Dec. 1998/Jan. 1999
"Gillian of the Spirits"
By Virginia Campbell
Every inch of the serene, rustic wood interior of the house Gillian Anderson is renovating urges your eye toward what is, at the moment, only warm darkness punctuated by the low thunder of waves hitting the sand a few feet away. The cavernous dimly lit living room opens out onto a deck that looks over a world of silver water and is cooled on this hot Los Angeles night by the only fresh air in the whole city.
"The X-Files" bought this gem, and "The X-Files" makes it a necessity. Anderson knows better than to complain about the brutal schedule sheís working for a sixth season of "The X-Files," but the series that made her famous has to wear on her no matter how much it pays, no matter how much validation it generates and no matter how much more fun it is than any other job in modern America. And not only is there the grinding demand of "The X-Files" to deal with, thereís the challenge of escaping from "The X-Files" into the movie career that she really wants. You need some peace and quiet to mastermind a trick like that.
So far, Anderson has turned down all leads in all alien-infected spectacles sheís been offered-except, of course, last summerís The X-Files movie and its upcoming sequel (due out in summer of 2000). Sheís taken instead a succession of small, non-Scully character parts in independent projects. She played an eccentric alcoholic biker chick in The Mighty and a nail-biting, working-class girl who fights with her boyfriend in Chicago Cab. And in her new film, Dancing About Architecture, which surrounds her with a remarkable ensemble that includes Sean Connery and Gena Rowlands, she plays a romantically embittered theatre director who gets her faith restored by Jon Stewart.
The unusual thing about Andersonís big-screen career is not that sheís avoided parts that play off Scully, but how good sheís been in her aggressively eccentric departures. Odd as it seems for someone whoís managed to portray the same character week after week for over five yearís, Anderson appears to be a chameleon-type actress. The extreme purposefulness with which she approaches her work may be the only characteristic she shares with Dana Scully. Anderson herself is an emotional self-explorer for whom the truth "out there" has never been as compelling as the truth in there. It would probably take quite an array of different screen characters just to let out the energies that have been tamped down by the seasons of playing the straight-arrow Scully. Any conversation had with Anderson over the sound of the waves that night would convince you of that.
VIRGINIA: I remember that you rented a house on the beach when you were making The X-Files movie-is that what made you want to buy this place when you moved back to L.A.?
GILLIAN: Yeah, actually. I almost bought a place in town, but after living next to the water I realized the balance it gives you. I felt like I needed to have the water around me. Itís very soothing.
VIRGINIA: Are you going to redecorate this place by yourself or hire someone to do it for you?
GILLIAN: Iím doing this without a decorator. I know exactly what I like. Itís going to be very natural, very clean, a mixture of ancient and modern--white walls, black-painted wood floors, contemporary paintings. Iíve been fortunate enough to start a collection of art.
VIRGINIA: Are the artists you collect famous?
GILLIAN: One of them is relatively famous, Alexis Rockman. One has become one of my closest friends Darren Waterston. Another is Tony Sherman, who Iím working on some projects with.
VIRGINIA: What kind of project would you be doing with a painter?
GILLIAN: Heís painting me. For one project, he wanted to know which fictional or historical characters Iíd like to portray.
VIRGINIA: Good question. What did you tell him?
GILLIAN: Two images in particular have really affected me. One is the pre-Raphaelite painting by Sir John Everett Millais of Ophelia floating down the stream amid flowers. The other is the scene at the end of The Piano when Holly Hunter put her foot deliberately in the coil of the rope and sheís been dragged into the ocean and everything goes quiet and she has that vacuum of choice. Thereís a peacefulness and a holding of time in that, moment.
VIRGINIA: You obviously like the water. Do you go diving?
GILLIAN: The first time I ever scuba dived was when I was in Australia when I was doing press for Twentieth Century Fox. Iíd asked if there was anywhere I could go snorkeling and the studio misunderstood and set up a thing at Manly aquarium where I was scuba diving in a tank with gray sharks. It was exhilarating.
VIRGINIA: I would assume that because youíre valuable to the studio, these sharks were well fed.
GILLIAN: Yes; though there was one that was a bit moody and feisty because she was pregnant. She didnít want anything around her and she turned quite quickly.
VIRGINIA: Itís an odd idea of how to please a star.
GILLIAN: But itís exactly how to please me.
VIRGINIA: Well, they should know theyíre the same studio that put a live bee on you to interrupt your kiss with David Duchovny in The X-Files movie, right?
