Television Icon: Gillian Anderson
By Ajesh Patalay
Harper's Bazaar: December 2013
Really, what did I expect? Gillian Anderson to turn up in a white silk blouse, partially unbuttoned in the style of DSI Stella Gibson, the role she plays to perfection in THE FALL? 'Hoped' is nearer the truth, such is the spell the series cast on me - and 3.5 million other viewers - when it first aired on BBC Two earlier this year. In truth, Anderson isn't far off, dressed in black-and-emerald-green blouse, a pencil skirt and heels, with a raincoat draped neatly over one arm. Despite having flown in overnight from the US and landing a few hours earlier, the 45-year-old actress looks pristine, poised, ready for business. And beautiful too, lest I forget to mention those studied features of hers, and a luminosity that prompted director Terence Davies to liken her to a portrait by John Singer Sargent. Anderson's looks are important because something about the way she deploys them in THE FALL, alongside her prodigious talents as an actress, have made the figure of Stella Gibson terrifically compelling, the most interesting female detective on television in years, though not an easy one to read.
'She's somehow unknowable,' agrees Anderson, over a mid-morning coffee at St Martins Lane hotel in Covent Garden. 'There's an innate mystery to her. And part of me feels like I don't want to define her or put her in a box. It's what makes her essentially appealing.' Though unfathomable, the character of Gibson, dispatched to Belfast on secondment from the Met to conduct a review into a high-profile murder case, comes to the screen fully realized. Anderson attributes this to the script by Allan Cubbitt, in which every aspect of the character was 'wordlessly embodied'. But who could doubt Anderson's skill in bringing this woman to life and giving substance and charisma to her inscrutability?
Anderson says Gibson is 'closer' to her than most roles ('her shoes are easy to step in and out of') and acknowledges that, on the job at least, she can be just as commanding. She describes her working method ('I pretty much stick to myself; I see the inside of the hotel room and I see the set') and I'm reminded of Gibson's professional single-mindedness. 'But she's a much cleverer feminist than I am,' Anderson says. 'She's more feminine and there's a grace and classiness to her that I lack in my daily life.'
Ah, yes: THE FALL's depiction of femininity and sexuality is where the series breaks new ground. A woman's right - or indeed ability - to lead is no longer in question. That was the purview of shows such as PRIME SUSPECT. Instead, THE FALL concerns itself with sex and power and the preocupations of a more progressive feminist sensibility. The most troubling aspect to Stella Gibson, at least for the men she works with, is her unapologetic sexuality (and downright sexiness). One of the most intriguing elements of the show is what bearing that has, or doesn't have, on her professional life. To Gibson's mind, sex and work are unrelated. 'She's very boundaried,' says Anderson. 'The way she dresses is obviously by choice, but it's not for anybody other than herself. She knows how to take care of herself and she's not going to downplay that so she is treated differently by men.' The actress smiles. 'I love that it gets under their skins.'
Anderson remembers the palpable shift in the air when the show aired. 'I had to be a little more incognito because all of a sudden there was a different sitting-up of attention.' She tells the story of returning to Belfast to shoot a film, of walking on the beach and coming across two policemen, who clearly recognized her as Gibson. 'We had this weird moment when they were just standing there and I felt like I should say, "At ease".' She chuckles. Then there was the time Manolo Blahnick ambushed her at a party and 'went on and on about how I'm the only reason anyone should be in London right now. He'd seen THE FALL six times, non-stop. It was very sweet.' She adds: 'We are talking about getting some Manolos for Stella, which would be fantastic.' As for Room 203 at the Hilton Belfast, where Gibson has a pivotal one-night stand, the room is apparently booked through until 2015, which Anderson finds 'hysterical'.
All the acclaim is ironic given that Anderson wanted to steer away from television, 'because I have such a passion for film,' she says, although also for family reasons. She is currently filming two NBC shows in Toronto and Chicago (one is HANNIBAL, in which she plays the serial killer's psychiatrist, 'something I couldn't turn down'), and she starts shooting thte second series of THE FALL in February. For a mother of three (Piper, 19; Oscar, seven; and Felix, five) as well as a self-proclaimed 'control freak', the scheduling demands are infuriating.'I'm suddenly feeling a bit overwhelmed - I usually plan things way in advance and now I don't know what my schedule is next week.' The greatest impact, inevitably, is on the time she spends with her boys, who she increasingly communicates with via Skypeing', she says. 'They don't want to answer the question, "How was your day at school?" They want to be playing. So I'm often just watching them from across the world playing with Lego.'
When it comes to the next series of THE FALL, Anderson is tight-lipped, except to say when she met with Cubitt, 'my jaw was hanging for most of the conversation. I was so impressed. I don't think I could have guessed the directions they are going to take it in. The whole time I was like, "Oh. My. God."' The nation is officially on tenterhooks.
WHO IS YOUR WOMAN OF THE YEAR?
Not yet a woman in years but so much woman in her at 16. Her address at the UN in July was one of the most powerful and inspirational speeches I have ever heard. I am humbled by her courage and wisdom and am so excited to see what she what she will accomplish every year she is free to speak her revolutionary mind.