June 2000 (Issue #275)
Agent of Fortunes
By Ian Spelling
There's a wonderful exchange near the very end of the X-Files episode "all things" that goes like this:
Scully: I once considered spending my whole life with this man. How much I would have missed?
Mulder That's the thing. You'd never know. How many different lives any one of us might've lived if we'd chosen differently.
Scully: What if there was only one choice? All the others were wrong. And there are signs you must pay attention to.
Mulder: That would mean every choice led to this very moment. One wrong turn and we wouldn't be sitting here together.
Gillian Anderson, of course, wrote those words and directed herself and David Duchovny in their delivery. There were any number of issues explored in "all things"--beauty vs. austerity, hope vs. despair, relationship vs. loneliness and so on--but none hit quite as strongly as Anderson's questioning of fate vs. choice. And it makes even the most casual X-Files watcher wonder: Is there a life that Anderson didn't choose?
"There isn't," she replies. "There was a while when I was living a life that I didn't choose. But after making changes, now I feel like I'm living a life that I have chosen. I know that's a dilemma for many, many people. I run into that--everybody runs into that--all the time in their lives. There are a lot of people who are just living, just scraping by. They aren't happy with their lives. It can be terrifying to change that routine, to try to do something different whether it means going back to school or whatever."
"It's so hard to pull one's self out of that discomfort which has become, in a way, comfortable. But I know that once you change the routine and really follow your heart, and it speaks to you on an intrinsic level, that's when the joy, the money and the peace of mind comes. It's when we align ourselves to that right path that we are most fulfilled and most happy."
Anderson herself couldn't be any happier--or any more confused--than at this very moment. It's the middle of March 2000, and there are only four full episodes left to film in the X-Files' seventh season. Those four shows, however, might also be the last batch in the show's entire run, if Fox, Chris Carter, David Duchovny and Anderson (Who is signed for an eighth season) can't come to terms quickly. Very quickly. Thus, Anderson's confusion.
On a more deterministic note, the actress made her writing and directing debut with "all things" and although--at presstime--she had yet to edit the footage into a finished hour, she's still on an emotional high from her experience calling the shots. "Now that it has actually happened, it's hard to believe the course of events that brought it here to this moment, Anderson notes. "I had thought about writing an episode. It was nothing specific, but I thought at some point, I might life to write one. I just never seemed to have any ideas. I had other focuses for my energy that were important. Then I got a couple of offers from cable networks to direct some things. Nothing they were sending my way really appealed to me, but it again brought up my interest in directing.
"At some point I was on the phone with my manager after a conversation about a cable movie. And she said, "Would you consider writing an X-Files? Have you ever had any ideas? I said 'Well, I have a couple of images that I had pitched to Chris a few years beforehand.' Chris had said 'OK that sounds great. We'll do something with it next year'. Well, nothing happened and I completely let it go because I didn't have the energy to do anything with it. When she asked me again, I started thinking about these images that had been bouncing around in my mind. She said, 'That sounds great. Why don't you write a script?' I said 'OK.'"
Anderson then sat down and wrote a story outline, almost all of which ultimately found its way into the "all things" script. She pitched the idea to Carter, adding that if she were going to write the teleplay, she also wanted to direct the episode. Carter gave his blessing and Anderson then sat down with Frank Spotnitz, who worked with her on a page-by-page edit in order to X-Filesize the story and dialogue.
The Scully-heavy story find's everyone's favorite doubting Thomas encountering a man from her past, one Dr. Waterston, with whom she had an affair years earlier. As the story unfolds, Scully faces crises of emotion and faith that will impact on her whole world and especially on her relationship with Mulder.
"There are moments, situations, coincidences and beats every single day, every single minute, if we pay attention to them [which will show us the right path]," Anderson observes.
"I'm talking about the timelines of seeing a particular billboard that says something to you. If it catches you attention and speaks to something that was just on your mind. Like when you're thinking about a friend that you haven't spoken to in a few years and he or she will call. There are signs out there that can guide us in the right direction, that can help us make the right choice, help us take the higher path and then teach us to the best of our ability during our time on this planet."
As for directing? "I got my hands pretty dirty," Anderson explains. "I was there for casting, for location scouting. I actually had a few days of work the episode before "all things", so other people went out and scouted locations when I couldn't do it myself. They brought pictures back to me. But basically I was there for the whole process. On the set, I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much had sunk in over our seven years. I also had one of our directors, Kim Manners, as my right-hand person, who led me through it.
"Kim said, 'You've got homework. What you need to do is sit down over these new few weekends and do up your shot list for every single moment and every single scene.' That really appealed to me, because I'm obsessive-compulsive in that way. Drawing little diagrams and controlling characters in terms of where they're going is just up my alley. So I really enjoyed that process."
