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January 16, 2006

Tuned In: 'Bleak House' has bright star in Anderson
By Rob Owen

PASADENA, Calif. -- After "The X-Files" closed its investigations into the paranormal, actress Gillian Anderson, who played FBI agent Dana Scully, became an X-File herself. She all but disappeared from public view.

But she's back in PBS's hearty "Masterpiece Theatre" production of Charles Dickens' "Bleak House" Sunday at 9 p.m. on WQED. The eight-hour production, running Sunday nights through Feb. 26, is a labyrinthine, large-cast period drama sure to draw the interest of fans of costume dramas.

Dickens originally published the novel in serialized magazine installments between 1852 and 1853, and the BBC aired the series as 16 half-hour episodes, each with its own cliffhanger. Nothing has been cut for the American airing.

Anderson stars as Lady Dedlock, who recognizes handwriting on a legal document, a discovery that sets the story rolling. The backdrop is an interminable legal case of contested wills, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. A kind claimant in the case, John Jarndyce (Denis Lawson, who played Wedge Antilles in the original "Star Wars" saga), takes in Jarndyce heirs Ada (Carey Mulligan) and Richard (Patrick Kennedy) and orphan Esther (Anna Maxwell Martin).

Anderson said she initially turned down the opportunity to star in "Bleak House." After "X-Files" ended, Anderson wanted a break and told her agents she was only interested in film or theater roles. She moved to London for a play, bought a house, met and married the man who is now her husband. Her agent convinced her to read the "Bleak House" script.

"In England, it's much easier to flip between doing television and film," Anderson said Saturday, evincing just a hint of a British accent. "It doesn't ruin one's career the way it sometimes does in America. I had to take that on faith, but from the moment I started working on it, it was the best fun I'd had in a really long time."

Anderson said she's definitely game for another "X-Files" movie, but contractual entanglements have stalled that project. In the meantime, American producers haven't come calling.

"People don't know what to do with me in America," she said. "I've disappeared. ... I think there's a perception that I was a temporary television celebrity who disappeared off the planet.

"I try in my life to follow my heart in terms of what moves me and what is important to me," Anderson said. "I know what it feels like to do things that are soul- decaying, and a lot of the large aspects of life in Hollywood, in the stereotypical way, I find unbelievably soul-decaying, and I choose, albeit frustratingly to other people in my life, not to expose myself to too much of that."

"Bleak House" screenwriter Andrew Davies is acclaimed for his scripts, most notably 1995's "Pride & Prejudice" and both "Bridget Jones" movies. He said adapting Dickens proved to be its own challenge because of the large cast of characters in his novels.

"'Bleak House' is a great baggy thing, the plot doesn't work in all sorts of parts, so you've got to tinker with it," Davies said. "Usually I tell myself, find the spine of the story and stick to that and chuck out anything not related to the spine of the story, but that doesn't work with Dickens. You lose the flavor of him if you don't include all those other extra comic characters that he couldn't stop himself from creating. The plot bulges out. It's like horrible boils or something, but in a nice way."

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