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Tonight Exclusive with Gillian Anderson

The fastest-selling production in the Young Vic Theatre's history, Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, will be broadcast from its London home by National Theatre Live to South African audiences from Saturday for four screenings only. The stage production of this timeless masterpiece features a stellar cast including Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, more recently The Fall) as Blanche DuBois. DIANE DE BEER examines her love of especially British theatre and gets the chance to field a few questions.

By Diane de Beer
Independent Online, South Africa: October 16, 2014

Streetcar Named Desire is National Theatre Live's first collaboration with the Young Vic Theatre and the choice makes sense. Because of the celebrity status of Gillian Anderson who plays Blanche DuBois, it could even attract a younger audience which happened on the night I saw it at the Young Vic in London in August.

What surprised me most about this actress when I first saw her on stage, was her size. I couldn't believe how tiny she is. She's much shorter than I would have imagined and a normal hand could probably easily stretch around her petite waist. Possibly the big hair plays tricks with your head.

But size doesn't matter once she steps onto the stage in a role for those who know the movie, that immediately conjures up the Marlon Brando/Vivien Leigh version. Not Anderson, though.

"It's sad, but I have a huge hole in my black-and-white movie genre. I didn't see the Joan Crawford movie What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? either. And I decidedly made an effort not to see Cate Blanchett's performance in Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen's update of A Streetcar Named Desire.

"It was only when I started rehearsals that I understood why I was so drawn to it. I mentioned in an interview that I hadn't seen it, but there was something familiar and after reading the interview, my mother reminded me that I'd come second in a national competition doing one of the Blanche monologues. I remember zip!"

But that's good news for the actress and fans. Guided by director Benedict Andrews, Anderson has proved herself on the London stage, especially where she has been a frequent player these past few years.

"Theatre is such an institution in the UK and there is a historic level of respect for actor and audience. Not to say it is in contrast (with the US), but it is palpable."

Gillian began her career in theatre, but first gained worldwide recognition with her portrayal of Special Agent Dana Scully on The X-Files. Because of the nine-season run as well as being rewarded with an Emmy, a Golden Globe and two SAG (Screen Actors' Guild) awards, this is what she is identified with.

She's quietly going about her business challenging all that. A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic is her fourth appearance on the London stage. In 2009 she received an Olivier nomination for her performance as Nora in A Doll's House at the Donmar Warehouse. Prior to this she appeared in The Sweetest Swing In Baseball at the Royal Court, and made her West End debut in Michael Weller's What The Night Is For in 2002.

Her screen credits include Great Expectations, Bleak House, Any Human Heart and most recently she played DSI Stella Gibson in BBC 2's The Fall which has been renewed for a second season. She says the series and this latest stage play have been so rewarding that if she dies now, she will be smiling.

Speaking about this role as the brittle on-the-surface Blanche, she says: "I came to rehearsals fresh. I decided to trust the director completely. And it has been such a joy to live in this character's shoes. It's such brilliant writing."

And when you see her performance, shoes (while playing a big role in stepping up) aren't the only thing that Anderson rules. She plays the swagger that hides the sore and she lords it over her sister and her sexy Kowalski with such superiority, it camouflages her disabling insecurities.

"We talked a few times before starting rehearsals and skyped, but that was it," she says about her conversations with her director.

"With digital filming, you have to be word-perfect and know exactly what you're going to do, so working like this might be scary, but it was also great to give all my trust to a man who had a wealth of experience, and understanding of the text and that society. I was completely malleable."

She relished the luxury of a long rehearsal and taking time to really work her way into the character which she does quite superbly.

The other aspect of the play which is fascinating is that apart from it being theatre in the round, the set itself rotated which meant that actors and audience were constantly shifting their perspectives in a certain sense.

"I cannot imagine doing it in any way other than in the round. It is so intimate and cinematic and benefits actors and audience."

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