August 16, 1998
By Jan Janssen
Gillian Anderson is never fazed as X-Files Agent Scully - but in real life, how does the new mum cope with a daily diet of aliens, serial killers and space slime?
by, Jan Janssen
When the creator of TV's The X-Files sas Gillian Anderson's audition, he knew he'd discovered Agent Scully. Director Chris Carter was making a show unlike any other, and he needed an unconventional star. "Gillian had that stare," he says, "and a kind of mysterious aura about her."
But executives at Fox TV were reluctant to cast a relative unknown, and Anderson – for all her glacial allure - is no Charlie's Angel. "The network wanted someone who might look sexy in a bathing suit," says Carter, "but that's because they didn't understand the concept of the series. I knew she was perfect, and I wouldn't let anyone change my mind."
There's a book of rules for successful TV drama, and the X-Files breaks just about all of them. These strange, unsettling tales of alien infiltration and government cover-ups offer no answers, only questions. No one quite knows who the bad guys are; the plots are opaque, thmorailty ambiguous. And those who follow the investigations of Agents Scully and Mulder (Anderson's co-star David Duchovny) wouldn't have it any other way. There's no denying it, though: in a TV world of formulaic cop dramas and sofa-bound sitcoms, this show is weird.
So what is she like, this ivory-skinned intense figure, this world-wide TV star who became a sex symbol without the help of a bathing suit? Surely if she is perfectly cast n such a surreal role she must be a little, well... weird herself? Anderson admits that both she and Duchovny are "strange creatures".
"David and I are both a little off," she says. "We're both difficult to get along with." According to the rumour mill, the thing they find most difficult is to get along with one another. "We spend so much time on the set together that we don't have anything left to say to each other outside of work," she adds, diplomatically. "David and I understand each other enough to know that we have to keep our distance. You couldn't ask for much more from two personalities as different as ours."
But she is at paints to dismiss any suggestion of outright hostility. "It's not very important what goes on between us," she claims (thought millions of obsessive X-Philes would beg to differ). "We don't socialise, we never have. A long time ago we developed a work ethic whereby we give all our energy to our characters. When the take is finished, we walk in opposite directions.
"David helped me a lot at the beginning of the series when I wasn't that experienced, and I will always be grateful to him for that. Would it have been nice if we'd been closer off the set? Maybe. Does either of us worry about why we aren't friends, or why we don't get along on a personal level? No. There's nothing more to be said on the matter. We are an X-subject!"
The chemisty might not be there in real life, but on scree it is mesmerising. In the strange world they inhabit, Scully is the sceptic, Mulder the troubled agnostic; and sexual tensions crackles between them, all the stronger for being unexpressed. That has helped make the series a TV phenomenon, shown in 60 countries and absorbing 25 million viewers in the US alone.
As the show enters its sixth series, and its first movie spin-offs packs the multiplexes, Gillian Anderson and Agent Scully are old friends. But that was not always so. "It took me a long while before I could even being to like Scully," says Gillian, 29. "She seemed very distant and remote, and during the first year of the series I felt very disoriented with the role and with my life. Scully repressed a lot of anger that I used to have in my system, but by the third season things began to fall into place. She became someone I could identify with. I'm much more spontaneous and vulnerable than she is, but playing someone who is so reflective and serious has given me a greater sense of self discipline and self assurance. I'm a lot tougher than I've ever been."
Gillian Anderson has needed all the toughness she can muster. Like all long- running acting roles, hers has taken its toll, and daily immersion in The X-Files' gruesome arcana can't make things easier. "The worst part about the series has been trying to keep my head clear of all the darness and despair," says Anderson.
"Sometimes it's not easy to come home, play with my daughter, and forget the fact that, as Scully, I"ve been thinking the whole day about serial killers, maniacs and other oozing phenomena. You learn to detach yourself from that over time, but every once in a while you feel this incredible sadness and despair come over you and you realise that part of your head is still dealing with goop-monsters."
Anderson has had long practice at that, having slain some formindable monsters of her own. Indeed, she thanks The X Files for saving her form what had been a confused and unhappy early life. "When I was younger I spent a lot my time in a very dark space," she says. "I wasn't happy. I didn't get a kick out of life and I spent a lot of time running around cultivating my unhappiness."
Anderson was born in Chicago, and spent the first few years of her life there before her parents moved first to Puerto Rico, then to London for nine years, and finally to Gran Rapids, Michigan. Like so many children who are constantly uprooted and forced to deal with new friends, schools, and surroundings, Anderson tended to retreat into herself.
"I'd like to think it toughened me a lot because I didn't have many close friends and I was forced to be independent. I was pretty rebellious, and I remember feeling angry all the time."
