Gillian Anderson webchat - as it happened
From the impact of 'The Scully Effect' on young women, her dreams of doing a comedy with Jason Bateman, to why Paolo Nutini is a 'living genius', the actor was here to answer your questions. Read all her answers here. . .
The Guardian: February 9, 2015
Do you sometimes make new years' resolutions? If yes, what was this one's?
Every year I make the same resolution, which is to relax more, do less, stress less, make more space in my days to do nothing. And it's February, and that hasn't been the case so far this year unfortunately. The only time I ever relax is on holiday.
Wildest thing you have done? Proudest moment? Favourite way to unwind?
I can't actually talk about the wildest thing I've ever done. Not that I'd get arrested, but I'd never live it down. Proudest moment I guess is probably the experience of working on Streetcar, overall.
Your career has spanned a range of roles from the X-files tv star to the incredibly strong and demanding Street Car on stage. Where do you see your next challenge? You are a force to be reckoned with and an important role model to women at a time when current aspirational women are reality stars and the wives of the rich and famous. Do you feel a responsibility to maintain your profile as an actor to be taken seriously?
I feel a responsibility to be myself and not curtail my personality or reactions to things for the sake of fitting in, or toeing the line. That's just as important. I do feel a certain responsibility, because I often talk about trying to be a good person, and behave respectfully, and appropriately, and I feel a responsibility to walk that walk.
I think if I thought about role selection too much, knowing me I might panic, and crawl under a rock. By doing The Fall for instance, I've been given the gift of a platform, and I have some things to say, and a responsibility to uphold my opinions about things.
I'm an 18 year old Drama School hopeful, what would be the most important advice you would give to a young performer?
Attempt to get an objective perspective of what it is that you individually bring to the table, and foster those strengths, and embrace those strengths. And work really hard.
What do I bring to the table? I know that because of my history with sci-fi, a business decision to cast me in something that has a sci-fi element, I understand that business trajectory. I understand that I can be thinking about shopping and look like I am trying to work out a mathematical problem - I get hired because of that!
But I also feel like I have a good idea of why I wouldn't be cast, which is just as important to embrace. Not just to help with diminishing disappointment, but it infuses one's experience with a practical nature, which is important to have, to keep sane.
You're an inspiration to women of all ages. If you weren't an actress, what would you be? Could you imagine doing an ordinary job?
I don't think I'd be very good at what you'd call an ordinary job. I think I might be an artist, mixed media. And that is still something I'm interested in pursuing at some point, but I have this fear of taking my eye off the ball, and get distracted from that acting thing.
But, I think it's important to give oneself permission to do everything one wants to do. Male or female. To explore, to learn new things, to follow one's dreams, even if unconventional. And take risks.
The building used as the police station in series one of The Fall was my old school! How did you enjoy your time working in Belfast? And did you have a favourite place to eat or drink whilst there?
The thing about working on The Fall is because I have young children, my time up there becomes pure work time with no gaps. If there are gaps, I'm on a plane back to London. So I honestly haven't done that much exploring.
Best advice you would give to a mother?! Loving this journey, but have to admit it can sometimes be a struggle ... So always up for tips, tricks and wisdom from fellow mamas!
Parenthood is probably the most challenging thing I've ever had to do in my life. And I know that if I do not take care of myself, in terms of amount of sleep, exercising my brain, and a modicum of me time, even if it's just a ten minute bath, my relationship with my children suffers. And I have less control of them, consequently! They have control over me. It's the most rewarding and most infuriating journey. And it gets easier.
I am a trained butler. Can I work for you?
Yes please. Can I swap something as payment? Barter...
I learned so much from you about strength and feminism when I was a young woman. You seem to have so much confidence - what advice would you give to women who are in their 30s and 40s now?