GILLIAN: No, in that scene there was only a dead bee that I pulled out from my collar. You saw the bee go under my lapel in the previous scene. For that, they had a queen bee in a container and they put it under my lapel before they started shooting. Then they put the other bee on my shoulder and hoped it would find its way under my lapel to the queen. They always go to the queen.
VIRGINIA: Well, live bee or dead bee, Scully and Mulderís near-kiss scene was probably most peopleís favorite scene in the movie.
GILLIAN: We actually do kiss in an episode of the new season of the show.
VIRGINIA: That is certainly good news. What are the circumstances?
GILLIAN: It happens on an episode where Scully and Mulder are investigating the Bermuda Triangle and find themselves on an old ship in 1939.
VIRGINIA: The X-Files movie was the first time people got to see you on the big screen. A lot of actors who work well on the small screen just donít translate, but obviously you do. Where you relieved to see that about yourself?
GILLIAN: You know, I guess I never had a doubt, because in my own naÔve way I expected my desire to do it would overpower any reality.
VIRGINIA: Isnít it a relief to have Hollywood know you can handle the big screen?
GILLIAN: Well, because it really was an action film, most people Iíve talked to have just said, [races through the words] The movieís great, youíre great in it.
VIRGINIA: In your new film, Dancing About Architecture, you have quite an electic ensemble of actors around Gena Rowlands, Sean Connery, Madeline Stowe, Dennis Quaid, Angelina Jolie, Ellen Burstyn, Jon Stewart. Who struck you as the most memorable?
GILLIAN: Ellen Burstyn. I felt really out of my league next to her.
VIRGINIA: Iíd assume that Sean Connery must be doing something interesting in the movie, since otherwise, why would he be in it for next to no pay?
GILLIAN: Iíve only seen a few dailies, but I saw Seanís work stuff Iíd never seen him do before. Certain expressions, a certain depth. Itís still Sean, but my impression is that weíre going to think of him in a whole new way.
VIRGINIA: Even people who understand that the charisma stars project may have nothing to do with who they really are still insist that Sean Connery is the exception that he is as cool in real life as he is on-screen.
GILLIAN: Absolutely. Thereís an energy that Sean projects on-screen that is so radiant and sexual and intriguing and powerful. And if he were to walk in here right now and be hidden behind that partition, youíd still feel his energy. Men, women and children flock to him. My daughter went right for him.
VIRGINIA: In Dancing About Architecture youíre part of a large ensemble, and in both Chicago Cab and The Mighty you had very small parts. Arenít you looking for a leading-lady part to do before the safety net of "The X-Files" ends?
GILLIAN: Oh yeah. Iíve found a couple. One I may do next summer itís been offered to me, thereís a director attached and Iím involved in making it happen the way I would want it to happen if I were to do it. I really canít say anymore about it at this point
VIRGINIA: What movies have you seen lately that made you think youíd like to have been offered that part?
GILLIAN: I would have taken Oscar and Lucinda. Iíd have taken One True Thing. Iíd have taken, based on the script, Sliding Doors. Ethan Frome. Emma. Sense and Sensibility.
VIRGINIA: Is it true you were interested in Killing Mrs. Tingle?
GILLIAN: No, Harvey Weinstien offered it to me, but I said no. He kept offering me scary things, and I kept saying, "no, no, no." He said, "At least read it, itís more like youíd do than the other scary things weíve sent you." He also wanted me to think about The Faculty.
VIRGINIA: Are the new teen horror flicks the kind of thing that Hollywood wants you to do?
GILLIAN: Other things, too there are a lot of things Iím not interested in doing. But thatís a large percentage of it.
VIRGINIA: Letís talk a bit about acting. What performance have you seen recently on-screen recently that wowed you?
GILLIAN: Cate Blanchett in Oscar and Lucinda. Sheís intriguing, and she has weight to her, and sheís wonderfully subtle. Sheís a damn good actress.
VIRGINIA: Do you think actors are born instead of made?
GILLIAN: I do. My whole belief system is that our paths are drawn for us.
VIRGINIA: Do you study people around you?
GILLIAN: Iím an observer, but I donít ever take things in and think, "Oh, that would be interesting to use for a character."
VIRGINIA: You think you can find it all in yourself?
VIRGINIA: Do you ever worry about cannibalizing yourself?
GILLIAN: Well, thereís one thing I wouldnít play because Iíd be afraid of it seeping into my life, and thatís insanity. But I do think everything can be found inside you if youíre honest in your work. But I also believe that in simply observing a particular kind of walk, say, weíve imprinted it on our brains so that later it might naturally, organically happen without our saying, "I saw that once."
