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The X-Files star turns detective in the new crime thriller THE FALL
TV & Satellite Week: May 11-17, 2013

Gillian Anderson plays a high-flying cop on the trail of a serial killer in a chilling new Belfast-set crime thriller.

Hard as it may be to believe, it is 20 years since Gillian Anderson made her name as Special Agent Dana Scully in The X-Files, winning her Emmys, Golden Globes and even the accolade of World's Sexiest Woman along the way.

The actress has since gone on to play a wide range of roles, from the bitter heiress Miss Havisham in Great Expectations to Wallis Simpson in Any Human Heart, but she has always maintained a special affection for the character that made her a household name.

Now, however, the 44-year-old admits that her latest TV incarnation, as Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, a detective hunting a serial killer in the new BBC2 thriller The Fall, has finally supplanted the paranormal investigator as the favourite role of her acting career.

"I enjoyed playing Scully, but I prefer Stella and identify more with her," she says. "Scully was dowdy, serious and pretended to be grown-up. Stella is serious, too, and feels more grown-up than I am, but she is also naughty, independent, and forthright, and has something mysterious about her. I haven't played many characters who are so comfortable with their femininity, and I have learned a lot about being a woman from her."

Stella Gibson is an experienced detective with the Metropolitan Police who is seconded to Belfast to re-evaluate and advance the investigation into the murder of a young woman. As she assembles the evidence and begins to notice connections to another case, Gibson realises that a serial killer is at work in the city and ends up leading the investigation.

This is no whodunnit, however, the audience knows from the outset that the killer is bereavement counsellor Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan). In following Stella's dogged search for him, we gain a chilling insight into his mindset, both at home with his young family and as he closes in on his victims. "There are so many serial-killer dramas at the moment, but this adds something different," says Anderson, who also has a recurring role in the Sky Living drama Hannibal playing Dr. Lecter's psychotherapist.

"There is a particular level of creepiness when you see the serial killer doing what he does, while also observing the person who is haunting him. In one scene, you watch Paul bathing a victim while at the same time you see Stella bathing. It is intimate and disturbing, but not gratuitous."

As the series goes on, a battle of wills develops between the two and the impact of Spector's crimes on everyone involved, from his own family to a pair of police officers who feel responsible for the fate of his latest victim, becomes increasingly pronounced. "You get a sense of human existence and the cycle of life and death, of blood, cells, skin and decay," explains Anderson. "The series features a newborn baby struggling for life and a teenager becoming aware of her sexuality at the same time as a serial killer is taking life from young women."

The city of Belfast and the impact that local politics can have on its police force and commercial life are key themes of the drama, and Anderson is pleased that the series shows the Northern Irish capital in a modern light rather than focusing on its difficult past.

"I enjoyed the fact that The Fall reveals a side of the city that isn't all about the Troubles," explained the actress, who plays an MI5 boss in another Belfast-set thriller, the film Shadow Dancer, which premieres on Friday on Sky Premiere (see panel, below). "There is tension there because of that history, but this show is not directly about that and you really see Belfast in a proper way as contemporary city, which hopefully will be good for it, I loved working there."

For Anderson, who spent some of her childhood in London and has lived in the UK for the past 10 years, Britain feels very much like home. However, if a rumoured third The X-Files film gets off the ground, the actress could find herself heading back across the Pond to reprise her role as Scully.

"There has been talk of a third film," she confirms. "The fans want it and creator Chris Carter has discussed writing a script. David Duchovny would certainly be on board if it happened, but it feels as though it needs a finale because I don't think that the last film was a good one to end on. We will just have to wait and see."

Gillian Anderson's Belfast files

Gillian Anderson can also be seen playing another Londoner dabbling in Belfast affairs in the film Shadow Dancer.

Adapted from his own novel by ITV political editor Tom Bradby, the 1990s-set thriller follows single mother and republican activist Collette, played by Andrea Riseborough as she reluctantly agrees to turn informant on the IRA terrorist cell to which she and her two brothers belong.

Clive Owen co-stars as Mac, the British agent who recruits Collette, while Anderson plays his MI5 superior Kate Fletcher, whose cool indifference to his intelligence initiative makes him wonder whether she has a hidden agenda.

Working on the film gave Anderson some useful background information when it came to playing Stella Gibson in The Fall.

"I did a lot of research about the Brits in Northern Ireland, so there was some crossover there," she reveals. "Shadow Dancer was shot in Dublin, but I did work in Northern Ireland before when I played a Belfast single mother five years ago in a film called The Mighty Celt."

Who's Who In The Fall

DSI Stella Gibson
Gillian Anderson
The talented detective is sent to Belfast to review a murder case and ends up hunting for a serial killer.

Paul Spector
Jamie Dornan
The bereavement counsellor is leading a twisted double life in which he stalks and kills women.

Sally-Ann Spector
Bronaugh Waugh
Jamie's wife is a nurse and has no idea that he father of her two young children is a sadistic killer.

ACC Jim Burns
John Lynch
The senior officer is under pressure to progress the murder case and brings Stella in to get results.

Tanya Reed Smith
Archie Panjabi
The English-born pathologist forges a close friendship with Stella while working on the investigation.

Morgan Monroe
Ian McElhinney
The politician holds sway over the police and is the father of a suspect in the case Stella is reviewing.

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