The Straits Times Interview (2013)
A bit of Scully still in Gillian Anderson
After more than a decade away from American television, actress Gillian Anderson is back on the new TV series Hannibal, playing psychiatrist to human flesh-chewing, Chanti-sipping serial killer Hannibal Lecter.
Her three-episode arc on the show is sure to delight fans of science-fiction series The X-Files, nothing short of a pop cultural phenomenon when it aired from 1993 to 2002, on which she played FBI Agent Dana Scully.
At a recent press conference for the show in Toronto, the 44-year-old says she was drawn to this project by the stellar cast, which includes actors such as Hugh Dancy (Martha Marcy May Marlene, 2011), Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, 2006) and Laurence Fishburne (the Matrix films, 1999 to 2003).
“The thought of being able to dip into Toronto for a few days and play with this line-up of actors was just too good to refuse,” says Anderson, who also reveals there is a connection between Agent Scully and the female FBI agent Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster in The Silence Of The Lambs (1991), a role which won her the Best Actress Oscar.
“It feels a little bit like a full circle, because The X-Files started shortly after Silence Of The Lambs came out. And I was told shortly after we began that she (Dana Scully) was loosely based on Jodie Foster’s character,” she says. X-Files creator Chris Carter has long cited Jonathan Demme’s film adaptation as an inspiration, and has said that he deliberately made Scully a redhead like Starling.
“There’s something about it that feels like we’re in the same conversation,” adds Anderson, who was reportedly in the running for the role of Starling in the 2001 Lambs sequel, Hannibal. It eventually went to Julianne Moore.
As Scully, Anderson became something of a geek goddess for the legions of viewers who lapped up the show’s alien abductions and conspiracy theories, and even a lightning rod for debates about feminism because of her unusual partnership with Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), which eventually turned romantic.
When the series ended, the actress seemed to vanish off the radar in the United States, although she appeared in the two X-Files films in 1998 and 2008, which disappointed fans and tanked at the American box office.
She did better on the other side of the pond, where she slipped easily into a British accent because of a decade spent there as a child, appearing in TV productions such as an adaptation of Bleak House (2005) and the period drama Any Human Heart (2010), which earned her a Bafta nomination for her role as Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor whom King Edward VIII abdicated to marry. She also had a supporting role in the acclaimed 2006 film The Last King Of Scotland.
But she hesitates when asked if Hannibal has whet her appetite to do more projects in the US, perhaps because of the more civilised pace on British productions.
“I was used to eight-day episodes in the US. And over there, it’s usually a minimum of 10-day episodes and you don’t do overtime. It allows you some kind of breathing space and it’s not as intense,” says Anderson, who is twice-divorced and the mother of a daughter, aged 18, and two sons, six and four.
Perhaps it is also because the success of The X-Files is a hard act to follow. Anderson is one of those who believes the show was ground-breaking in many ways.
“If you look at the way that it was lit, the way that it was shot, the production values, the money that was thrown into it and the horror aspect of it, the unsolved crimes… I mean, look at the number of other shows that have tried to copy it over the last 20 years,” she says.
The show has also had a lasting impact on her – she admits that there will always be a little bit of Dana Scully in all her performances.
“She’s there somewhere.”
Alison de Souza
This article was first published in The Straits Times Life! on April 11