neubauten. I had a boyfriend 10 years older than me who was in some local bands. The next time I came to London I got my nose pierced, which was unheard of in Michigan. It wasn't like I was trying to bring something back that was really extreme, just that I was trying to find my own way. I wasn't well-versed in the whole history of the thing . It wasjust that I felt inside that the lifestyle fit my state of mind.
"Whenever I've spoken about this before people have always talked about it being a stage, and in some senses it was a stage but it wasn't something that I put on. It was a part of me already and it continues to be a part of me. When I was at college, and when I moved to New York. I still had unbrushed straggly hair down to my bum, wore combat boots and black thrift clothes I always had that feeling of not fitting in and not caring what anyone else thought of me.
"It's funny because the anger or angst that propels a is real and comes from a place deep down inside. To really feel OK you have to reach down there and see it for what it is. There's not much of that in the world of punk" -she laughs that big huh, HUH, HUH -" in terms of understanding the self or bettering yourself." In Grand Rapids, as in most places, punk was surely more to do with self-destruction and fashion, cheap sulphate and booze. "Yep that's just what it was like. I think it all stems from unrest, feeling out of place wherever you are and whatever situation you're in. Whether you grow up in a ghetto and you take it out with guns and drugs or you grow up in an environment that has a history of, say rock'n roll and punk and you take it out that way."
It's said Anderson's first boyfriend in Grand Rapids was a neo-Nazi poet.
"The first boy friend I had in that period of time later became a neo-Nazi, after I knew him. There's been some confusion, but the guy who was 10 years older then me was a different person."
And you played in his band.. She reacts with a kind of panicked embarrassment.
"No, I didn't, I never played in a band..."
It's been said you sang and wore a wedding dress on-stage...
"No, no, that was one night. .."
"NO! Huh, HUH, HUH! That was one night when they got me up onstage to sing back-up vocals and that was the only time in my life I've ever done that. I didn't want to sing and they wouldn't have let me if I did - it was a guy band."
There are some other tales from this punky era, like when Anderson took over a public access TV channel and proceeded to glare at the camera and count slowly and deliberately to 273.
"I did?" She guffaws loudly at the possibility. "You see, there are certain areas I don't remember; I can't tell you if that's not true. There was a student film I did where I was playing a horse and neighing. It's very odd and L have no memory of it what so ever, but people do have footage of it, it did happen. So I may well have counted up to 273. I wonder why that particular number?"
Better still was high school graduation night when Anderson and her chums broke back into school fully intending to glue all the doors shut-School's Out and all that. Everyone bolted but her when the police arrived, her stilettos proving too cumbersome. Under arrest she refused to grass.
"Actually I wasn't wearing high heels. I stepped on a nail which kind of slowed me up. I refse to say who else was there and they threatened not to let us grsduate, so I had to do public service for a week. It was really humiliating, I had to wash windows and mop doors... my purple hair and all. I remember the man who had to check on me was really mean. He didn't take me seriously at all, huh, HUH. He didn't pay me any respect."
At the point of leaving drama college, students were invited to Perform at a showcase foragents, casting directors and the like.
Anderson chose a monologue.
"There was something I wrote about my father and something about a park bench that was very metaphorical. If I read it now it'd be very silly. Worst thing was I wore..." She chuckles madly at the memory "... I love vintage dresses. I still have it lot that I either stole or bought because I wanted them. So I wore this huge dress. I didn't care what size things were because I could always yank a belt round them. It was seven sizes too big, light blue and see through, made out of this really stiff material, so I looked like a fairy. My hair was really long and straggly and I had these sandals on. Looking back I don't know why they considered me because I was like (she puts on a ttwnkling Titania soprano) "Hellooo", but they did,"
Taken on by the William Morris Agency, Anderson moved to New York, working off-Broadway. Then, having taken a play in Connecticut, she started a new relationship and followed her lover to Los Angeles. She was supposed to stay for two weeks but decided to seek work on the Westcoast. Despite three or four auditions a day for a year, she received only the dodgiest of parts, plus-oddly when you look at her now- an acne cream commercial. It didn't seem the stuff of stardom.
