All About Gillian

Coming Soon : Viceroy's House, We, American Gods, Squadron 42, Crooked House, UFO…

Ponystep Magazine (2014)

Issue 6

THE ACTRESS

Written by Paul Tierney
Photography by David Hughes
Styling by Phoebe Arnold

Her landmark performances have proved Gillian Anderson has more to her than looks alone. An acclaimed and accomplished actress, she has struck tv gold once more in BBC’s surprise hit, The Fall.

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Gillian wears ring by Ritz Fine Jewellery

Gillian Anderson strolls into the hotel bar so slowly, so languidly, so, well, sexily, it’s as if she is taking an evening stroll on the beach. Hands rest in the pockets of white cotton trousers, while her hair, clean and golden, is tied back in the most casual way imaginable. Oddly, she looks simultaneously uptight and relaxed – a studied version of a nice-looking lady playing the role of an interesting actress. She is pleasant but ever-so-slightly cagey – willing to talk, but wary of blurting out an indiscretion. Presumably she’s been stitched up by journalists in the past, and therefore compensates by not giving away too much. After a little light-hearted banter (“I’ve seen some very fit bodies wandering around London today”), the 45-year-old ‘cult icon’ curls into a corner and slowly begins to thaw. “I have no regrets,” she smiles, jokingly pre-empting searching questions.

Pulling her hair out of its loose ponytail, the woman-previously-known-as Scully coquettishly ruffles it into shape, fingers tracing her temples, head bent back like a shampoo advert from the 1970s. There is a sensuality to her movements which suggests a certain knowingness, or maybe this is all for show? Whatever, it’s difficult to ignore those beautiful China blue eyes, piercing like HD willow pattern, never losing contact, save for a ponderous mid-distance stare whilst gathering her thoughts. The skin is fabulous, blemish-free, and, by virtue of an on-going detox, that of somebody ten years younger. For what it’s worth, FHM magazine once declared her the most beautiful woman in the world, and it’s not difficult to see how they came to that conclusion.

I LOVE SCULLY AND ALL SHE’S BROUGHT ME, BUT THERE IS MORE TO ME THAN THAT.

Anderson is not bisexual but she is bi-dialectal – which is very confusing for those of us with a fear of veering accents and fluid sexuality. “I have never described my sexuality as ‘fluid’”, she says tartly, suddenly looking like butter wouldn’t melt. “I would never say that.” The look in her eye warns me not to question it further, but it’s obvious I will have to revisit this theme. So what are we here to talk about? We’ll get onto sexual choices and wandering voices in due course, but for now this increasingly popular actress seems happy for me to take the lead. We discuss the weirdness of being interviewed, how the very act is ultimately an artificial exercise in chumminess. Anderson is used to the process. She has done many interviews over the years – from her first, tentative press during the XFiles years, through to the boring-but-necessary promotion required of a film. I can’t blame her for looking at me as if to say: ‘God, here we go again.’

“What I know about myself is that I have a tendency to talk in stream-of-consciousness non-soundbites, which must be challenging for a journalist to sit down and make head or tail of. Some of them get the wrong idea, and some of them reinterpret things to their own end. It’s followed me my whole life. Sometimes it’s clear from the very beginning that the interview’s already been written, and sometimes it’s very apparent that everything they ask is just regurgitated information from Google, so sometimes that gets frustrating. The worst thing is when I read something and think, ‘Oh my God, that’s the complete opposite of the experience I had. I liked this person, we were laughing, what happened? Why were those bits not included?’”

I confess to being slightly apprehensive about our meeting. Every writer I speak to warns of a steeliness, a passive-aggressive streak; how she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Actors can be a weird, fidgety bunch, and even if they pretend not to, they actually love talking about themselves. Once you get past the motivations of their latest character, your average thesp can’t wait to start eulogising about life, love, and the pain of being recognised in public. What is it about people who make a living pretending to be someone else? They always presume we don’t trust them. It’s a stigma that Anderson recognises, although she’s still eager to put bad press down to the writer, and not the way she comes across. “I did an interview for Vogue a few years ago and had really liked this young woman who had come into my home. And then article was so biting. It confounded me afterwards. She kept looking at the art on my walls and saying, ‘Wow, is that a Diane Arbus?’ But then she writes it as though I started the question. She even had the nerve to say to me, ‘You’re not very successful at relationships are you?’ I nearly choked!”

