By Gina McIntyre
Gillian Anderson talks about runaway motorcycles, killer bees, and other close encounters.
It's time for Gillian Anderson to get physical. The actress best known for her award-winning portrayal of scientist Dana Scully, the cool, rational foil to her partner Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), rolled up her sleeves for some rough-and-tumble activity on The X-Files feature film. The character still relies on her sizeable cerebellum to see her through some trying times, but the big-screen Dana Scully uses more than her wits to tackle the latest obstacles thrown her way harsh arctic climates, angry swarms of bloodthirsty insects and Richter scale-rocking explosions, to name a few. Trying on the action star hat seems to agree with Anderson, who has never been known to shrink from a new challenge. In fact, she says she found the high stakes of a big-budget movie production invigorating.
"What was exciting about it was the intensity of it," Anderson explains. "Knowing that there are three, four, five, six cameras rolling at one time getting different angles, different aspects of what's happening. There are cars rigged with flames; there is a car that we are in that is rigged to bounce. There is all of this extracurricular activity going on that has to be timed and work simultaneously. That gets the excitement going, and it gets our energy up and allows us to get more into the intensity of the situation. It was actually a lot of fun."
She certainly had ample opportunity to experience that intensity. The X-Files feature film makes extensive use of suspense to cultivate the paranoid mood fans have come to expect, but it also contains more fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat sequences than a dozen regular episodes combined. Just as the series manage to pack exploding oil wells and train cars, burning barns, espionage and assassinations into its weekly production cycle, the film offers an array of feats on par with the best science-fiction/action movie genre has to offer. And the special effects experts and stunt men weren't the only ones that kept busy. Anderson says it meant the actors needed to find new reserves of energy and stamina, as well.
"There are more set-ups. There are more angles. You end up doing the takes more and more and more and more," she says. "What is called upon us within the script is more heightened than you usually find in the series. There's a lot of climbing. There's a lot of running. There's a lot of lifting for David. There's a lot of falling for me. There's just a lot more."
Numerous examples spring to mind, not the least of which is a visually stunning sequence in which a bomb rips through a Dallas office building and launches the film into non-stop motion with remarkable force. To make the scene believable, the actors had to work hard to perfect each and every movement.
"David and I run down the steps of a building towards a vehicle," Anderson says. "We jump, and the vehicle starts to go away. The explosion goes off we were not actually in the vehicle when the real explosion went off - but it explodes the back of the window, and we get thrown forward. [After that] the car bounces up and down."
Obviously, when filming such a complicated and potentially dangerous scene, every precaution is taken to protect the actor's safety. But as Anderson points out, you can't always anticipate everything.
"In one of the takes, we're running down the stairs [and] a motorcycles was to pass us on the sidewalk. I ran down the stairs first, and it literally was coming full speed ahead at me down the sidewalk. I didn't know that it was going to be there, so that was kind of freaky," she remembers. "Then David came down the stairs, and he almost literally ran into the motorcycle. That was an exciting moment."
The close calls weren't confined to careening modes of transport, either. The thousands of bees released in the film presented Anderson and her partner with some additional excitement. Specifically, the two were instructed to stumble through a living sea of insects which not even the best animal wrangler can train; a task that left an inedible impression in Anderson's mind.
"Everything was about bees. All the shots we did before the [scenes with the real] bees were pretending that we were being attacked by bees. Finally, I was like, 'All right, already, bring out the bees.' I certainly don't remember any of my college classes having to roll around and pretend I was being attacked by bees," she quips. Who says college always prepares you for the professional world?
So if Anderson's studies at the esteemed National Theatre School of Great Britain at Cornell University and at the Goodman Theatre School at Chicago's DePaul University couldn't prep her to star in The World's Deadliest Swarms, how does an actor prepare to run through a swarm of irritable bees? Try bravado.
"You just have to throw caution to the wind and just trust everything is going to end up okay. You have to go in fearless," she says.
Her straightforward philosophy worked. With the exception of a nervous moment or two, Anderson miraculously escaped the scene unscathed, even though neither she nor Duchovny wore any protective garb. "Our clothes were glued to us at the wrists, along the collars," she explains. "So David and I are standing on our marks and waiting for the guys to come out with these big tubs of bees. [Then] they started scooping the bees up into the air. Just seeing it for the first time, the thousands and thousands of bees, David and I just looked at each other and we both said, 'Oh my God! Oh my God!' They were just filling the air in these thick swarms that we knew any second we had to run through. We knew it was going to be okay, but I don't think that until we actually saw it in front of us that we realized what we were about to do.
"There was one moment when I got a little nervous because you're not supposed to pat your clothes at all just in case there's [a bee] stuck in the folds [of fabric]," Anderson continues. "If you pat it, then the bee is likely to sting you out of trying to protect itself. There was one moment when, for a close-up, I'm running through hundreds of bees, and I noticed a whole bunch of them around my wrists. Seconds later, David comes in to grab me, and he grabs me right on my wrists. I'm thinking, 'There are bees under there!' But there weren't, and I didn't get stung. But just literally seconds before that, I saw a cluster of bees around my wrists and then Mulder's," the actress breaks out laughing before correcting herself, "David's I keep saying that hand comes in, and I was fine."
