The Gillian Files
By Mark Morrison
As X-Files' Dana Scully, Gillian Anderson plays a sultry skeptic, but her own journey has been one of striving to keep fit - and find contentment.
She is strolling along a brick path lush with rosemary, lavender, Mexican sage and primrose. Morning mist shrouds the rocky peak of nearby Mount Kuchumaa, its sacred slopes descending to a gardenlike valley of stately cypress and flamboyant palms. The stillness and natural hush of the land is broken only by the wind (and, earlier, the cry of a coyote) and the steady downpour of unexpected rain.
"This is so surreal,"Gillian Anderson says. The 29-year-old star of The X-Files - who knows from surreal - is talking not about the mystical setting but the unseasonable precipitation. As a resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, where the series has been shot for five seasons, she is no stranger to damp climates. But this is her first vacation in months - as well as her first-ever visit to a spa. And she has come to Rancho La Puerta, a 3,000-acre Eden just outside the Mexican border town of Tecate, 45 miles inland from San Diego, with the intention of hiking in the mountains and relaxing in what is normally dry heat. "This is the first time in a long time that I've gone somewhere knowing there will be nothing I have to do," she says. "There won't even be phones in the room."
Ducking into her Spanish-Colonial villa with its brick archways and beamed ceilings, she settles into the wood-frame sofa and warms herself before the roaring fireplace. Wrapped in a thin chenille robe, Anderson is more striking and blatantly girlish than she appears as the X-Files' skeptical FBI agent Dana Scully. With her red satin hair pulled back from astonishing milky skin and secretive blue eyes, it is tempting to describe her as an ethereal beauty. But that would be too simple. And nothing about Gillian Anderson is simple.
She has spent her first day at Rancho La Puerta unwinding with a massage. "Actually, I got two massages," says Anderson. One of them was one of the best I've ever had." The ranch prides itself on being the first fitness spa in North America; it was founded in 1939, and the Hollywood clientele has included Burt Lancaster and Charles Heston. Guests can enjoy a holistic approach to exercise and eating during their stay, Anderson, who doesn't eat wheat, has been looking for millet since she arrived. She explains, I'm highly sensitive to food. Automatically, I can feel the shift in my body. Plus, she has just completed a rigorous 10-day "cleanse" (supervised by nutritionist Bo Wagner, who is based in Venice, California) that has left her feeling euphoric.
Not as delicate as she appears, Anderson opts for a yoga class and a tai chi lesson. Following a young guide up one of the Kuchumaa foothill hiking trails, she stops on a bluff and is instructed in some basic tai chi moves. "You immediately feel like you're one with nature," she says of the Eastern discipline. "You become the wind and the air you're breathing. It's something I'd be interested in studying - for balance."
Inner balance is important to Anderson, who, as the star of a TV phenomenon that has now spawned the movie The X-Files (opening June 19), has sometimes been in danger of losing hers. In the five years since she landed the role of Scully, at 24, she has gotten married (to art director Clyde Klotz, in 1994), given birth to a daughter, Piper Maru, and left her husband after two years. Unprepared for international fame and tabloid hyperscrutiny, she had to learn how to deal with the rush of attention while still on the job.
"I work so hard on being 'other'-focused, not self-focused," Anderson says. "The challenge has been to get to a place where I can separate myself [from outside attention] and be in a place of calm and peace and no attachments. Even between shots on the set, I'll sit and go to a place in my mind that has no thought."
She lights a cigarette - a remaining vice - and stares out the window at the unrelenting rain. Anderson doesn't smile often, but when she does, it's like the sun coming out from behind clouds, only to disappear again. Tales of her rebellious youth, first in London, then in Grand Rapids, Michigan (where her father has a video postproduction company), ave followed her throughout the years - pierced nose, the Mohawk haircut, the punk-rock boyfriends. Her extremes these days are less obvious - though they do exist. "I'm an odd bird," she says. "I get into very melancholy places - and then I turn into a complete goofball."
She spent her younger years trying to numb her restlessness. "I always have to feel like I'm accomplishing something, not just sitting," she says. I will paint something that doesn't need to be painted; I put stuff away. That's one of the most uncomfortable things for me - to sit in a grey area and not try and fix something."
