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Radio 4
March 17, 2004

MIDWEEK Programme

Presenter: Libby Purves

LB: The 4th among us is actress Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame but I do believe that you set out wanting to be an archaeologist as a child.

GA: I life sounds so dreadfully boring at this table, it really is.

LB: You could have been an archaeologist!

GA: I did for a long time it was a mixture between being an archaeologist and a marine biologist. Iwas fascinated by sharks and I started to look into colleges that focused on marine biology and then somehow got sidetracked.

LB: Is there any particular period of the past you would like to reconstruct if you did one of these adventures (in reference to another guest)?

GA: Oh my gosh, i don't know, you'll have to give me more time to think about that.

LB: Gillian would you be attracted to that (in reference to a previous topic with another guest concerning human relationships in extremely tight spaces on board a boat)?

GA: I don't know. The most I've done really, other than ferries from islands off the coast of Vancouver, is spent 10 days on a boat around some Islands last summer and thought that I would never again berth with 10 people for any length of time whatsoever!

LB: Everyone hones in on the human relations!

GA: Well that is so important! It is really important when you are in a tight space. It is very important.

LB: Gillian Anderson is on stage in a new play next week at the Royal Court in London. She won a BAFTA for "The House of Mirth" three years ago and many other awards but inevitably all achievements are dwarfed by the fact that for nine years, Gillian Anderson was Agent Dana Scully in "The X-Files."

GA: I can't believe you just said next week.

LB: Is it not next week?

GA: It is next week, I'm in denial!

LB: I'm sorry to remind you about this!

GA: I just can't... oh my God, yes, next week.

LB: Just to clear "The X-Files" out of the way, do you think with affection of those nine years?

GA: I do actually, with much more affection than I did while I was in the midst of it, I think. Things are much rosier in retrospect.

LB: Was it a heavy working schedule then?

GA: Hugely heavy working and for the first five years we shot up in Vancouver and, they don't want me to say this, but it rains a lot, let us say that. And also there is all different kinds of weather like hail and snow and everything and we never didn't shoot. There was only one day in five years of shooting up there that we actually took a Weather Day so if I am in high heels and a skirt and we are outside and it is snowing, then we do the scene and if we are supposed to be in Pennsylvania in the middle of summer and it's snowing, then they blowtorch the lawns around us to get rid of the snow before we shoot.

LB: And make you wear something a bit sleeveless.

GA: Yes, exactly!

LB: As the producers of it orginally said, they were looking for a brainy version of a Babewatch girl.

GA: More or less.

LB: Great thing for the tombstone that. ...I think we can reveal that when Scully was abducted by aliens it was actually because you were busy having a baby.

GA: Yes, that is correct.

LB: And so how long was the alien abduction maternity leave situation?

GA: Well, I was gone for about three weeks and a couple of days including a C-section I had 2 weeks off and then...

LB: That's all?

GA: Yeah, I had gotten a bit lighter in the schedule as I had gotten way too big and it was just impossible to even fit me on the screen. Yeah, and then I went back 10 days later.

LB: It's a bit ironic that the character you are playing in this new play at the Royal Court, "The Sweetest Swing in Baseball," is also called Dana.

GA: Mildly ironic, yeah.

LB: Yes. She's an artist, isn't she?

GA: She is. I like her very very much. She is a very interesting character to play and to go through the whole process of discovering who she is and what are the aspects of her personality. It's been great fun.

LB: It's about therapy isn't it? She goes into psychiatric therapy and ends up painting as another person.

GA: Yes, kind of yeah, without trying to reveal too much. Yes, she does. She finds that part of what leads her to a breakdown and attempting suicide is a complete state of not feeling creative juices anymore. She cannot paint and she has a couple of shows that are absolute disasters and nobody buys anything. In the play, she is a world-respected sought-after artist and all of a sudden she just loses that drive and then her boyfriend leaves her and all this kind of stuff so she attempts suicide and ends up in a mental hospital and through her relationships with a couple of the patients -- I was going to say inmates but that's prison isn't it? -- a couple of the patients there and also discovering how she can get back in touch with her own strength and also her own creativity, she starts finding out about a particular baseball player and through him somehow she is able to paint again.

LB: I have to say it sounds a bit emotionally taxing as a part to play as if you might have to drag up all sorts of things from your own subconcious and fears, an actor's natural fears of suddenly not being good anymore.

GA: That stuff doesn't... I think what goes through my head on any day is probably far worse than I'd actually ever have to play in a character on stage or film so it all feels quite doable and natural. I mean, Ian Rickson is directing at the Royal Court... is really fantastic in the way that he... it's very important that you stay... because, all of us in our life, no matter what darkness is going on inside, we put on quite a brave face and we behave as if things are not so turbulent underneath and to remember that as an actor, as well, or when performing a character, that you don't have to show everything. And so, in a sense, if I were having to emote the entire time on stage, I think yes, that might be very exhausting. But yes, it is exhausting, it's actually a very exhausting play but I am enjoying it tremendously.

