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The Evening Standard
August 26, 2005

X-Files ex is in love with London
By Fiona Maddocks, Evening Standard

Even accepting she's just had her make-up done for our photo shoot, Gillian Anderson looks flawless. Though not normally the first thing you expect to remark on, with Anderson it's almost fair game.

Once voted sexiest woman in the world who, for a decade, enthralled millions as the icily intelligent Agent Scully in the TV series The X-Files, this Chicago-born actor attracts a particular kind of scrutiny, whether from jealous women wondering how she does it or from weakkneed men who drool.

Ever a reluctant interviewee, she's here to do her bit for The Mighty Celt, the film, opening today, in which she stars with Robert Carlyle, written and directed by Pearse Elliott and set in contemporary Belfast.

Anderson, 37, plays the single mother of 14-year-old Donal ( impressively played by Tyrone McKenna). Life is tough and joyless, the troubles still a fresh and bitter memory. Donal takes refuge in working for Old Joe (Ken Stott), a shifty greyhound trainer, who exploits the boy's evident affinity with the dogs and finally betrays him.

Anderson, unfamiliar with Northern Ireland, took her preparation seriously, driving around Belfast with her husband of eight months, ex-Financial Times foreign correspondent Julian Ozanne.

"I realised how little I knew about the complexities of the issues," she says, carefully and with no suggestion that she's now mastered them; merely that she's trying. "We visited the different sides of the Falls Road, the monuments, the graveyards, the murals. We looked at houses with nets draped over their back yards to protect them, like tiny prisons. But we looked, too, at what a beautiful city Belfast is, and how strong is its sense of community, its optimism."

In the film, Anderson's demeanour is hard, tight-lipped, loving towards her son, but dragged down by years of living alone and just about coping. Unreasonably, I expect her to be a more affluent version of the same.

Interviews tend to portray her as nervy, gum-chewing, awkward, unhelpful. "You mean a bit of a bitch?" she suggests, instantly. Well, yes, maybe. Instead she appears warm, ironic and self-deprecating.

"I'm often exasperated, and baffled, by the way I'm perceived. Someone once told me I had a reputation for scaring interviewers, maybe because I won't answer intrusive questions, then I'm portrayed as cold and aggressive."

But if Belfast touched her feelings, London is the city she thinks of as home. Her parents moved here when she was a child, returning to the States when she was 11. "It's true I am American by nationality, but I always expected to come back to London. When I was growing up, we lived in Clapton, Crouch End, Haringey, and my father kept a flat here when we moved back to Michigan, so I often returned. I nearly bought a house here years ago, but I'd just started The X-Files and the timing was wrong."

During that tempestuous period, when her career shot her from being a 24-year-old nobody to a grown-up Emmy winner, and her own circumstances ricocheted from single woman to married mother to divorcee in quick succession, it was her often frosty on-screen relationship with David Duchovny which really grabbed media attention.

The speculation doesn't bother her. With another X-Files feature film mooted (the TV series will not return), she jokes - without animosity - that the jibes about her and Duchovny will start all over again. "We don't yet know if, or when, it'll happen. But I'd leap at doing it again. No question."

Anderson's immediate concern is to consolidate her life in Notting Hill, where she and Ozanne have a house. Her 11-year-old daughter, Piper, from her brief marriage to set-designer Clyde Klotz, moved here this week - to Anderson's evident joy - to start school, having until now lived mainly with her father in Vancouver.

"I love everything about being here: the lifestyle, the calm, the realness. I was away during the bombings but that hasn't shaken my sense of this being a great, culturally diverse place for kids to grow up. London is used to being in a state of so-called heightened alert. It can cope in a way America couldn't."

She shies away from politics, preferring instead to fight for the human-rights issues she has long supported. In part reflecting the interests of her Kenyan-born husband, she is continuing her Africa-based charity work, on HIV-Aids, and as a fundraiser for Artists for a New South Africa and the musicians of Buskaid. She also continues to work on behalf of neurofibromatosis sufferers.

Headlines have been made of her own admission that, since her rebellious, punkish teens, she has been in therapy. After 20 years, is she still? "Only when I need it," she says, straightforwardly.

To an outsider, she certainly gives an impression of buoyancy and competence. As writer and producer she has been working on a screenplay, Speed of Light, and has options on a film about Martha Gellhorn, the pioneering journalist once married to Hemingway, which she wants to make with her husband.

Since her acclaimed performance as Lily Bart in House of Mirth (2000), Anderson's film career has flourished.

This year she appears in the TV version of Bleak House, being screened in October, and has a cameo role in Michael Winterbottom's forthcoming Tristram Shandy. She's currently filming Kevin Macdonald's The Last King of Scotland, about the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, co-starring Forest Whitaker and James McAvoy.

With her new commitment to life in London, can we expect to see her in more roles in the West End? She made her London stage debut three years ago when X-Files ended, with the widely panned What the Night is For, followed last year by the successful Sweetest Swing in Baseball at the Royal Court.

"I really want to, maybe not until next year. The odd thing is that when I did those plays, everyone said I was just getting on the American-actor-in-West-End bandwagon. The truth was that I just wanted to do a play in London, because I wanted to come back and live here. I'm dying to work at the Almeida, the Donmar, the National...

"I'm always keen to do new plays. But I'd love to do some of the big classic roles: Hedda Gabler eventually, and Blanche [Dubois, in A Streetcar Named Desire].

"I'm more or less the right age for her. Of course it's risky. You're setting yourself up for complete disaster taking on these iconic roles."

She half grimaces, as if trying to remember the upside to her chosen career. Then she brightens. "But that's what acting's supposed to be all about, isn't it?"

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