I've spent a lot of my life not having confidence. But when you're in the public eye, it becomes a necessity to behave as if you do. And honestly I think that the years of acting as if, truly, has contributed to my feeling of confidence. I've spent so much of my life feeling fear and still putting one foot in front of the other, and doing my best to never let my fear keeping me from saying yes to something that I know intrinsically I want to do. And in the doing of scary things, things get less scary.
What is your current favourite ... Song; food; place; joke?!
My favourite jokes are literally for six year olds. At an event the other night Dominic West told me a joke which was to my sensibility... and I've forgotten it already! That's the nature of jokes.
The other night I met Paolo Nutini, face to face, and had my first true fan moment in my life. I looked up at him, and said what's you name? He said Paolo and I leapt on top of him I was so excited! One of my favourite songs of all time is his Iron Sky. Genius. He is a living genius.
Which film makes you cry every time you watch it? (For me it's The Children's Hour, and I think you'd be excellent in the Audrey Hepburn role if it was remade.)
There's this film that not many people have seen called Dean Spanley, with Peter O'Toole and Jeremy Northam, and Sam Neill. God, this film, every time... every time the soundtrack even comes on my playlists I get a tear. There's something really profound, about the human experience, and relationships and lives and past lives. It's just a beautiful film.
What is your favourite memory of last year?
Sharing a dressing room with Vanessa Kirby - she played Stella to my Blanche. I absolutely adore her. She's a couple of decades younger and we had such a laugh. I tend to be quite neat, and she's the messiest person I've ever met in my entire life. She's very relaxed about it, she won't mind me telling a few thousand people. I started taking photos of her area of the dressing table, and I'm planning to send them to her as a belated wrap gift!
What is the most beautiful trip you have done in your life? (can be a real trip or a spiritual one)
Years ago I did a prop plane safari through Namibia, along the Skeleton Coast. It was just one of the most beautiful experiences - landing at sunset into a field of high grasses with crickets singing and a full moon rising. I'd like to do it again.
What is the largest animal you think you could kill with your bare hands?
Could kill and would kill are very different. First of all, I wouldn't. But if I could, based on strength... I'm not very strong any more. Even thinking about it, how dare you ask me this question?? I'm stuck in the middle of it now. OK, so the only way I can think about this is if it's a cartoon animal. Let's say it's an evil animal with rabies, and I had to kill it to save my life, I might be able to manage... a ferret.
If you smelled gas in the street would you telephone the gas authorities, or would you assume somebody else would? After seeing your astonishing performance in The Fall, I suspect you'd call them.
Thank you for asking. Because in my neighbourhood there is a perpetual smell of gas on a particular corner. I have considered calling the authorities, but considering and doing are very different things. But there is perpetual construction in the area - I figure someone is on it, they just haven't figured out yet.
What animal would you marry?
Good question. I might marry a horse, definitely a male horse. Lucky me! He has one sure thing going for him.
Professor Boxhill's book on Tennessee Williams changed everything for me. He talked about the heroines and heroes as archetypes whose tragedy is the way in which they hear, ever more loudly, the ticking of the clock, like Brick to Big Daddy, "Time just outran me - Big Daddy. Got there first". I wonder whether Blanche sees herself as a victim - apart from other forces of time, both in the sense that she can not escape her past, and the social pressure of the late 1940's to conform? She's getting on, isn't she? Marriage and love are becoming phantoms in a cruel world. And now that Belle Reve is gone she does not have the protection of her family wealth to protract her. She is exposed now to economic injustices. Is this an element you found in the play? What for you is the heart of Blanche's tragedy? The sources of her delusional state and self-deceit?
I love The Departure. It seems to me that there is a tradition of looking at the play as though it hinges on Brandon and it is very hard for a female character to be strong enough and sophisticated enough to emerge from the shadow, Personally I don't think Vivian Leigh did this, great as the performance is. But in my view The Departure really shows that the play is about the tragedy of Blanche, and how the past will ineluctably become stronger and more menacing in the present.