LB: Can we talk about your own dual nature? Because we can tell by your voice that you grew up as an English kid; up to 11 yrs old you lived in England. And then you moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan and became American. You must feel you know a bit about shattered identities. What was it like moving at 11 to that whole new life?

GA: Well, it was very odd. On the one hand, it was because, when we lived here, we had family that were living in the States and when we would go and visit, the sun was always shining and there were sweets all over the place, everybody was happy. And so it seemed like it was going to be a really fantastic adventure and then we ended up in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

LB: And what's that like?

GA: It is a small Republican Amway town and I didn't quite fit in. And also my accent was so strong when I was little that it was really hard for people to understand me. But then we stayed and we stayed and we stayed. But we still had a flat in Harringay and so we used to come back in the summers and visit and I gradually realized that this is where I felt the stronger identity. And now it is mixed. I feel very comfortable in both places. But it is very hard for me when I am around Brits not to speak with a British accent. In the play we are American and all the actors are American and so we're rehearsing...

LB: Is it an effort now to slip into American? If I were an American sitting at this table...

GA: It would be very hard, what I would be doing is, if he asked me a question, I would respond in American and if you ask, I would when Ian directs us in British or when what I call the script supervisor calls lines out to us with her British accent, when I first say it, it will come out British. It is very schizophrenic. It doesn't happen until it goes in my ear. On the one hand, it is helpful because it is easy for me with dialects -- just in general in the work that I do -- but, on the other hand, it's a bit... I think it makes people quite confused.

LB: Like when is it Gillian speaking?

GA: Yeah, and who is she and who does she think she is and all that.

LB: You were a rebel then in this nice little Republican town?

GA: Yes.

LB: What did you do?

GA: Oh, you know.

LB: No, I don't know. What? Safety pins in the nose? Kind of seducing the mayor? What?

GA: Seducing the MAYOR?

LB: Well, I don't know. How would one try to liven up Grand Rapids, really?

GA: Well, I think we stomped around a lot in our combat boots and glared at people and put lots of gel in our hair and had mohawks and played really loud punk music and told people to go somewhere else and that kind of stuff, often, and skipped school and a bit of vandalism here and there, all that kind of stuff.

LB: Did you have the actress dreams of Hollywood from quite young?

GA: It wasn't necessarily Hollywood.

LB: But you knew you wanted to act.

GA: Yes, but I don't have a memory of when that actually hit me. I knew that I wanted to act and I knew that I wanted to do theatre and I wanted to do good films and yeah, it was just... but I don't know, all of a sudden that came into my head and that was it.

LB: So your first big break was in New York in Alan Ayckbourn's "Absent Friends" and you were the morose Evelyn.

GA: Yes, it was funny because it was one of those situations where Mary Louise Parker was cast and had been in rehearsal but then had gone off to Grand Canyon years ago and had jumped out and they were desperate looking for somebody and here was this girl who had just moved to New York and had very little stage experience, except for college, and they really wanted to cast me but they were absolutely terrified that I would completely ruin the production because I really didn't have much experience and there was this constant feeling that they had to keep an eye on me and had to discipline me and had to do, you know. But it was fantastic. It's quite nice to be brave that way.

LB: You strike me as someone with quite a lot of confidence who probably wouldn't need to be supervised much.

GA: I have a lot of discipline now actually. And also, that production. Lynne Tabler who directed it. When I'd come in just a beat too late on a cue she would scream down my throat and that is what I needed. "That is not acceptable. You are here for one purpose and you are going to live that purpose" and I got it. And I got it through showing up for sixteen hour days on time, more or less, for nine years.

LB: You do sound quite glad "The X-Files" is over, if I may say so, Scully.

GA: I am. That's a long bloody time to be doing one thing those hours and have no social life and have a strained relationship with one's children, daughter. It's just, enough already.

LB: Were you brought up on that old scifi shock that we used to have?

GA: I have never been a sci-fi fan at all except for "Close Encounters of The Third Kind." When I was growing up here it was, of course, "Dr. Who" which I found absolutely terrifying but I loved it. But that was it for science fiction.

LB: It's not very attractive kind of terror, isn't it?

GA: They were terrifiying. They were absolutely "turn off the television when I was in the room" terrifying.

LB: All right, well good luck for next week. It is next week, Gillian.

GA: I know! I know!

LB: At the Royal Court, "The Sweetest Swing in Baseball," you are on stage all through, next week, good luck.

Transcript courtesy of Radio 4.

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