The key to finding balance, she knows, is to stay in the moment, not in the whirlpool in her mind. "I've been working for years on knowing the second those thoughts are coming in, to recognize them, get rid of them, and move on to what's happening right now." The eldest of three, Anderson says she "used to show off a lot as a child. My father found that very distasteful. I have a built-in mechanism, and red lights start flashing whenever I start to behave in any kind of diva-esque way." As a result, she can seem too restrained. "All my life, what I've put out is that I'm completely in control. And sometimes that's not true."
It didn't help that Anderson was hitting her teens when her brother was born (a sister followed four years later). "I was an only child for 13 years - the master of my parents' attention,"she says. She started therapy a year later. "But I lied to my therapist! I think I learned very early how to act and lie."
At DePaul University, she tried yoga and meditation. But by then she'd found other ways of suppressing her feelings. "I was ingesting everything and doing yoga afterward,"she says, laughing at the absurdity. "I remember it was 3 in the morning and I'd just come home and I was going to do yoga. I did this one posture that you're not supposed to do if you had any alcoholic beverages. And I did it collapsed on the floor."
Along the way, her weight climbed to 147 pounds (on her 5-foot-3-inch frame). "All my life I've been very body-conscious in a not-so-good way," she says. Bingeing compounded the problem. "I used to eat Twixes and Skor Bars. I liked the stuff that gets down in your stomach and sticks. I would get pounds of Brach's candy - anything caramel. I would constantly have something in my mouth. That was an escape."
After college, she moved to New York to pursue acting, a more constructive outlet for her feelings. She workedoff-Broadway and won a Theatre World Award. But she still had to train herself to eat carefully. Moving to L.A. in 1992 helped her discover the importance of exercise. By the she won the role of Scully, she was down to 118 pounds. Her diet continues to evolve. "I am my own guinea pig," she admits. In fact, just prior to her recent cleansing treatment, she says, "I was on a program of carbohydrates, protein and supplements - and Starbuck's decaf coffee four times a day."
While she says the cleansing "changed my life," she claims her pregnancy in 1994 - she gained 52 pounds - marked a turning point. "All my life I could escape into the thought, My thighs are too big. I reached a point where I was free of that when I was pregnant. After I had the baby, [that feeling] carried over for a while."
Though she isn't out to set an example for anyone but her daughter, the subject does come up. "I really wishI had a role model. I remember the first time I ever thought, That's what I want to be - it was seeing Meryl Streep in Out of Africa. I was a teenager," she says. "There's part of me that wants to be in a movement that gets actors and models together, strips them down, and takes photos of their bodies - no computer enhancements, no makeup, no lighting - and lets you see that these are the real bodies. Part of me wants to do a naked scene, cellulite and all." Imagining it, she adds another irony: "Then again, I know I'd rather people thought of me as having a toned, healthy body."
There's a knock at the heavy wooden door. The rain hasn't let up, but a hearty soup is being served. And there's good news: The ranch has found some millet.
Several weeks later, Anderson calls from Vancouver. She's sending her mother and aunt to Rancho La Puerta as a Christmas present. She spent her own holiday in Bali, where she broke up with her boyfriend, actor Rodney Rowland. But she's excited about something - if not - someone - new in her life: She's bought a California beach house. "It's a small place," she says. "Right now, it's got a table and bench and a cabinet, and I love it!"
The house has also passed a more critical test: "My daughter walked into the place for the first time and she started screaming, 'This is great!' She rode her bike around the living room and sat outside on the porch by herself for 10 minutes, looking at the stars. For 10 minutes! What was she thinking?"
With The X-Files moving its base to L.A., Anderson is unattached for the first extended period of her adult life. She is focusing on her daughter and her work - in that order. "There's something about a [romantic] relationship that can be a saftey net," she says. "I'm in the midst of redefining who I am as a person, and it's interesting."
Even the thought of turning 30 in August doesn't vex her. "I would like to have a small birthday party in Los Angeles for my closest friends," she says. "I've been waiting to be 30 all my life. It represents a certain level of maturity. I guess this year is about determining whether I fit that or not. But I'm excited - it feels like it's going to be a good thing."
Transcript provided by Alfred Tow and appears courtesy of InStyle Magazine.