You hit the nail on the head. The heart of her tragedy is heartbreak, loss... I think that when someone's heart is broken so young and in such a tragic way, and one feels responsible for the tragedy, it's a difficult hurdle to overcome. I think her pain around that coupled with her sensitivities in that age. And weathering the family history. They all contribute to her need to fill the hole, the gaping hole, and in the filling there is deceit.
I would like to ask if your work, the fact that people you do not know do in fact know who you are (or at least think they do) has ever made you feel like your life is not your own or if strangers have seemed to think of you as some kind of public property?
I am sometimes approached as if I'm public property. There is definitely an expectation that I should pose for pictures, that it's part of my job in a sense. Most of the time it doesn't get to me but every once in a while I do feel like a performing monkey, when people say "just one, just one" and then they take another and I stand there like an idiot waiting for them to turn on the flash.
Like many, I've been a fan since the X-files. My two year old daughter is now a fan too, because of your role as the Witch in Room on the Broom. How did you get this part?
The producers approached me to do the voice of the witch, and I tried very hard not to take it personally. I went in being very witchy, and then they called me back, and said "actually when we were listening to the recordings, the you that was talking and swearing in between behaving like a witch is what we want - can you come back and be a bit more girly and mischievous and light-hearted?"
What for you as an actress was the biggest discovery you made about Blanche? Did playing her bring about any discoveries about yourself?
I guess what I discovered was that I pretty much identified with every aspect of her. In one way or another. And as much as I might think I am not vain or delusional, but I am all those things. And I am also Stella Gibson's things, and my individual things, and people are really complicated and multifaceted, and we like to put ourselves and others into boxes. We are all much more interesting that we give ourselves credit for - and worthy of compassion because of it.
If I tell you a joke will you tell me one?
There's an inflatable boy who goes to an inflatable school, where everything is inflatable. The buildings, the teachers and all the students, everything!
One day the boy gets into trouble, for bringing a pin to school. The Principal says "You've let me down, you've let yourself down, you've let the whole school down." LOL
Your turn Gillian :)
You're not like that schoolboy with a pin, you are an INFLATOR! Thank you. Love you and your work!
Why thank you so much! That's a fantastic compliment. Here's a joke.
What did the zero say to the 8? Nice belt.
Writing is something that I always have so much want to do but very little motivation to actually get up and do it until I read something that makes me think, "Wow, that is so beautiful! I want to create something beautiful." Are there any particular writers or books that make you feel this way?
Actually, Tennessee Williams makes me feel this way, and I've only properly become obsessed with him since doing the play, and reading Lehr's remarkable biography on Williams. I had read interviews with him before, but never any of his letters and really not much of his poetry, and I'm stunned at how poetic he was in his simple speech, his casual correspondence. Such a beautiful mind.
If you could do a prequel for any other character you’ve played on stage, TV or film, which role would you choose and why?
I just got an image of doing a timelapse prequel for Miss Havisham. From the moment she is left at the altar, to when we find her in our adaptation of the story. A timelapse photo of her wandering around the house, the disintegration of her, the house, and her mind, might be interesting.
I wanted to tell you that you were my role model as a young girl in the 90s and still are now as I approach 30. I know many countless others have also been inspired and moved by you over they years; "The Scully Effect" and your influence on women is often spoken about, but I was curious what you would hope to be the most lasting impression you leave on young women. Popular culture and history will likely point to characters like Scully and Stella, but what would YOU most like to be remembered for as a feminist figure?
There seems to be an upswing of negative perception about feminism. And on the one hand, it's our own fault. And I guess I'd like to be a part of a movement towards it not being a dirty word or having negative connotations or being taboo. Can we talk about what's not working, without blame, can we focus on moving forward?
So I'd like to be a part of that conversation. I know that there was something called the Scully Effect in scientific journals - there was an influx of girls into sciences during the X Files. And so I guess I was part of a movement towards girls embracing their brains, and wanting to explore their potential and what they were capable of beyond what they'd previously been told they'd been capable of.