"I didn't realise till afterwards, but I think they were ready to give up on me," she confesses. "Then I went for this mini-series or something, where I had to play this 14-year-old girl. I got down to a shortlist of two and we had a lot of work-sessions with the director and he call my agents to say a lot of positive things about me. They kind of pricked up their ears. It shifted things up a gear and shortly afterwards I received 'The X-Files' script."
THE X-FILES EXKPLAINED
THERE have been many theories put forward to explain the monumental success of "The X-Files". There's the tension, both professional and sexual, between Mulder and Scully -a man obsessed by the supposed alien abduction of his sister and a a woman who seldom believes a word he says. There's Chris Carter's [and now others') often intricate storylines, involving psychological disorders, mysterious disappearances and bizarre, often murderous creatures in our midst. It's all entertaining stuff.
Most interesting, though, is the idea that "The X-Files" is simply timely, that the Yuppie years have ushered us all into a time when nothing quite means what it did. Society is pretty much, brutelised and abandoned by capitalism. No one trusts the governmeat. With a New Age upon us, everyone seems to be scrabbling around for something, any mish-mash of things, to believe in. For this time "The X-Files' is perfect. Battling against the weird and wonderful, ever-hindered by those shadowy "government" employees, Mulder and Scully are doing the same as everyone else - looking for answers and finding only clues.
There is a potential problem, though. Since it's said that 25 per cent of Americans believe the Apollo moon-landings were faked, them's a danger that "The X-Files", along with the likes of 'Dark Skies", might be helping to convince us of our own powerlessness. Like, why try for social improvement when They will only stop you? Why take responsibility for anything when it's all Their fault?
"That's interesting." says Anderson. "because in all respects the show has been an escape from reality, and that's the danger you're addressing. It's a difficult subject because then you have to start questioning whether it's the job of television to put across statements that are more encouraging and enlightening, or whether it is what it is -just entertainment. I think initially the concept was one of entertainment, but because of its success, it's considered more significant, it doesn't need that weight
"I'm most strongly affected by media that influences people in a forward way. That's not necessarily what I'm involved in right now. I guess I've resigned myself to the fact that those particular projects that I went to be involved in -that will have that end result-aret hings to be done in the future. Right now I'm involved in something that's just entertainment.
"In terms of the media and the public, you can't control how someone is gonna perceive the show-whether it's gonna be entertainment for them, or their version of the Second Coming. The solutions to problems people hope to find in 'The X-Files' are not contained there. I mean, that whole thing recently with the mass suicide [Heaven's Gate], trying to connect their watching 'The X-File' with the fact that they took thei rown lives. ..we are only responsible to ourselves and... how to say this and be politically correct..."
Please, don't bother.
"Huh, HUH, HUH, HUH (she's almost hacking). You know what I mean? It was their choice. That would have happened regardless of what television shows they were watching. That was a path they took by choice." She pauses. "But 'The X=Files' does breed paranoia."
Maybe, but isn't it a paranoia we've seen before - in the Seventies with films like "The Parallax View" and "The Domino Principle", even the sci-fi of "Rollerball" and "Logan's Run ". Some of these involved semi-mythical, almost mystical government-sponsored killer-elites, and all of them were concerned with and helped to breed an utter lack of faith in Western democracy.
"Right, right. But because 'The X-Files' is in our homes on a weekly basis, because it's as popular as it is, it's easy to put the balme there."
Like "Rambo" and Hungerford, "Child's Play" in the James Bulger case.
"Yes, but the anger that provokes these events started years back. We need to be addressing education, the make-up of our societies, how we raise our children and treat our minorities."
Besides being fine entertainment, you could say '"he X-Files" does promote a healthy penchant for questioning, well, everything. Each script is rammed with the likes of "How could this be?" , "Do you reckon the bloke in the coma did it?" and "Mulder, are youf***ing barny, or what?"
RETURNING to Anderson, she has described her self in childhood as "independent and bossy". She seems in the ideal right prima donna now.