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Gillian wears dress by Dsquared², necklace and bracelet both by David Morris

Actually, she thinks interviews can be perfectly pleasant, and if she likes the journalist, an hour’s worth of interesting conversation can be quite edifying. She recalls a lovely conversation she had earlier this year with Aaron Hicklin, the editor of Out magazine, America’s foremost gay lifestyle title. In it she talked about a relationship she once had with a woman, a subject recently revealed on her own blog. The woman in question had recently died of cancer and Anderson felt compelled to honour her memory by talking for the first time about their affair. By all accounts a tabloid newspaper had approached this person and offered $60,000 for a photograph of the two of them together, something Anderson refused. Later, realising the money could have been used towards treatment, a sense of remorse “but not shame” forced her to confront the issue. “I just thought it was an appropriate time to bring it up,” she says without hesitation.

This was groundbreaking stuff for the actress, who for years had flatly denied all rumours about her sexuality. “The journalist handled it really well,” she says, looking exasperated, “in comparison to another Sunday Times journalist who completely took it in the wrong direction. She’d read the Out interview and wanted to know why I’d decided to talk about it at this time. I explained to her that I realised it was probably a really good opportunity of honouring a very important and seminal period of my life, and to talk about someone who I cared about a lot and who had just passed away.” On her blog, she complained that the writer tried to turn the entire article into ‘a lesbian-impregnated specimen of veritable tabloid journalism.’ For the record, Anderson is straight and has three children.

Lightening the mood, we are momentarily distracted by a stream of water trickling over the side of the table. It’s not clear where it’s coming from, but discover it’s been slowly leaking from a cracked jug. Rather than berate the staff for potential glass splinters, or throw a hissy-fit because her phone is a little bit wet, Anderson is immediately down on her knees, mopping up the mess as if it is her fault. Suddenly I really like this woman. She is patient, engaging, mannered; and for all the so-called secrets and lies, strikes me as having integrity. At this juncture it seems wise to steer the conversation towards less contentious themes.

Let’s not forget that Anderson is one of the most in-demand actors of her generation, known for her great versatility. In the twenty years following The XFiles, the roles have come thick and fast. She has done period drama, excelling in Great Expectations and The House of Mirth; trodden the boards in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House; and generally shown that she is more than an expressionless special agent digging around for aliens. The week we meet she is nominated at the National Television Awards for her role as Stella Gibson in The Fall, possibly the most compelling TV crime drama since Prime Suspect. “I think she might be the single favourite character I’ve ever played,” muses Anderson, instantly warming to the subject. “I don’t know what it is about her, but I could tell from the get-go that this was for me. Alan Cubitt is a very clever and talented writer. He’s made Gibson hard to explain because she is all the typical things you would say about a strong, independent woman, but there’s something else which is not as tangible, and that’s enigmatic. It’s not necessarily power for her. She lives by her own rules, but not to anyone’s expense. She’s a single woman living a very singular, solitary existence. She is a feminine woman who dresses to feel good, but for herself.”

HAVING A DOLL MADE OF YOU IS A SEMINAL MOMENT. YOU DO SORT OF KNOW YOU’VE ARRIVED WHEN YOU GET A DOLL.

