In between being this summer's stage sensation and her hit drama, Gillian Anderson found time to pen a debut novel.
By Nicole Mowbray
Vogue UK: November 2014 issue
Gillian Anderson and I meet in the decidedly low-key Anchor & Hope pub, next to London's Young Vic theatre. It's a balmy midsummer day, and Anderson arrives early. She quietly browses the rail, decisively pulling out pieces she likes: dresses by Dior and Dolce & Gabbana, an Yves Saint Laurent pussybow blouse, a suede Burberry trench coat, heels by Tabitha Simmons.
Anderson is strong - a woman's woman - who flits between being sweet and commanding. She's also disarmingly beautiful - a combination of that Edwardian face with its porcelain skin and aquiline nose, and a Fifties pin-up body. At 5ft 3in, there's a delicate quality to her, too, all breasts and a tiny waist.
It's hard to believe that it's 22 years since Anderson arrived on our screens as Scully in THE X-FILES. But it's now having just turned 46, that she is at the peak of her powers. When we meet, she is playing Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams's A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, a phenomenal portrayal that garnered her five-star reviews, but that's by no means her only project. She is also about to return as the much-praised DSI Stella Gibson in series two of the BBC2 drama THE FALL and she's written a debut novel, A VISION OF FIRE, the first of a trilogy of supernatural thrillers.
Writing a book is something Anderson assumed she'd get round to "in my sixties of seventies", yet with the help of her co-writer, bestselling author Jeff Rovin, she wrote it en route to film locations. A VISION OF FIRE follows Caitlin O'Hara, a psychologist called to treat an ambassador's daughter who starts speaking in tongues. Through this, she begins to link a series of seemingly unconnected supernatural events across the globe. It's sic-fi, but not as we know it.
"The book starts out more grounded than I'd say science fiction is," she says. "The characters feel more real. I don't read sic-fi, but I'm interested in it in cinematic form. That's not related to THE X-FILES in any way, it's related to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, which is one of my favourite movies of all time." She smiles. "It's just genius."
Anderson has portrayed many characters over her career, but it's Caitlin O'Hara's personality she believes that most reflects her own. With so much going on, however, isn't she exhausted? "The play actually feels quite cathartic," she says, fixing me with her blue-green eyes. "It takes me a long while to fall asleep afterwards, then I wake up feeling like I've been hit by a truck."
Blanche, the complex heroine of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, lives in a fantasy of her own creation. When these collide with the reality of her life and her aging image, it pushes her sanity to the brink. "To say Blanche is obsessed with aging is putting it mildly," Anderson jokes. "Sometimes I don't think about aging at all, then I go through periods where I do a photoshoot and I look at the pictures and think 'Wait! You're making me look old! How come I look so old?"' She giggles. "And then I realize it's because I am old - or older - and the facts are before you. I don't tend to be vain, but just because you don't look in the mirror, doesn't mean it's not happening."
As Blanche, Anderson darted around onstage in her underwear - not the actions of someone less than confident. "I wear a bra and a half-slip, but I've never exposed as much as I do. If I was brave I'd just wear a bra and knickers. If I was even braver, I'd get into the bathtub [on stage] naked. So that says something about what I feel comfortable exposing. I think most women have areas that aren't their favourite."
Although she admits to being quite "spiritual", the last few years must have been difficult. Her brother Aaron died of a brain tumour in 2011 and, last year, a long relationship with businessman Mark Griffiths - the father of her two younger children, eight-year-old Oscar and Felix, six - came to an end. She has been married twice (to director Clyde Klotz, father of her daughter Piper, 20, and to documentary-maker Julian Ozanne), and I ask her about her feelings on love.
"I don't date," she says. "I haven't had time. I don't have an interest in it. It doesn't bother me. I don't feel it is something that's needed in my life right now. I'm sure when something is meant to transpire, it will transpire." But how does she handle being a single mother with all these commitments? "It just so happens that all the bits - STREETCAR, THE FALL, the book - have happened simultaneously. My life is crazy, but there is a big difference between being a single mother and a single mother with a full-time nanny," she says. "I usually refrain from referring to myself as a single mother because it's not a fact. My children have a very good father who is very active in their lives."
Although her life runs like a well-oiled machine, there's one thing Anderson has yet to fathom: her own style. Despite Stella's penchant for blouses and Blanche's bottle-blonde locks, Anderson admits she still hasn't cracked a dress-down look. "For events I usually wear either William Vintage or Nicholas Oakwell couture," she says. "But I don't feel like what I sometimes wear off-duty actually represents my personality."
Born in Chicago, Anderson moved to north London when she as two. At 11, the family moved to Michigan, where she stayed until attending acting school in New York. Despite her middle-class English accent, she was a nonconformist; she still has tattoos and a navel piercing. When we discuss the pressures on teenage girls today and role models, she muses, "I don't feel like I had female role models when I was a teenager. That's not to say they didn't exist, but I wasn't really into pop culture. IF it was anybody, it was Exene [Cervenka, singer in Los Angeles punk band X]," she laughs.
I point out that perhaps that's why she is drawn to playing strong women, like Stella Gibson. "I do often play strong women but Stella's on another level," she says, again with that infectious giggle. "Manolo Blahnik is a big fan of Stella's. He's donated some beautiful shoes for this season -- She's a feminine feminist." Is that how Anderson would describe herself? "Yes, I'd call myself a feminine feminist," she says. "Although Stella is more outspoken than I am." She might play strong characters, but it's been widely reported that Anderson has suffered with nerves. Is that a thing of the past, I ask, now she's gone back on stage?
"There was a lot of trepidation. I've had panic attacks. An interesting thing happened a few months back. I was being presented with an award and had prepared a speech, but I was fearful of simply standing in front of the room. I went to see a couple of hypnotists; one was based in neuro-linguistic programming, one was more shamanistic," she confesses. "And, by the grace of God, there haven't been nerves since."