"Huh, HUH, HUH! I fortunately have a pretty strong concscience and I'm pretty in tune with how I feel on a psychological level. l can tell in a second if I'm behaving in a way that feels uncomfortable, and that feels uncomfortable, that misuse of power. I try to feel as comfortable as possible, as often as possible, so I call myself on it. If not, I have people in my life who call me on it and I correct it as soon as possible."
As comfortable as possible as often as possible? Totally hedonistic. Ad esign for life we can all understand.
"Huh, HUH, HUH! I've always been hedonistic, but I try to keep pretty tight reins on that."
That's not what the tabloids would have us believe. Anderson's own file is increasingly impressive. When read as a whole, it reveals a dangerously thrilling existence, a life packed with crazy flings and international debauchery. Just imagine, As her big break comes with "The X-Files", she embarks upon a torrid affair with her co-star (like Michael Douglas, a confirmed sex addict). After a catastrophic split she rebounds straight into the arms of "The X-Files" art director Clyde Klotz, falls i love, has a child but unable to cope with the constraints of marriage, returns rapidly to the chaos of her punky youth and ends up back in England on the arm of a man accused of five sexual assaults. Only in "The X-Files" could a woman hold down a full-time job and still find time for all that. Still, it does beg the question.
"Uhuh, uhuh, UHUHUHUHUH!" She laughs uproariously, but the tone has kind of changed. There are obviously other matters to be considered here. Courts, for one. A job earning enough for you to take Fabrizio Ravanelli on as a nanny. Maybe it's all just hardcore bullshit.
"Well," she says, "let's just say the only truth in that is I got married to an art director from the show and a had a baby [a daughter, Piper]."
And that is all she's going to say.
GILLIAN Anderson's "Extremis", or rather Hal's "Extremis" featuring Gillian Anderson came as something of a surprise in that iR really pretty good -a soft but insistent electropulse overlaid with moody swirls, crunching drops directfrom "Tainted Love" and Anderson's own spoken vocal. What truly boggles the mind, though, was the news that accompanied it-that Anderson herself is a dyed-in-the-wool, hands-in-the-air raver, renowned for larging it in any area you'd care to mention. Not only this, but she's also apperently responsible for the compiling Virgin's new double-album "Future: A Journey Through The Electric Underground", which is a collection not exactly representative of the underground itself (it contains the work of Fluke, Massive Attack and the Chemicals) but still put together with consummate good taste.
So, is Anderson really an expert on all things bangin'?
"No, no," she chuckles. "I did compile the album although I don't know loads about dance music. But I know music - it's always been a huge part of my life. There's some great bands at the moment who hint at dance music, like The Prodigy...or Future Sound Of London, who work in clubs. There's a great gutteral edge to them that seperates them from what I'd usually consider to be dance music. They say that dance music is like the new punk, with its own energy and lifestyle, and there's a remix of "Extremis," by ine of the members of Download that really punky about it. Some of those guys used to be in Skinny Puppy, I saw them back in Michigan. I was really into that industrial stuff."
The music for "Extremis," is actually a revved-up-version of the theme to "Future Fantastic", a show (presented by Anderson) that dealt, as best it could, with The Unexplained. The lyrics though are something else entirely, an overt exhibition of techno-rudeness. Written by Anderson herself?
"No, no. There were conversations right at the begining about how much of "Future Fantastic," we were gonna tie into the single and I wanted to seperate it as much as possibale. We still needed to address the core issue whaich was the future, the element of technology and how it's moving forward and inward and away at the same time. So the band came up with a whole selection of words and I sat down and chose the stuff I liked."
There is certainly a future-feel to the lyrics, but mostly only in the terminologies used. Best examples are "Automation love, you caress is pneumatic/I'm a slave to your tuoch, my response automatic" and the final "I don't want to hear about the furture/I want to see it/I want to feel it/I... wanna... taste...it". Futuristic, yes, but also q uite obviously a tease, an uptempo reworking of "Justify My Love". No bad thing, then.
"Yeah, but initially when I heard the music and was aware of its sexiness. I didn't automatically think that's where it would be heading. When they brought those words in, it all kind of fell into place in thatwya. I was speaking the words, having to breathe between each verse to get it all out, a lot of that breathing ended on the tape and we used that, too. It turned into something it wasn't orginally intended to be."
