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Gillian Anderson Wants to Change Your Life

By Estelle Tang
ELLE: March 13, 2017

We've been paying attention to Gillian Anderson for a long time. As The X-Files' self-possessed Agent Dana Scully, she blended healthy skepticism with alertness to create one of television's most iconic women; as The Fall's determined and sensual detective Stella Gibson, she didn't have to speak loudly - or speak much at all - to make herself heard. And as a celebrity, her words have impact, whether she's revealing that she was originally offered half of her X-Files co-star David Duchovny's pay for the cult series, discussing menopause, or dropping hilarious off-the-cuff comments.

So when she has something to say, we listen. And now she has written, with journalist and lawyer Jennifer Nadel, We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere, a book that aims to do no less than "cocreate a world of true equality" for women. By selecting nine key principles - including honesty, acceptance, trust, and peace - Anderson and Nadel hope to inspire and help women along a path they found only through "stumbling along." spoke to the authors, who have been friends for over 10 years, about the ways they find joy, their decision to share their personal struggles with the world, and how difficult it can be to find joy - even if you're a world-famous actress.

Why did you decide to write this very personal book?

Jennifer Nadel: We had been friends for over ten years when we decided to write it and both of us had been thinking about a book and we realized we were coming at the same issues from different angles so that they floated together perfectly.

You both share some very personal anecdotes in here - was that difficult to do given you both have very public jobs? What made you decide to share such intimate details about your lives?

Gillian Anderson: At the beginning, the publishers kept encouraging us to do that. My first response was, "Perhaps it's too personal," and "Are you sure," and "How do we do that if it's ultimately about 'we'?" Eventually they convinced us, or maybe it just was me that needed to be convinced, that it really helped the reader to identify and to step deeper into the book. I just had to make the decision that there was something in the exposing of it - that if by being honest, people had a different level of identification and it had a positive impact on their life, then I was willing to take that risk.

Nadel: I found it a very difficult decision, because I like to hide behind my intellect. But the truth is, unless all of us start getting honest about what the reality is, things aren't going to change. If we all keep pretending that we know stuff and if everyone else would do what we knew and everything would be a better place, then nothing is going to change. So it felt quite important that we did reveal out own struggles - to say that none of us have got this sorted, but let's all try approaching life in a different way.

Of the nine principles that you lay out in the book, which is the one that's most challenging for you? What are your tips for applying them in everyday life?

Anderson: It's funny, because one of the things I struggle with the most is joy. And yet it's also when I take the steps to do things like meditate on a regular basis or acknowledge that there is nature around me, the sun is shining, there are birds - those are things that do connect me with a sense of joy. Even though I know it works and I know that it calms me, and I know it can completely shift my perspective on things and therefore impact how I am impacting other people and events, it's one of the hardest things for me to remember.

Nadel: I struggle most with humility, because I always think I know what's best for everyone and for the world. It's a daily struggle, and I think it's because I find people's pain so difficult to tolerate. I find my own pain and others' difficult to tolerate, so I always want to try to shift things so they'll be better. But in doing that if I am coming from a place of ego, I often cause harm. So it's a struggle for me to set my ego outside and find a softer and more compassionate way of approaching things.

Both of you are mothers. Do you think the experience of parenthood has affected how you wrote this book?

Anderson: Absolutely, on many levels. One, for me, is having a daughter who is now in her twenties, and being a parent of boys who is going through menopause, which I have a feeling hit me sooner than it might have had I not had three children. But also so many of these principles. . .I am not sure if I would take action as much if I didn't have little ones in my life who reflected my bad behavior back on me. If I was single and did not have kids, I wonder whether if I would try as hard to be patient, to mind how I react to situations. Not saying people who do not have children don't, but in my life and how I fight against doing the things that have positive impact in my life. . .I think I would find it easier not to practice the principles did I not have children.

Nadel: I've got three sons and part of what drove me to write the book is that I was very worried about the world they were growing up into. I felt a sense of responsibility toward that. And, similar to what Gillian feels, when you have children your own hypocrisy becomes more apparent because you're telling them how to behave, and you're not behaving like that yourself. So it obliges one to really go in and try to look at why there is a huge gulf between how one knows one wants to behave and how one actually does behave.

In the book, you talk a lot about the concept of the "inner girl." Who is that, and how can she help women heal themselves?

Nadel: Often when we have a disproportionate reaction or an extreme emotional reaction to something, it's normally because of something that happened in our past. Events in the present can trigger quite a young part of ourselves. If we don't take responsibility and start looking after that young part of ourselves, we can start asking partners to look after that part of ourselves or we wound ourselves.

Anderson: If I am acting out in any particular way that is harmful to myself - even if it's just a mood or attitude on a particular day, eating way too much chocolate, or whatever it is - without a shadow of doubt, I ask what it is that I am not getting for myself, what it is that I need, what it is that I am feeling. What is really going on underneath my desire to have a second candy bar? Often, it is that little voice I haven't paid attention to. It's generally not the adult voice. If I take a moment to address that and figure out what that is, it seems to dissipate.

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