Given such harrowing adventures and the considerable chunks of time Anderson spends with Duchovny, sometimes up to 14 hours a day during the regular season's shooting schedule, a little confusion about names is understandable. After all, the pair were virtual unknowns at the time of The X-Files' 1993 debut: Anderson had enjoyed success on the New York stage in productions of Alan Ayckbourn's "Absent Friends," for which she won a Theatre World Award, as well as Christopher Hampton's "The Philanthropist"; Duchovny had started in smaller films such as The Rapture and Kalifornia (with Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis).
Together, they have cultivated an unquestionable on-screen charm that is central to the series' popularity. The character's interdependence Scully's skepticism would be meaningless without Mulder's belief surpasses mere stereotypes, though. Each cares deeply for the other, forming a seemingly unbreakable bond that exists outside traditionally defined relationship boundaries and has withstood any number of trials.
In the midst of all the rapid-fire action sequences and carefully orchestrated developments in The X-Files' ongoing conspiracy, the feature film thoughtfully examines that special connection in a new light, with at least one scene guaranteed to give X-Philes something to mull over.
Anderson, who has publically stated that a full blown Mulder/Scully romance could prove detrimental should it develop during the series' run, says the scene made sense in light of the script.
"Over the last couple of seasons, especially, Mulder and Scully have grown together ever more," the actress points out. "As they spend more time together, the more times they save each other's lives, the more respect they have for each other. Within the film, there are some opportunities for them to get a little closer in certain ways than they have in the series. Events take place that by their very nature bring them closer together. There are a couple of conversations that Mulder and Scully have within this script that they've never had before."
The constant evolution the characters undergo is one way to ensure that Mulder and Scully remain interesting for the actors who play them week in and week out, a tall order no matter how great the part. Through all of Scully's experiences her often-trying relationship with her partner, her sister's murder and father's death, her battle against cancer, the loss of a daughter she didn't even realize she had Anderson has risen to the occasion in stellar fashion, capturing two Screen Actor's Guild awards, a Golden Globe award and an Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama Series.
Taking such an established role to the big screen, however, created a new set of mostly self-imposed pressures for the accomplished actress.
"It's been a challenge in my own mind of feeling like what I do on the show is enough, and that I don't have to push it or make it bigger," she says. "I put a lot of pressure on myself at the beginning to make everything bigger and better and more intense. And I was reminded a couple of times by people who said, 'You know Gillian, when it's on the big screen, it's on the big screen, and if you push at all or you do more than you're normally doing, it's going to look like you're doing more than you're used to doing. It'll be too much. It will be pushing and that will read much more on the film than it does on the little TV screen.' So I had to just do good work in and of itself separate from bigger and better. There was a mental transition that needed to take place."
Veteran X-Files director Rob Bowman, who was hand-picked by Chris Carter to helm the feature after directing 23 episodes of the show, helped Anderson make the necessary adjustments, not the least of which consisted of the endurance-testing action scenes. Bowman's established rapport with the cast put Anderson at ease, she says. During the course of the hectic 13-week shoot last summer, the director spent time discussing even the smallest of details about her performance with the actress, something that made the long days and even longer nights a little more bearable, and she has nothing but praise for him.
"He's is right on. He knows exactly what a scene needs," the actress raves. "He really knows how to work with actors. He can get very specific about what is missing, what needs to be shifted within a scene to help us get to where we need to be."
The X-Files feature under her belt, Anderson will next appear in three upcoming, and very different, films, which allow her to showcase her professional versatility. In The Mighty!, slated for release this fall, Anderson sheds her professional duds for garish lipstick and a wig as Loretta, the alcoholic girlfriend of a character played by Meat Loaf. She also has a brief turn in Chicago Cab, also slated for a late 1998 release. She plays another decidedly un-Scully-like woman known as South Side Girl, whose big hair and tight jeans are light-years away from Dana's conservative coif and tasteful business suits. Most recently, Anderson accepted a role alongside Ellen Burnstyn and Sean Connery in a project titled Dancing About Architecture, coming to theatres in 1999. And none of them, surprisingly enough, involve aliens, explosions or killer bees.
As her star continues to rise, though, the actress has remained firmly grounded. Despite the tremendous pressures of living before the unwavering eye of an adoring public, spending exhausting days on the set, sitting through countless photo shoots and traveling across country to appear at The X-Files Expos not to mention spending time with her 4-year-old daughter Piper Anderson is forthright in her admiration of her co-workers and thankful for the opportunities that transformed the once-rebellious teen from Michigan who loved theatre into the international superstar she has become.
"We have been so fortunate, and I especially, coming from virtually nothing, to be in this world that Chris has created," Anderson says. "The vision for this film, from everybody, is one of greatness, and to be in this situation with this crew, to be in this production that has been so tremendously enlightening and such a wonderful experience in so many aspects, I feel very blessed."
Transcript provided by Alfred Tow and appears courtesy of The Official X-Files Magazine.