August 16, 1998
Fox's Glacier Minx
By Chrissy Iley
The X-Files ice maiden blows hot and cold about movies and men. Gillian Anderson.
There are some celebrities who really shouldn't do interviews. I'm afraid Gillian Anderson may be one of them. In an attempt to be closed up and cautious about probing questions regarding her personal life, she is not very slick about her professional life. She was obviously very tired and jet-lagged when I met her at London's Dorchester Hotel, but she seemed more than tired of the X-Files movie she was meant to be promoting, a movie that is actually not at all bad if you're an X-Files fan. It's an elongated episode, all questions addressed, none answered, everything still pending. More grizzly, with more effects and more sexual tension. But slightly more conventional, in that the Fox Mulder FBI hero saves the brave but suddenly vulnerable though still sceptical Dana Scully.
You can imagine if you've played Scully ever week, then you do a movie, it might get a bit much. But if you get paid approximately £3m a series, at least that's one reason to be enthusiastic. In fact, she had little enthusiasm for anything: not for the movie, not for crafting the perfect soundbite, not for a conversation with me.
The best interviews are bonding experiences. In order to bond, you have to have a conversation, an emotional and intellectual exchange. If we put the interviewees on a scale of 0-10, Dustin Hoffman scores 10. He's interested in you, he's interested in himself, he has fresh, seething observations about every minutia of his life and work. He fights for every second to be interesting. And if at zero we have Meg Ryan, who just sits there, answers the questions with a look of "next" and extreme irritation, let's just say Gillian Anderson is nearer to Meg Ryan.
Anderson strikes me as somebody who would be interesting to have as a friend. She has an interesting past and she might let you in on a few things, she might admit she is the same as you. But as an interviewee, she feels that there is a huge chasm between you and her. It's a chasm that she wants to protect. She wants it deep and uncrossable.
She sits before me. She is a thousand times more beautiful than on TV. I almost gasped out loud. Ankles turned in that 1940s lady sort of way; hair a deliciously golden red that is more like a harvest than a strawberry; skin pale, quietly porcelain; mouth sweetly fleshy; eyes huge and pioneering. But it never made sense to me before that several men's magazines have voted her sexiest woman in the world, mostly because I'd seen her as Agent Scully, fiercely and scientifically intelligent and stoic, just the kind of woman that, in real life, men feel castrated by. Still, she has been more successful as a fantasy than as a reality. Her marriage to Clyde Klotz broke up a couple of years ago after a passionate start. They fell in love on her first X Files series, and after three months were married on New Year's Day, 1994, by a Buddhist priest at the 17th hole of a Hawaiian golf course.
There is too long a pause before either of us speaks. She looks at me, waiting for the grilling. Her arms are folded against her chest, a position that she adopts throughout the interview. The whole time, she never uncrosses her arms, as if she were afraid of her breast falling out of her suit or her soul escaping.
You must have a great affinity for London, as you lived here as a child, I say blandly. "Yes. There are certain aspects which certainly feel like home." A pause. There is always a pause between answers that says we are not just having a conversation. We are doing an interview. You are the interviewer. You ask the questions. I give the answers and nothing more. I am not interested in you as a person.
Maybe we can put that down to an unhappy childhood, or teenage years, or life. She lived in Crouch End, north London, from 2 to 11, and it all started with her feeling like a displaced person. When she was 11, she went back to the States - Grand Rapids, Michigan. "All of my family was in America. When I was here, I was teased about being a Yank because I spoke with an accent, because my parents were American. I was enthusiastic about going to a place where I wasn't considered a Yank as a derogatory thing. But once I got there, I felt very displaced, like I left home." Of course, when she g ot back to Michigan, she sounded as if she had an English accent, and I understand that. It's very important to fit in at school. I too had travelled back from America and been humiliated for calling a lift an elevator. Even now, her voice is strangely unplaceable, somewhere in that dreadful continent of the mid-Atlantic, hoping to fit somewhere but ending up sounding odd on both sides. Did you have a sense that you never quite fitted? "I think so. Being brought up in Michigan, I had the feeling I never fit and I never wanted to."
