December 18, 2000
Katie: Actress Gillian Anderson is probably best known as Scully, the character she has been playing for the last eight years on "The X-Files." now, in a new film, Gillian moves from sci-fi to turn of the century New York. In "The House of Mirth," she plays socialite Lily Bart, who's caught in a world where a position in society is everything, lily finds herself torn between her need for a wealthy husband and a chance at true love.
[Clip from The House of Mirth]
Selden: How fast do you walk? I thought I would never catch up with you.
Lily: But I've been sitting here for nearly an hour.
Selden: Waiting for me, I hope.
Lily: Waiting to see if you would come.
Selden: Weren't you sure that I would?
Lily: If I waited long enough. But I only had a limited time to give to the experience.
Selden: Why limited?
Lily: By my other engagement.
Selden: Oh. Now I see why you were getting up on your Americana.
Lily: That is why I was waiting for you, to thank you for having given me so many points.
Selden: You can hardly do justice to the subject in such short a time. Won't you devote the afternoon to it? We'll take a walk and you can thank me at your leisure.
[Clip ends, back to interview]
Katie: Gillian Anderson, good morning.
Gillian: Good morning.
Katie: Nice to see you.
Gillian: Good to be here.
Katie: So you moved from "The X-Files," as I said, to Edith Wharton and turn of the century New York society. Was it kind of daunting to make that transition?
Gillian: Daunting to make the transition? Um, no. I guess because I was such a fan of the novel and of Terence's work that it seemed like a really exciting challenge to be involved in. You kind of get into the costume and get into, you know, the discussion and it kind of falls into place.
Katie: Terence Davies said you reminded him of a John Singer Sargeant painting from, you know, obviously the great society portrait painter, which must have been very flattering for you. Was it- I would think that the language might be one of the biggest obstacles to slipping into character. In fact, I read in the production notes that a lot of modern actors have a difficult time dealing with the formal language of the time and really understanding what the characters were saying and all the nuances involved.
Gillian: Well, I think at the time that everything was about the front and everything was artifice. And everybody held their cards very close to their chest and whatever was said was not what was meant. And so, to get into that rhythm, as an actor, where you are not� you are saying what's on the page, but it's not what you are meaning, it's not what the subtext is.
Gillian: And to get into that rhythm without feeling stifled or monotonous and using the right register in the voice and having the corset on and wardrobe on and sitting in the way that one would sit at that time, it all kind of adds to it. But it's a different way of being. It's a different way of holding yourself. It's a different way of communicating. 'Cause today we try and tell the truth as much as possible.
Katie: Tell it like it is.
Gillian: Exactly. And we try to be in your face and tell me what's going on. And in those days, everything was just, you know. And I think sometimes it may come across as being, as feeling as an audience member, as feeling kind of stilted. But at the time, you weren't allowed to say what was true. You weren't allowed to say� I mean, everybody studied so that they had little bits of information about stuff that they could discuss at parties. So that at a social event, no matter what anybody brought up as a topic of conversation, you knew exactly what to say.
Katie: I think you're right, though.
Gillian: Little bits of information.
Katie: It was stilted and people put on a veneer and I think watching it in this day and age when women are a lot freer and have more choices than Lily Bart did back in those days, you really get almost angry and frustrated watching her go through what she had to go through. As I watched, I was like, this woman cannot get a break.
Gillian: No, no.
Katie: Tell me more about her. I mean, she is someone who wants to marry money, who knows she has to marry money, and yet her head's telling her one thing and her heart's telling her another thing. And she gives up, as I said earlier, the chance of true love because she knows that it's not going to really improve her station. It's not what is expected of her.
Gillian: It's not what is expected. I mean, everyone at that time, all the women, are raised in order to marry into money. And you are raised to carry yourself a particular way, to attract men who are wealthy. And she has a couple of opportunities like that in the movie.
Katie: With Selden, for example.
Gillian: With Selden and Rosedale and possibly even with Dorset. And -
Katie: Selden, by the way, is played by Eric Stoltz.
Gillian: Yeah, Eric Stoltz.
Katie: They make a big deal about him not being good enough for Lily because he's just a lawyer and has to work for a living. So he's not from money, so to speak. But I think he was perfectly respectable, frankly.
Gillian: I know! And that's the dilemma that she finds herself in. She knows where her heart is but everything she's been trained to do in her life is move towards money. And she just can't bring herself to do it. But at the same time, she can't bring herself to fall for Selden either and to give up her ego and to give up all that she's been brought up to do in order to be in a place of love. Hence her dilemma.
Katie: Hence her dilemma and the tragedy of her life. I'll say no more than that. I think it's beautiful movie and you did a wonderful job. Gillian Anderson, it's called "The House of Mirth." But may I say, there was not much-
Gillian: Mirth in the movie.
Katie: Mirth in the movie! I was like, show me the mirth! It's pretty depressing.
Gillian: Yes, it is depressing. But I think it has a good moral to it.
Katie: Well, nice to see you. And by the way, it opens Friday, December 22nd. A feel-good Christmas story. (laughs)
Gillian: Yeah, exactly. (laughs)
Katie: It's a beautiful movie, seriously. Thanks Gillian.
Transcript appears courtesy of NBC's The Today Show.