Nevertheless, she seems to be playing it up to the max, particulary in the video. Here Anderson - wildly pouting, lids half-closed, seeminly lost in an ecstasy of aniticpation - slinks her way around a golden statue of entwined lovers, stroking it, planting sennual smackers upon it. Suddenly the figures erupt into a T2-style liquid life and start, well, let's not put too fine a point on it, shagging. We watch thema t it behind Anderson, before her and over top of her out-stretched stiletto. But now, we realise that the real Anderson is in bed, asleep. It's her dream-presons that's the voyeur at this futuristic coupling. Beneath the sheets, as the androis actions gets hotter, she flinches and begins to writhe. Then, as the cyber-stud appraches and slips in beside her, she awakes to find he's really, really - hopefully in possession of condoms specially designed by Arthur C. Clarke. "Extremis" indeed.
She's not exactly holding back.
"Huh, HUH, HUH, HUH! No, it was fun. The video is honestly nothing like I had originally imagined it would be. I imagined something a lot darker and more elusive. Initially I was thinking it should be like that sequence of images in the credits to "Millennium" - really haunting and stunning, with colour photos sprinkled around, really intriguing, a lot more surreal. Now there's much more of me than I'd thought, but I'm fine with that. I think they've worked really hard and put together something that's appropriate to the song.
There was a film made in the Seventies called "Demon Seed" where Julie Christie played a scientisi's wife trapped in her home, systemically terrorised and finally raped by a vengeful and all-powerful computer. The video for "Extremis" similarly comes from a very dark tradition.
"Yeah," Anderson says, though clearly not convinced. "I don't want to impose anything on the viewer's perception. To me,it addresses the question of where do we end and where does technology begin? How far are we gonna take this? Will it aid us or destroy us?"
And is it going to sleep with us?
"HUH, HUH, HUH! Er... yeah."
There is, of course, the slightest suspicion here that along with Hal, Anderson is being deliberately provocative with 'Extremis" and its video. This is good. It not only allows her to confirm that she still retains a high percentage of that earlier punky attitude, but it also allows her to toy with a sex symbol image. Beyond that, the idea of cross-speciess ex usually gets everyone going.
"Hm. There is something very provocative about the concept of having intimate relations with something that is not human."
That is an opinion occasionally bandied about, yes.
UH HUH! No, I'm not talking about.. I mean like'King Kong'. There was something very erotic about that and about the film 'Species'. The potential power the meshing of two different energies, whatwould that be? This whole project to me is about having fun and being creative in another way. I have nothing tied to its success. As long as people don't take it too seriously, or think I'm taking it too seriously I'II be happy."
Though it's doubtless reading too much into all this, the "King Kong" comparison is interesting. There is a theory that Kong was supposed to represent the black male, thus his relationship with the white heroine was (at the time and in some circles even now)immediately distasteful and ultimately terrifying. The fear of onrushing change is the key, the threat of inevitable impotence. Now think Technofear.
"Yeah, there's a lot of folklore around all this too. There's that wholething of a demon woman coming to the beds of men and having sex with them in their sleep. There's something very eroticaboutthat h's in our culture - there are stories about gods coming, beings coming and seducing us. Dracula is another, there's something so appealing about Dracula in that way. It's a power-play, but in the video I don't think I'm putting myself in a victim-role. When I'm in that bed at the end it's not like "Oh my God, I'm being victimised here". I think it's by choice, I have chosen to be in that situation and it's very empowering, in away, for women. The bottom line is it's fun, completely fun, and no more than that."
Given that Gillian Anderson is now officially The Sexiest Woman On The Planet(a title reputation for being The Thinking Man's Crumpet, which she reckons it's better then being The Lobotomised Man's Crumpet) and doubtless to be confirmed by public reaction to "Extremis", we should perhaps expect no more than pure fun. This is, after all, merely a breif, if hugely enjoyable, sabbatical before the real business begins again. That comes with the next series of "The X-Files", the series that will surely see Anderson crowned TV Oueen for the foreseeable future.
And a right scally to boot.
'Extremis' is out now on Virgin
Transcript appears courtesy of Melody Maker.