There were a few more surprises for Anderson while she was actually on the stage, calling the shots. No one pulled any practical jokes on her and everyone was supportive. That includes David Duchovny. "He was only in the wrap around stuff," Anderson says, "He was very gentle and non-judgmental. It was nice."
As for Anderson's feelings about the finished product, it's still too early to say. "I think, visually, that I got very much what I was after," she says. "I got what I wanted out of the performances. At this point, I'm letting go of the result; at least until I see it all pieced together. I say that because I don't want to set my expectations too high or too low. So I'm hoping that somewhere in there is the story I wanted to tell."
Regarding that aforementioned confusion about her X-Files future, it's a fairly complex issue. Anderson would rather not come back for another year, and cited personal reasons in a previous conversation (published in ScifiTV #9). "My thinking is the same now," she says. "Those personal reasons have not changed. If [Carter and Fox] are willing to work around them, [another season] is certainly something I might consider."
However, Anderson is also torn by the idea of having the rug pulled out from under her. The X-Files has been her job for the last seven years and it could all be over in as little as two weeks' notice. If the show doesn't return, little time would be available for personal mourning or for professional satisfaction, inasmuch as Carter-who is crazy-busy with the Lone Gunmen Pilot--would need to wrap up the show, the conspiracy and the Scully-Mulder relationship in the blink of an eye.
Given that Anderson owes Fox an eighth year, does the notion of a Duchovny-less X-Files intrigue her? "Without David?" she asks repeating the question. "No, it doesn't intrigue me at all. Unfortunately, I am bound by contract. So I'm not sure how that will play itself out." A role, recurring or as a regular, on a possible Lone Gunmen series does not exactly excite Anderson either. " I seriously doubt," she says, "that would be one of the scenarios."
Given the uncertainty about her future with The X-Files it makes sense that Anderson's spring and summer plans are up in the air as well. "I'm leaning towards taking some time off to travel," reveals the actress, who's still waiting for word on the domestic release of The House of Mirth, an independently produced adaptation of the Edith Wharton novel in which she stars. "I don't know how much time I'll have to do anything if the show comes back, because we would start up earlier than usual, probably July. But I'm not finding anything I'm really interested in doing. I would rather find something I'm incredibly passionate about, or just take a lot of baths."
Anderson must head back to The X-Files set momentarily, but before she does, a few moments remain in which to discuss several other topics, including her thoughts on season seven to date. "I've been pleased with this year," she says. "To be honest, though, because of the whole writing-directing thing, I haven't seen the last four or five episodes that aired. And I normally watch them every week. I thought X-Cops was fun. I'm told that I would have liked the snake one very much had I seen it. 'First Person Shooter' was though. That technical stuff is never fun. When you're just standing around computers, talking to someone off-screen and faking that you see something drastic, that's not fun. That's not acting as far as I'm concerned."
Some viewers, especially those who aren't X-philes, might think that Anderson's job is easy. After all Scully isn't about histrionics. In fact, Anderson herself isn't impressed with her job's level of difficulty. "I don't think of Scully as a hard character to play," she says, "Do you?" Well, yes. There's a ton of scientific dialogue that Anderson has to spout every episode and she must operate-and make Scully feel real--in the very specific, very surreal X-Files milieu. Obviously, people in the business appreciate Anderson's uphill task, for they've certainly piled on the acting nominations and awards. "I guess, in a way, it is hard when I think about it," she says. "I've never really thought about it before. Challenges are one to make all the technical and medical stuff work, so it doesn't put anyone to sleep and so that people can follow the story. Two, there are opportunities all over the place for this character to come off as very bossy and self-centered and not likable, just based on some of the dialogue she has to say and some of the situations she's placed in. One of the challenges has been to come at that side of her from a place that is based in pure strength and humility, with no degree of attitude or self-serving."
When she arrived on The X-Files, Anderson was in her mid 20's, single, a relative newcomer to acting and told to stay a couple of steps behind Duchovny. Now she's 32, married and divorced and the mother of five-year-old Piper, an experienced actress and a star in her own right. To paraphrase an old slogan, she has come a long way baby. "I am proud," Gillian Anderson concludes. "I'm-excited. I'm excited for my future on the show, off the show, my future as a mom and a director and an actor in many different mediums. As the options, the possibilities are opening slightly; it's just a nice feeling. It's nice to know I have more outlets in which to explore myself creatively than I originally anticipated. And that's an exciting place to be."
Transcript provided by The Haven and appears courtesy of Starlog Magazine.