Was that what led to your punk phase? "That phase lasted from 14 to 22, I think, so it was a long phase." She wasn't actually in a band, but had a boyfriend 10 years her senior who was. Sometimes she got up on stage and did "some silly things". At one time she had her head shaved and a purple mohican. She has said that it expressed her anger, in the same way she uses her acting to express it now. Did she ever want to be a punk star? "No. But lately I was at the Lilith Fair, and seeing Sinead O'Connor and hearing her voice, the power that can be communicated through a voice like that is great." Do you have a good voice? "Not especially." Did you first want to act because you wanted the attention? "Yes and no. I'm very much a recluse, but at the same time I vied for attention, being an only child and then being an only child whose parents had two more kids when I was going through puberty, when I needed a great deal of attention."
Her first audition, at 12, was for Alice in Wonderland. She didn't get the part. She found out years later that she was second up for the role. "I thought they just passed me over and that was the end of it. It would have made a big difference if I'd known, because after that, I gave up until I was about 16." She has no acting heritage, although her father was in the film business, making documentaries, and now has a post-production company. He went to the London Film School while her mother worked computers for the Daily Mirror. When the family moved back to America, they had enough money for more children, so there was a 13-year age gap. She now has a younger brother who is 17 and a sister who is 14, and she has just turned 30. At the time, she certainly was not keen on their arrival.
Her own daughter, Piper, now nearly four, has been begging for a baby brother or sister. "I hope I'll be able to provide one before she goes into that stage where she doesn't want one. I don't want one before the next three years." Did you plan her? "No." I read that you got pregnant on honeymoon. "On the wedding day, she was conceived. Very romantic, and thank God that I did have her." A pause. Uh, because she's the main focus in your life? "Mmm-hmm. In a healthy way, though. She's my priority." A pause.
They disguised your pregnancy very well. Was that with body doubles? "I had body doubles and stunt doubles, but all the camera stuff was me." She worked right up until the last possible moment, and was back at work 10 days after giving birth. It's awe-inspiring. I tell her that it's incredible and it must have been very rigorous. "It was rigorous. It threw everybody for a considerable loop at the time. I was thinking, 'Why is everyone making such a big deal out of it?' They can't stop me from having a baby. They can't fire me. But in retrospect, realising that it was the first year of a fledgling and potentially successful series, this was a very risky thing for me to go ahead with."
Well, there couldn't have been any question of not going through it? "No. But there was some pressure to make a decision." Really? "Oh, yeah. I'm sure there were some people at the network who at the time had wished I would make another decision." This whole meeting is about as X-Files as you can get. It's to do with what isn't said or explained explicitly. She has said in other interviews that when she was pregnant she was afraid that they'd get someone who wasn't pregnant to play the role, so I imagine that that thought was a serious threat to her.
I try to chivvy her along by telling her how much Scully is a post-feminine icon, so capable, so strong. Not like a wimpy girl who always gets her partner to save her. It all seems pretty equal, except in the movie it's less equal. How did you feel about that? "I wasn't crazy about it. Initially I wasn't crazy about it. Initially I wasn't crazy about doing the movie during the series anyway. My priority at the time was that if they were going to make me do the movie during the hiatus, then they were going to pay me equally. It was a matter of principle."
It was a principle fiercely fought. For the series, it has been reported that she gets £3m and David Duchovny £4m. For the movie, they were both paid the same, which is rare in Hollywood. It's always seemed to me completely crazy that the female co-star automatically gets less and there's always a huge brouhaha when they manage to get equal.
What do you want to do next? "Films and theatre." Are you bored with being Scully? "I enjoy her and I'm honoured to be part of her life, but I'm exhausted by the series and would like to do different characters." A pause. I tell her that I heard that Miramax were rush-releasing with delight a movie that she did with Sean Connery, Dancing about Architecture. I heard from a respected source that is quite wonderful in it. "It's a wonderful script, about courage and relationships. I play Meredith, who is a director of theatre and TV commercials. She is somewhat closed down. She has been hurt a few times in relationships, and is in the beginning of a possible attraction with Jon Stewart's character. She's having difficulty allowing it to develop."