VIRGINIA: How would your ideal director treat you?
GILLIAN: My ideal director would be working with me on a script I felt passionate about and would go into a process that involved intense, intimate dialogue with me about the character, the mood, the vision.
VIRGINIA: You donít need to be coddled or fathered or mothered?
VIRGINIA: Is that stage in training?
GILLIAN: No, itís life training. Iíve sought after coddling before in my life, and I donít think itíll happen any more. So I donít think Iíll have any need for it in my work.
VIRGINIA: You sound pretty secure, then.
GILLIAN: I was terrified during Dancing About Architecture. But now Iím in love with the process. Iíll dive in and try to figure things out no matter how afraid I am, or how much I feel Iím not getting it. And my brain doesnít wrap very easily around things Iím afraid of. A blank wall goes up. Itís like therapy when youíre about to get to something, and your mind goes blank. Itís hard work to get to the depth of it. But itís the anticipation of the work thatís difficult fear of failing or of pain. The actual doing it brings in light.
VIRGINIA: Do you read your reviews?
GILLIAN: Most of my experience with reviews was hen I was doing theatre, and I read all of them.
VIRGINIA: How do you deal with criticism?
GILLIAN: Ultimately, no oneís a harder critic of my work than I am, so if I read something bad then Iím not surprised, and if I read something good then I know itís not true. [Laughs] To be honest, if itís good I donít et myself get attached to it. Thee reviews of the show have been very positive, but thatís more about my character and the writers. Way at the beginning someone wrote something that I only read later, about Scully being two-dimensional, which hurt because that was true then. How Iíll feel about my criticism of my performance in Dancing About Architecture, I really donít know.
VIRGINIA: Whatís the first movie that ever had a big effect on you?
GILLIAN: Star Wars, in London when I was probably around eight.
VIRGINIA: Whatís the first movie you ever got obsessed with and saw over and over?
GILLIAN: The first and only film I ever watched over and over again was Out of Africa. I have an image of the house on the plantation that encapsulates my whole feeling for the movie, which has as much to do with Africa as it does with the idea of working in film. It seems like from the moment I saw Out of Africa I realized there were things I wanted to learn about. There had been a huge period when Iíd had no interest in learning, and nothing anybody attempted to teach me would stay in my brain. It had to do with my being told I had to go to school, and also with some kind of survival mechanismóit was all I could do to focus on just what was going on in my brain at the time. But when the awareness [that Iíd like to learn about things] came into my life, I no longer had time to do it. If thereís one regret in my lifeóand I donít have regretsóit would be that I didnít pay attention in school. Now I have stacks of books and CD-ROMs just waiting for me when I have the time.
VIRGINIA: What do you read when you have the time?
GILLIAN: Most things I read have something to do with moving forward, either in my work on myself or in my work in my life.
VIRGINIA: Are you a big self-help book reader?
GILLIAN: Iíve read the good ones.
VIRGINIA: I saw a book called Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing sitting on your table. Is that a good one?
VIRGINIA: Seeing that book made me want to ask you about some of your beliefs. Do you believe in God?
GILLIAN: I believe that there is energy, a vibration that is God, that is in everything, that is everything.
VIRGINIA: Nothing personal about it though?
VIRGINIA: What religious orientation were you raised in?
GILLIAN: None. My mom was raised Catholic. Iím not sure about my father but after he moved away from home his family converted to Mormonism. I gravitated to my orientation at a very young age. I donít know where it came from.
VIRGINIA: Do you pray?
VIRGINIA: But not with the idea of being listened to?
GILLIAN: More felt than listened to. Itís more the energy of praying.
VIRGINIA: Do you believe in the afterlife?
GILLIAN: Yes. Many afterlives. I believe in reincarnation. I believe weíre here to learn and grow.
VIRGINIA: Are you an old soul or a young one?
VIRGINIA: Do people say that about you?
VIRGINIA: Have you ever lived as a man and a woman?
VIRGINIA: Do you believe that there are fundamental differences between men and women?
GILLIAN: You canít help taking the influence of society into consideration when you think about that question. My daughter is mostly around girls and she wants to dress like a boy, play like a boy, she wants boysí swim trunks. She asks me, ďWhy wasnít I born a boy? Why canít I be a boy?Ē She probably connects with the energy and freedom of boys. But another aspect of the difference between men and women came up in conversation recently. I was talking with somebody who said that a man can, in marriage, have a casual sexual relations with another woman and not have it affect his devotion to his wife, whereas a woman cannot separate sexual experience from devotion. Until I got involved in the argument, I didnít believe that, and then I thought that it might be true. But I still donít think itís right. Another difference between men and women is that men have trouble being in a relationship with a woman who makes more money. But I think thatís more societal and ego-based.
