Feb. 13-15, 1998
Gillian Anderson: Not What You'd Expect
by Stephanie Mansfield
There's nothing spooky about this rising X-Files star who balances family priorities with fierce ambition.
Five years ago, a 24-year-old Gillian Anderson walked onto the set of The X-Files a virtual unknown. Series creator Chris Carter had fought to cast the diminutive unemployed actress, managing to convince Fox execs her persona was right for that of no-nonsense FBI agent Dana Scully. From Day One, she was second banana to the more experienced, better-paid David Duchovny as agent Fox Mulder.
All that has changed.
No longer the sidekick, Gillian (pronounced "Jillian") Anderson has watched her popularity propel her to the top tier of her profession, financially and artistically. Now, she says, she's ready to stretch as an actress: "People can't tell right now that I can do other things. I'd like to do a comedy. I'd like to play a vixen. I'd like to do everything you don't see in Scully."
At the same time, she is struggling to maintain her balance, with a non-stop workload, frenzied fans and a 4-year-old daughter. "The only thing I care about," she says, sitting in her trailer one evening during an X-Files shoot, "is that I'm perceived as a hard worker. This is what I love to do. This is my job."
Maybe it was the Internet that took her celebrity up a notch, as Anderson devotees launched more than 200 Web sites devoted to her Gillianness, downloading her to Gen-X cyberqueen status. Maybe it was the 10,000 screaming fans who showed up at a mall in Australia while she was promoting the show. Could it have been the sultry magazine covers?
Certainly, winning last year's Emmy Award for best dramatic actress raised the bar, as did landing two big-screen roles: one in a Sharon Stone movie, The Mighty, and a cameo opposite John Cusack in Hellcab. And she reportedly asked for, and received, the same $4 million salary as Duchovny for the cinematic version of The X-Files, set for June release.
"She certainly has established herself as an equal partner" on The X-Files, says her mother, Rosemary, a computer specialist who lives in Grand Rapids, Mich. "When she first started, I think, she was more frightened than she tried to show. But I also think her talents meshed with the writers', and it's becoming more of a vehicle for her. For a while there, she used to joke that she didn't have much to say except, 'What do you think it is, Mulder?' "
Since then, few TV actresses have attained the commercial and critical success of Anderson, now 29, and she has done it by working brutal hours in dank Vancouver, British Columbia, where the show has been based 10 months a year. Next season, if suitable space can be found, cast and crew plan to move to L.A., where Anderson's presence surely will keep her in the gossip columns (and also put Duchovny in the same city as his wife, Naked Truth star Téa Leoni).
Indeed, Anderson's star threatens to eclipse that of Duchovny, whose recent film outing, Playing God, was a disappointment.
"She already has eclipsed him," says Simon Fields, producer of The Mighty. "She hasn't made any mistakes." Anderson yearned to play the movie's frazzled alcoholic who lives with a biker -- something of a departure from the unsmiling Scully. But the producers weren't sure she was right for the role. It was only after Anderson videotaped her own audition in her Vancouver living room late one night and sent Fields the tape that she was hired. "She was committed to playing that part," Fields says.
She also has kept her priorities straight. Her daughter, Piper Maru, is a fixture on the X-Files set, and on this day is being carried around piggyback by the actress. The cherubic child, with her straight bangs and tiny rain boots, has been adopted by the cast and crew and often raids the prop truck for bloodied fake hands to wave about.
Anderson shares custody with her estranged husband, former X-Files assistant art director Clyde Klotz. The actress herself admitted she was difficult to be married to -- it lasted less than three years -- because of her strong will and fierce ambition. There is no doubt that Anderson is focused, and single-minded. On the set, she is highly professional and self-protective. While gossips would love to play up a feud between her and Duchovny, the truth is more complex. They seem to have a symbiotic, if somewhat strained, rapport, and they retreat to separate trailers during shooting breaks.
Anderson may have escalated the frostiness between the two last year when she made her acceptance speech at the Emmys, failing to thank any of her co-stars or Fox executives. Under pressure, she took out ads in two Hollywood trade papers the following day, thanking Duchovny and series creator Carter for their support.
"There's a lot of deception that takes place in this business, but I refuse to play the game," the actress says. "I won't lie to make someone feel better." Still, she concedes that "it taught me another lesson in this business: Just play by the rules."
Having met Anderson nearly two years ago -- finding her delightfully giddy and somewhat in awe of her growing popularity -- I think it's fair to say she has changed. But that evolution has less to do with outside forces than with the simple maturation process. She has grown into a serious actress and, more important, a serious person.
"She is certainly much more confident of her talent," says Carter. "That doesn't mean the talent didn't exist to begin with. What Gillian lacked was experience with a camera." As to whether Anderson has eclipsed Duchovny, Carter refused to touch the issue, other than to say, "Her part is arguably the more inventive one, but I think it's dangerous to compare the two actors and the two roles."
Born in Chicago to Rosemary and Edward Anderson, Gillian accompanied the family to Puerto Rico before settling in London, where her father studied film production. Her mother says she was adventurous and welcomed "new experiences."
"One of my very favorite stories happened when we were in London," Rosemary Anderson recalls. "It was her first day of nursery school. Her father was taking her down the stairs and she looked back up at me, saw my face and said, 'Don't cry, Mom.' She was fine. I was not."
After nine years, the Andersons returned to America and settled in Grand Rapids.
"By the time I was 11, I had been on 40-some planes," the actress says, lighting another cigarette. "I remember my parents taking me to parties a lot. Running around, then falling asleep. Having my pajamas on and being carried to the car. ... Some of my greatest memories are of them shoving me in the back of a VW Bug and sleeping on the way home."
Now, her mother says, having a child has changed Anderson. It's been "enormously healthy for her. I marvel that she can juggle that insane schedule. And she's definitely become more secure, as an actress and as a parent. I think it makes her more serene."
Anderson confirms that. "Your life lands on a plateau of seriousness all of a sudden, and things become more weighty. Since I've had Piper, I've been a much happier person. She is the most important thing. That's what I think of first."
High school classmates who voted Anderson "most bizarre girl" might be shocked at the change in her demeanor. Gone are the nose ring and punk-inspired Mohawk hairdo. The actress now sports a creamy complexion and a modest pageboy. She also meditates, and runs. Doing the show, which requires 16-hour days 10 months of the year, has been grueling, and Anderson says her biggest fear is "insanity." (She was previously quoted as calling her stint in Vancouver "a death sentence," which did not go over well with Carter.)
She takes a sip of bottled water. "I think a big fear, too, is experiencing pain that will not end. I know pain, and I also know that it passes. But I guess when I'm in that, one of my fears is that it won't end."
Another real fear is being adored to death. Last summer, while shooting the X-Files feature film -- reportedly a $60 million project -- she was stalked by paparazzi trying to snap her with Piper at a playground. "In one area," she says, "there were so many converging on me at once that the whole shopping area got together and talked to the sheriff's department, and they were no longer allowed in that area. It makes me furious."
Another fear is more insidious: self-destruction, as exemplified by her faux pas at the Emmys. Or her reluctance to fully embrace her current stardom. "I have to look at how I may have been involved in creating situations in my life," she says. "How much can I not accept good things in my life? That I have to perhaps subconsciously create something that immediately shows me I'm not ..."
Her voice trails off. She seems smaller, and more fragile, than her X-Files character.
A nagging sense, after all this time and hard work, of not deserving her current success?
She exhales a stream of cigarette smoke and lets a small smile cross her face. "Ultimately," she sighs, "it probably is."
Transcript appears courtesy of USA Weekend.