Is that what you're like, closed down? "I have reason to..." Her mouth stops mid-sentence. "I've had some experiences where trust has been broken and the boundaries blurred, and I'm very cautious." If you trust somebody and the trust is broken, the next relationship will suffer, I say hopefully. "It's hard not to be influenced." Are you in trust mode now? "No. I'm in cautious mode. I'm currently single and enjoying that aspect, but very cautious about my relations with the opposite sex."
Didn't you have some English boyfriend? "No. There was a situation with a friend who was English, but I don't discuss that." A mistake? "No. I just don't discuss it." Is that part of your caution? "Possibly."
In January 1997, it was reported that she was close to a bit-part actor and Yorkshireman, Adrian Hughes. He had a goatee and was very tall, and she spent some time in Yorkshire with him. She almost has an allergic reaction here. Later on, I found a small mention that a person by the name of Adrian Hughes had faced charges for sex attacks on five different women. If this is true, no wonder she doesn't want to be associated with him. I ask her, how do you get to be cautious if you're not naturally cautious? "Living and learning." Do you learn from you mistakes? "You have to. If you have any interest in moving forward and growing as a human being, you'll take steps not to make those same mistakes." Frightening. I think making the same mistakes is an essential trap of the human condition. "There are ways around it," she brisks. Another pause.
What would normally attract you to a man, and how has that changed? Is there a type? "Yes. I'm still attracted to men who are rough around the edges, men that are rebellious at heart. I've learnt some lessons in that respect, but I'm also attracted to men with a sense of humour and, these days, to extraordinary creativity. I think that's prerequisite for a next relationship for me: the same kind of concept and sensibility about the creative as I have." I tell her that I'm attracted to those things too, but the funnier and rougher they are, and the more capacity they have for rebelling, the more they rebel against you, and creative people put their creative process before any relationship. Not hearing me, she continues, "What has changed is, I will not tolerate any more being in a relationship with someone who is a victim in any way. I have no tolerance for anyone who is punishing or feels any degree of possession or hierarchy."
Are men threatened by your fame? "I think they feel inhibited by that. Threatened by the celebrity aspect and also the financial aspect. I think ultimately it's very difficult for me to be coupled with someone and make more than them. There's a power and relinquishment of power that a man takes up when he's with someone who's highly successful, and that castrates them in some way."
Do you think that people assume you are as strong as Scully, and as capable? "I have a tendency to adapt that way anyway, regardless of my experience with Scully." How are you different? "I'm more spontaneous and giddy, much less intelligent. She's fearless in her work. She'll go into dark corners. I'll go into dark corners of my mind and dark corners of my past, but not necessarily dark corners."
A pause of the most unspontaneous nature. Then I say, I like your shoes. They're fine black leather, gleamy and spiky. "Thank you." Where did they come from? "Prada," she says, with a little sigh that says, "Sorry." The grey suit is also a fine thing: 1940s-looking, nipped at the waist and with a long, slightly fishtailed skirt. Something that Scully might wear, I say. "Maybe. I don't think Scully would ever wear Dries Van Noten." I feel slightly sad for Scully, but it's all about hierarchies. And I want to say, "But I'm wearing Ann Demeulemeester." I don't, because she probably thinks that I, journalist, on the level of Scully, FBI woman, shouldn't pretend towards class-A designers.