VIRGINIA: Youíve been to psychics many times, havenít you?
GILLIAN: I go to psychics when I need some guidance in my life, not to find out the future. I always leave with a feeling of hope.
VIRGINIA: If you were in great emotional turmoil, would you be more likely to go to a psychic or a psychotherapist?
GILLIAN: A psychotherapist. Iíve been in psychotherapy steadily since I was 14.
VIRGINIA: So youíre involved with it more as a way of life than as a cure for something?
VIRGINIA: What kind of therapy do you think is the most successful?
GILLIAN: Itís a mixture of the approach and the person. All the therapists Iíve seen in my life have been appropriate for the period in which I saw them.
VIRGINIA: When you suddenly had to deal with mammoth changes like becoming famous, did you change therapists?
GILLIAN: In the beginning there was a therapist in Los Angeles that I had phone conversations with from Vancouver. The woman I finally found in Vancouver, I wish I had found back then. But she came into my life when I needed her most. I have found a new one here, a man whoís amazing, who does a lot of energy work.
VIRGINIA: What is energy work?
GILLIAN: It involves specific kinds of breathing work that help in conjunction with the therapy to move energy in your body thatís blocked, sometimes for years, when weíre holding onto patterns, traumas, behaviors-which is what a lot of Anatomy of the Spirit is about. You only go to see this guy when youíve got some really heavy-duty stuff to work out.
VIRGINIA: How do you give performances at the same time you go through stuff like this?
GILLIAN: If I didnít do this Iíd be a useless actor.
VIRGINIA: Donít you get into some difficult emotional states and then have to go to work and do a scene that has nothing to do with it?
GILLIAN: All the time. My life has been about that.
VIRGINIA: Do you get depressed?
GILLIAN: Iíve had bouts of depression. I know about not being able to get out of bed. Iíve been aware of how my behaviors and perceptions have contributed to my depression and Iíve done something about that.
VIRGINIA: Is it just discipline that gets you through, or do you make use of whatís going on?
GILLIAN: A lot of times I make use of whatís going on. But there have been times where it has been too overwhelming. There were many periods of time up in Vancouver when I just couldnít stop crying. Iíd show up in the makeup chair and theyíd start to touch me up and on the way to the set Iíd start crying.
VIRGINIA: Do you think you were born a more happy person or less happy person?
GILLIAN: Iím the oldest of three. My brother is 13 years younger and my sister is 16 years younger. My brother and I were born from the same seed and with us thereís an inner unrest. My sister-we donít know where she came from, because from the beginning sheíd walk down the stairs with a smile on her face and say hi to everybody and was perfectly happy. It was like, what family was she born in?
VIRGINIA: Must be the luck of the draw.
GILLIAN: I also believe itís planetary, and that as Iíve said before, we choose how we come into this life based on what it is we have to learn. Some people have harder lessons than others.
VIRGINIA: How much of your life have you spent learning lessons alone, unattached to anyone?
GILLIAN: A couple of periods of four months. One of the lessons Iíve had to learn was about being alone. Itís one of the things Iím most afraid of.
VIRGINIA: Because you havenít done it a lot?
GILLIAN: No, I havenít done it a lot because Iíve been afraid of it.
VIRGINIA: Are you unattached now, in one of those phases?
GILLIAN: Not completely. [Laughs] I made very good use of the four months that I was alone, and they were incredibly difficult. But I learned a good portion of what I needed to learn and now I have an opportunity to put that to work, so to speak.
VIRGINIA: Do you easily become emotionally dependent?
GILLIAN: Iím a mixture of incredibly independent and dependent upon the high-romantic high. But Iím willing to work on every aspect of a relationship. Most of the confrontation part I welcome. Iím a stickler for the truth. I want the opportunity to deal with it.
VIRGINIA: Does your idea of happiness include family?
GILLIAN: Yes. But let me back up. My deepest idea of happiness has nothing to do with another person. Itís got everything to do with a peace in my own mind. But I would like to have a family again, a partner and another child or two. Itís contingent upon a certain environment of healthiness.
VIRGINIA: Have you forgiven your parents all their mistakes?