Anderson's parents had enjoyed England so much that, even after their return to the US, they decided to spend one last summer in London. By then, Gillian was 13 and already a teenage rebel. To fit in with the crowd, she had her nose pierced and wore a stud for the next five years. She was, in her own words, "The ultimate wild thing. I would walk down the streets with my friends, who were these wild punks, and we would give the finger to anybody who stared at us," she remembers, smiling with embarrassment. "We'd go hear bands and smach against each other and jump off the stage. It was cool to get hurt. I needed to express my anger, because I had a lot of it - and I still do. I was never ver good at expressing other emotions, and I did everything I could do to deaden the pain."
Not sure where she was heding or what she wanted to do with her life, Anderson turned to acting as an outlet for her anger. The rebel without a cause tried her hand at the Grand Rapids community theatre, and found her calling. She spent four years studying drama at university theatre school and, after graduating, moved to New York, where she appeared in a number of off-Broadway productions. "Acting was a liberation for me," she says. "For the first time in my life I felt that I could finally open up and turn loose all these feelings that were bottled up inside me. I needed that kind of release."
Things really began to fall into place, however, with the extraordinary success of The X Files. "My way of making sense of the show is to think of it as an interpretation of the unknown," she says. "We channel our fears and suspicions into Scully and Mulder's search for the answers. It is like psychoanalysis - you're always searching for the truth but you can never quite get to where you want to go. It's certainly been a cathariss for me - I'm nothing like the person I was when I began working on The X Files. The series has helped to stabilise my life. I feel totally different and I'm much happier with who I am. It's like any job that gives professional security and a safe future - it gets rid of a lot of anxiety that eats away at you."
Another sea change in Anderson's life has come since the birth of her daughter Piper, four years ago. "Suddenly there was a very palpable, important reason for me to get better and to grow up," she says. "Having Piper in my life has suddenly changed my focus on things. I don't worry about thinks as selfishly as I once did, and the result has been that I'm much calmer and less anguised than before. I think everymother learns to worry more about her child than about herself. I don't worry about who I am or what I want out of life any more."
Perhaps that strength helped her thrugh the heartache when she parted from Piper's father, her husband Clyde Klots, in 1996. But her split from the former X-Files production designer is still a painful subject. "I don't think it was a mistake - Clyde is a great person and we have Piper," is all Gillian will say. After reading too many lurid stories about her private life, Anderson has become more careful about opening up to the Press.
"I've been burned so many times in the last few years that there's no point in discussing personal matters," she says. "There have been so many lies and so many distortions that I felt numb for a while. The worst thing that happened was that some people I considered very close friends turned out to be completely different to who I thought they wee. I've become a lot more wary about personal friendships now, and I'm not happy about that because I'm the kind of person who needs to feel close to other people. I need the support."
Gillian still wants a man in her life who will not only offer her the love and attention she needs, but also give Piper a full-time step father and a complete family life. "Family is very important to me," she says. "My own upbringing was very liberal, but there was something missing, some lack of intensity maybe. I'm very careful about making sure I'm there for Piper and one day I hope there will be a man in my life who cares as much about her as he does about himself."
In the meantime, she has her career, as well as her daughter, to console her. With the release of The X Files: Fight The Future it looks as if that may be heading into orbit. Already a huge hit in the States, the film earned $26 million in its first week, and even audiences not familiar with the TV series will be drawn inexorably into the spellbidning mix of paranois and conspiracy that characterises the world of Special Agents Scully and Mulder.
Does the film illuminate any of the mysteries spun by the TV series about government conspiracy and alien beings? Says Anderson: "I think audiences will find that even though some questions may be solved, there are no answers and there are no solutions."
The removal of one puzzle in particular - why is it that Mulder and Scully, both single, aren't interested in each other - has had X-Philes worldwide up in arms. Shockingly, the movie has them kissing. "That was the scene I found most satisfying," says Anderson. The show's fans may life their engimas unresolved, but a little conventional love interest may be just what The X Files needs to make the transition to the wide screen and the wider world.
That's a journey that Anderson is keen to make in her own right. "I'm immensely grateful to the show, and to Chris Carter, because every actor dreams of this kind of recognition," she says. "But I need to move on and try other things." So far she has managed to squeeze at least one other project around her consuming X Files schedule, a film called The Mighty, in which she plays opposite Sharon Stone as an alcoholic loser, and she is clearly keen for more movie work.
"Playing Scully has helped me solve a lot of my own contradictions, but there's not a lot of joy or redemption in The X Files. What happens when we find an alien - is this supposed to make us feel good about ourselves?" The X Files contains many such unanswerable questions. One of the biggest is whether Gillian Anderson will ever escape the shadow of Agent Scully.
Transcript provided by Sally Blackmore and appears courtesy of The Express On Sunday.