Scully's skirts are always knee-length. Why is that? "Well, shorter or longer is not appropriate for the FBI." I never wear any that end at the knee. I am also 5ft 3in and it would make me look smaller. "Knee-lengths work. That's her," she says defensively, and goes on to say that Scully has been her best friend for five years. "I've relied on her strength to carry me through things." Even if she's no longer consumed with enthusiasm for the character, she's none the less consumed by the idea of creating an icon, and extremely committed to her work and says if she were in a relationship it would have to be with someone who is as committed and consumed by their work as she is. "Someone who's trying to change things in some way or do something important." Do you feel you're trying to change things? "I'm fortunate to be involved in a production that has made many strides forward and changed many things in the face of television. I've always had a tendency to be involved in things that have been on the edge in some way." How do you think you got there? "Not settling, fear of the mediocrity, and a consummate desire to move forward and change and grow and question and fight." Where did you get your fighting spirit from? "A particular dynamic of my adolescence, which I won't specify, but a particular equation of events put me in a state of survival." Oh, I think feeling tantalised. I almost admire her awkwardness. She could just say, "I don't know," or "It's genetic," or some such soundbite. But she tells you the truth and then stubbornly refuses to elaborate. Is it the thing of being an outsider? "More than that. I've always been a fighter." You were threatened in some way? "Yeah." Hideous pause. So it's to do with going through something terrible? "If you've survived something or a series of things, then you are in the world as a survivor. I think I wouldn't have been able to deal with the events of the past five years if I hadn't had those experiences. I don't have any regrets. It's difficult." Five years? By five years she means "marriage and pregnancy, raising a child while working 16-hour days, and divorce, and all in the public eye". Do you hate it when someone comes to ask you intimate questions? "No. I know how to handle myself in that situation."
I really have no idea what happened in her teenage years that would set her up for a life of pain. Her past is so withheld from the present, it's almost throbbing. If we are to believe her unauthorised biography, her teenage years and pivotal first love relationship were all extremely destructive, because she felt dirty, grungy and angry. She was extremely thin and then noticeably overweight, a metaphor for some yo-yoing self-esteem. She always dressed in black, and her high school voted her most likely to get arrested. There are details of nights of alcoholic excess, when she and fellow students broke into a high school and were about to vandalise everything, but the local cops showed up. All in all, we know there was wildness but we can only imagine the inner turmoil.
She's now on good terms with her husband. It took two years for them to become amicable. Piper, she says, has weathered it all very well. "She's a healthy, loving, stable, focused little girl." A trouper. "But growing inside of a mummy who works until a few days before you are born helps forge you into a trouper."
She does want to have other children, but would she prefer to be in a relationship that was a family scenario? "Eventually I would. I have mixed feelings. For a long time I always believed that people are in each other's lives for a reason, and we learn from them, and then we learn from someone else and someone else. I'm starting to have a bit of a desire for longevity of a relationship and to experience that." The longest relationship she's ever had was three years. Outside of her work and her daughter, with the time left over she likes to write, draw, she collects modern art, and prints by Henri Cartier-Bresson. She looks, with her pale face and grey suit and the weird light shining on her, as if she could be in a Cartier-Bresson photograph.
If you were in another era, what would you be? "Either the 1940s or the late 1800s." I can see 1940s, but why 1800s? "I'm looking at some films right now. People constantly comment on wanting to see me do period pieces. There are a couple I've been interested in. One called The Ideal Husband, which is shooting now, and there have been adaptations of Henry James novels."
Yes, you can see it. She doesn't want to be in an alien landscape. She wants to be in the fusty clutter of an earlier age, a time when emotions were checked and suppressed. There were moments when she seemed like this damaged and therefore interesting person, but there were other moments when she seemed so tired and humourless I felt uncomfortable. She put up a barrier, and it was a kind of hierarchical thing, the kind of thing that she said she hated. I kept thinking about the way that she said the suit was Dries Van Noten, as if obviously I would never own anything like that, and as if it made any difference who made your suit.
The exceptionally charming PR came in to wind down the interview. The journalist is usually expected to push and say, "Just a few more minutes." But actually I felt that even if I'd had a few more hours with her, she would only have been more guarded about the space between us, the space protecting us, or so she thought. I felt that it would be kinder to both of us if I just went, and left the unexplained unexplainable.
Transcript provided by Sally Blackmore and appears courtesy of The Sunday Times.