January 1997 (Issue #6)
by Caroline May
When unknown actress Gillian Anderson read for the part of FBI agent Dana Scully in a new show called The X-Files, it was just another audition. Now, three years later, she is an international star.
GILLIAN ANDERSON is a believer. To millions of television viewers across the world she is Dana Scully of The X-Files, the FBI agent who would prefer to find a rational explanation for strange phenomena rather than accept the inexplicable. Yet Gillian strongly believes that we are not alone in the Universe. In fact, she admits quite openly, she has often studied the night skies while on location in Canada, just hoping that a strange light might appear in the distance...
"I haven't had any personal experience with UFOs or anything that might be considered paranormal phenomena," says Gillian with a measure of disappointment. "But I have for a long time believed in certain aspects of the unknown - UFOs, ESP, psychokinesis. It's something that I've always been fascinated with."
Even Gillian must concede that there's been some pretty ironic casting on The X-Files. While she has faith in the paranormal but plays a skeptic on the show, her co-star David Duchovny is apparently a doubter of UFO sightings, yet as Fox Mulder must firmly believe that "The truth is out there." Hence it is David who tends to be approached by people who have seen flying saucers or have been abducted.
"I haven't met that many people who have seen UFOs," claims Gillian. "I've gotten fan mail, but I haven't gotten any stories or personal accounts. I think one of the reasons is because Mulder is on their side."
Has she ever tired of Scully's cynicism - even in the face of seemingly overwhelming evidence?
"Well, usually by the end of an episode there is a logical explanation to what she has seen," insists the actress. "That's always going to be her first instinct - to try and solve the cases from a scientific analytical standpoint, because that's where she comes from. That's her backbone."
"I don't find it frustrating. There have been opportunities to question my own beliefs, especially more recently, and certainly Mulder ends up seeing a great deal more than Scully does, in terms of paranormal phenomena. It helps with the dynamic of the show, and I think the writers are finding creative ways to continue that dynamic, and it seems to be working for me."
The X-Files is shot in Vancouver, Canada on a hectic schedule that can require the crew to be working up to sixteen hours a day, five days a week. Gillian reveals that it's hard work, but the dedication and professionalism of the cast and crew has resulted in "a very relaxed but intense" working atmosphere.
The actress enjoys her job, but adds that, among all the benefits, there is a downside to being a television star.
"The downside is just the hours and the time [you have to work]," she insists. "It is a grueling schedule. And you show up and you do it. We shoot for ten months of the year, so that takes care of ten months. The rest of the time is travel and promotion."
"I enjoy shooting up in Vancouver. It's nice to be separate from the business. It's nice to be separate from what I know in terms of living here [in Los Angeles] - to not have to see the same places over and over again. Vancouver's a beautiful city."
The show's on-screen magic seems a little thin when seen from the point of view of the film set: those dark, moody shots are achieved with the aid of special effects fog, which the actors are now used to inhaling on a daily basis.
"I'm not sure what they use," grimaces Gillian. "but apparently it's proven there are no harmful side effects." She pauses before adding wryly: "We're all going to find out we have cancer in a few years!"
Even the show's tangible sense of wonder is easily stripped away when one glimpses behind the scenes. Just take the filming of a sequence in which the two FBI agents witness a UFO in the sky - something Gillian recalls for its sheer absurdity...
"[We did a scene] in one of the first episodes that we did where we see UFOs rising up on the horizon and separating," Gillian says. "It was done eventually on blue-screen, I believe. And it was 2:00 in the morning and we were standing on this hill and it was drizzling, and we both had to synchronize our eyes with the way that the UFOs would eventually be moving on the final effect. And we stood there, for God knows how long, trying..."
Yet despite the harsh realities of making a weekly television series, Gillian is quick to acknowledge that The X-Files has changed her life. The show has been showered with critical acclaim, has been on the receiving end of some of the industry's most prestigious awards, and it has managed to continually out-perform itself in the ratings. Furthermore, with the recent move to a Sunday night slot, the series is now on the frontline of Fox's ratings assault on rival networks.
The X-Files has also transformed Gillian from a virtual unknown into an international star. She's been the cover girl of countless lifestyle magazines, been voted the sexiest woman in the world and she's a popular choice to present factual programs - most notably Fox's Why Planes Go Down and the BBC series Future Fantastic. The actress has even made a guest appearance on the popular computer animated show Reboot, playing Data Nully in an episode called Trust No One... There's little doubt that a film career is on the horizon - ready to take off when her five year contract to play Dana Scully has expired.
Balancing such a busy career with a healthy family life is not easy, and Gillian claims her philosophy is "just doing it and hoping it all turns out OK". Her husband is Clyde Klotz, an art director she met on The X-Files and married in January 1994. Just one month later she discovered she was pregnant - a fact that would create major headaches for the show's writing team.
Gillian was quite prepared for the worst, suspecting that Scully would be written out of the show for good, but executive producer Chris Carter remained loyal and supportive. The opening episodes of the second season already focused on a storyline in which the X-Files had been closed down; that scenario was extended further, so that the character was pushed into the background while a newcomer, Agent Krycek (Nick Lea), was paired with Mulder.
As the pregnancy advanced, so Gillian was shot mainly in close up, to hide the obvious bulge. When the baby's birth was due, Carter delivered his masterstroke: Scully was abducted, to return sometime later in a critical condition. In the intervening time Gillian and Clyde became proud parents of a daughter, born on September 25 1994, who they named Piper.
The arrival of the baby meant that life became a careful juggling act, finding time to devote to The X-Files and time for the baby. But, as Gillian herself admits, "it seems to be working OK", and she is more grateful to Chris Carter for allowing her to continue playing the role of Scully - the sort of strong female character that is such a rarity in Hollywood.
As The X-Files has developed, so has the character of Scully, and we have learned more about her background and family life. Was this always planned from the beginning, or has Gillian learned about the character along with the audience?
"I wasn't given any background on my character in the beginning," she says. "We're getting it bit by bit and I think it's coming bit by bit to the writers. But ultimately the show isn't about Scully. It's about the cases we're investigating, but it's nice for the audience to see little snippets here and there of what goes on with her."
For the immediate future, there are definite plans for an X-Files movie (possibly to be made during the 1997 hiatus), and at least one more season of TV episodes to begin next fall. Fortunately, Gillian seems in no real hurry to move on, willing to bide her time and see out the contract before taking the next step in her career.
"I'm enjoying it right now very much," she enthuses. "I'm learning a great deal about the craft and I have the opportunity to work with so many people. "It's really a blessing. It's a great catalyst for me as an actor, getting my face out there. I'm having fun: I love the stories, I love working with David but, of course, I do have higher aspirations. Eventually I'd love to go back and do theatre, and I'd love to do feature and independent films and stuff like that."
Transcript provided by Alfred and appears courtesy of X-Pose.