Any comedy roles in your near future? I know you're hilarious, so it's time to let everyone know it, don't you think :) Who would be your pick to play your leading man (or woman!) in a romantic comedy?
Not at the moment, but I'd love to do comedy. I'd love to do a comedy with Jason Bateman, or to do a comedy with David O Russell. Madcap and dark, a black comedy.
How did you feel seeing Blanche for yourself when you directed The Departed? After a summer of being her on stage what was it like looking? Was she as you expected her to be from your inside perspective?
The strangest thing was actually to watch the NT Live film of the play. Working Title did a screening and I got to invite friends who hadn't seen the play, and it wasn't until the ball was already rolling, that I thought oh my God what am I doing? Being in the same room as friends watching it for the first time? And then once I got past that, it was the sitting in the chair watching the film start... I was almost sick. I nearly bolted from the room.
But what was fascinating about that was getting to see what all the other actors were doing on stage while I/Blanche was caught up in her own self-obsession or behind a shower curtain. There were close ups too, so I got to see the emotional journey the other actors took in detail, and that was wonderful to see. They were all so good!
Now that you're directing, how would you describe your directing style?
I wouldn't necessarily say that this is indicative of my style. The Departure is a study of a particular period of time. And it's theatrical on purpose, and I don't think that I would choose to direct something so theatrically that wasn't related to a piece of theatre. It was a conscious decision to do a locked-off camera, and while I appreciate that as a device, it has a time and place. I would hope that my style of directing would conform to the style of the piece I was shooting.
I've been adapting a screenplay for about 15 years and will direct it at some point. Ironically it will similarly stylised to this piece! So not a good example of how this is not my style... but it asks for that, it calls for that. It's more of an arthouse film.
You have a very good ear for different accents. It got me thinking; if you could have been brought up speaking any language you chose, which language would it be and why?
Either Italian or French, I think. Romance languages are so beautiful, and sexy. But also my daughter speaks French, and it's a harder language than I'll ever be able to learn. The fact that the French continue to go to school to speak French is a bit daunting!
If and when you have the time, what is one skill you still hope to learn?
I would love to learn another language, or to play an instrument. I'm not sure I have the patience.
I saw Streetcar at the Young Vic in July and later how they chose to present it live-to-tape when shown in cinemas via NT Live, so I feel now I've seen three unique iterations of this production. I assumed the decision to go with a wide static frame and the long takes to compliment and keep you in the tone of the live theatre experience. But can you talk a bit about your directorial choices after reading O'Hagan's script in terms of picking your deliberate filmic moments in The Departure? I mean the choreography within that wide static frame
The choreography kind of came before the script. In that I knew what I wanted to take place in each of the scenes, as in: she comes in from a funeral, she drinks, she changes, there are soldiers that call to her. And I knew from the beginning I wanted it to be locked off, and that it would dissolve into an almost identical frame in another location and then it would start with a john, and a policeman would enter. And so knowing that, on the day, and with a static frame, it was a matter of how to make it interesting enough with entrances and exits.
But I still don't know whether it stands alone as a piece, and I'm not really concerned with that. Someone might ask why is Gillian Anderson walking around in her underwear? It's specific, and yet could be a study of a lonely drunken woman. I'm ok with whatever the interpretation ends up being, because it was a means to an end for me, and I feel like I satisfied that for myself and the remit for the Young Vic. And what people make of it beyond that is none of my business and I have no control over it.
For me it feels like I'm honouring the depth and the history and the backstory of the character. And so it feels in a way like a celebration, just in that we're interested enough in her to be curious about where she's from. She's complicated, and recognisable enough that we care. She's so much more than that of course, but I don't feel like it takes away or abuses or is disrespectful.
And on that much-rumoured X Files reboot . . .
The conversation is in process. And the result ultimately is up to Fox.
That's it! Thanks to everyone who asked a question.
Thank you everybody for joining me this afternoon - thanks for all the questions, and for making me think, and have a great day!