GILLIAN: Iíve forgiven their mistakes, but stuff still comes out. Sometimes itís been necessary for me to get to the root of something Iím processing, and often itís in childhood. There are still periods of time when I experience a good deal of anger, but itís not at them. Thereís a book I was reading called The Fantasy Bond, about how we create bonds in our family of origin based on what we needed in order to survive at that time, and how we continue to re-create those fantasy bonds.
VIRGINIA: Thatís basic Freud. Only heíd say you canít stop doing it.
GILLIAN: I believe that you can stop doing it. I have. It takes a lot of work.
VIRGINIA: OK, enough seriousness. How about some frivolous questions? If you had to take three foods with you to a deserted island for the rest of your life what would they be?
GILLIAN: And I wasnít going to see anybody else on the island. [Laughs]
GILLIAN: Letís see. I donít eat bread, but I love bread-Iíd take that Jewish egg bread, challah. I donít eat meat either, but Iíd need some protein-Iíd say beef stew. And Iíd have to have something naughty. Harryís Bar in London has the best chocolate ice cream in the world-itís like mousse-Iíd choose that for the third thing.
VIRGINIA: I f you could give up I.Q. points in favor of a physical change of any kind, how many would you give up and what would the change be?
GILLIAN: [Laughs] Iíd want a higher metabolism and Iíd give up five I.Q. points for it.
VIRGINIA: What Shakespearean role would you most like to play?
GILLIAN: Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, or Lady MacBeth.
VIRGINIA: What historical person would you like to have an affair with?
GILLIAN: Dick Cavett. [Giggles]
VIRGINIA: Well, heís still alive, so Iím not sure heís historical, but sure.
GILLIAN: OK, [still giggling] that man in the book Seven Years in Tibet-Heinrich Harrer.
VIRGINIA: You donít mean Brad Pitt?
GILLIAN: No, no, no. Heinrich Harrer.
VIRGINIA: What profession do you admire the most?
GILLIAN: Anybody who leads a country. Itís an unfathomable job to me.
VIRGINIA: If you could be a fly on the wall anywhere, what wall would it be?
GILLIAN: My ex-husbandís. [Laughs]
VIRGINIA: What rock song do you wish youíd written?
GILLIAN: "You Canít Always Get What You Want."
VIRGINIA: What animal do you think is your spirit animal?
GILLIAN: The whale. The blue whale.
VIRGINIA: What saying have you known all your life that holds true for you?
GILLIAN: "Youíre only given as much as you can handle at any given time." Whether itís true or not, it gives you strength.
VIRGINIA: What musical instrument best expresses you?
GILLIAN: The cello.
VIRGINIA: Whatís your greatest virtue?
VIRGINIA: Are you a generous to fault?
VIRGINIA: Are you good with money?
GILLIAN: Yes and no. Iím good at being miserly and Iím good at being frivolous. Itís all about finding the balance. I have someone who watches over my money. Someone who I trust implicitly.
VIRGINIA: Do you know where all your money is?
GILLIAN: Yes, but only because I Ďve asked for lists and Iíve had recent conversations with that person and we have gone over patterns of spending. I donít make a lot of investments besides real estate.
VIRGINIA: Is art your major extravagance?
GILLIAN: Yes. Of course thereís this house, but thatís about building a home for my daughter. And sometimes I get silly with clothes.
VIRGINIA: Are you beset by charities that want your money and your time?
GILLIAN: Yes. When it comes to my presence, itís easy-I just donít have the time. When it comes to money, Iíve chosen where my focus should be. Iíve worked with various charities, some involving children, family violence, and multiple sclerosis. But there is one particular charity I work with the most -- Neurofibromatosis.
VIRGINIA: Why that one?
GILLIAN: My brother has the disease. I make appearances for that organization all the time. I even addressed Congress about the disease.
VIRGINIA: What was addressing Congress like?
GILLIAN: It was challenging using my mind in that way and figuring out what was said. Neurofibromatosis is actually more prevalent than MS, but there are more stigmas attached to it because itís similar to the Elephant Manís disease, in those types of tumors, only they may not happen until the age of 30.
VIRGINIA: Is the research progressing?
GILLIAN: Yes, and the research on NF has helped in a lot of other areas as well. What is amazing is that a lot of fans donate money to this cause for my birthday or Christmas or my daughterís birthday. Itís incredibly generous of them.
VIRGINIA: Well since the holidays are coming up, how can somebody who wants to give a donation go about doing that?
GILLIAN: Thereís a web site where you can do it. The address is www.nfinc.org.
Transcript provided by Shawna and appears courtesy of Movieline magazine.