Anderson could well be talking about herself, but the role of Gibson is far from lazy self-interpretation. The powerful police officer is a woman in a man’s world, happy to play them at their own game. Both tough and beautiful, the camera clearly loves this intriguing sleuth, cleverly honing in on her rituals and regimes. A memorable scene focuses on her trademark silk blouse, its buttons coming open at a televised press conference, revealing so much in the process. “But that’s how clever Alan is”, she enthuses, “and the fact it works on people’s psyches on many levels. Seeing young women murdered as others are being born, the cost of human life and the preciousness of human life. And so many complex and unpredictable relationships.” She can talk all she likes about the writing, about the depth of the drama, but there’s no denying Anderson’s skill as an actor has made the show what it is. After decades of being known primarily for The XFiles, it must be gratifying for another role to overshadow something so recognisable? “Absolutely. I love Scully and all she’s brought me, but there is more to me than that.”

Agent Dana Scully was the frumpy but strangely alluring character that made Anderson a global star. Yet after years of trying to shrug off the role, she has come to accept the fact that the general public remain fascinated. Testament to this are her appearances at American Comic Con conventions, a sort of nerdy meet and greet for the uber-fan – of which there are many. “I’ve always said no, but this particular year I’ve agreed because it’s the 20th anniversary of the show, and also because Netflix has opened up a whole new audience. Some of the people that come are obsessive but a lot of them are just run-of-the-mill human beings who have very fond memories of the show. I get people saying the episode when Scully had cancer helped them survive their own cancer. And women who have finally got their masters degrees in physics, and only did physics to begin with because of XFiles and the whole forensic pathology thing.” Do they bring their Scully Dolls? “They do. And they are so unattractive. I look at them and think, ‘Who was in charge of this?’ Weird features, weird clothes, weird everything. But having a doll made of you is a seminal moment. You do sort of know you’ve arrived when you get a doll.”

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Gillian wears dress by Moschino Cheap & Chic and necklace by David Morris

What other moments stand out? “We were on the cover of MAD magazine, that was good. And we did The Simpsons! Then we knew we’d really made it.”

Anderson admits she found those early years difficult. For an ex-punk with a rebellious streak, dressing the part came with sartorial drawbacks. “I went through a stage of wearing really bad outfits,” she laughs. “Back then I could never bring myself to actually pay someone to advise me, and I wasn’t being advised how important it was. Looking through some old photographs recently, I came across a few when I was younger, and I have a very similar expression on my face to Kristen Stewart. I’ve got this ‘Fuck all this’ look going on. I wish I’d had people around me at that point in my life who understood me, instead of saying, ‘Why aren’t you smiling?’ So much of it was fear back then and not being able to comprehend what was happening.”

It’s hard to draw her on any of her co-stars. Anderson admits to being occasionally indiscreet but has learnt not to gossip about professional relationships. Perhaps her most famous on-screen partnership was with The XFiles’ David Duchovny, an actor slightly overshadowed by her own success. Does she ever see him? “Er, yeah, from time to time,” she says a little too brightly. “We’re doing a photo shoot for the cover of Entertainment Weekly this weekend in LA, for the anniversary. When we’re in the same city we try and hook up. You know there was that rumour for a while that we were in a relationship? And that we were moving into an apartment together! I can honestly say that wasn’t the case.”

And what of the non-too-shabby Jamie Dornan? As the intriguingly handsome serial killer in The Fall, the ex-model has proved himself to be a fine actor, although he admits to feeling worried that this dark role might have a negative affect on his career. “Oh, I think Jamie will be fine,” she says without hesitation. “He plays the part so well, and I’m sure it will lead to many others.” So are we to presume that in the next series there will be more interaction between their two characters? “Well, let’s just say that scenario would have the most dramatic impact, I think that’s fairly obvious. I’m just glad we’re doing more. It’s honestly one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with.”

Up until now her voice has maintained a beautifully controlled British accent, but the last statement crosses the pond mid-sentence and sounds more Michigan than Middlesex. It’s a tad confusing to say the least. “The minute I’m on a plane and talking to Americans I launch into an American accent,” she laughs. “There’s more people do it than you think. Actually it’s not about ‘doing’ anything. When I try to keep an American accent in the UK, I just sound like a twat, really Eurotrash.”

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Gillian wears dress by Altuzarra and coat from William Vintage

It transpires this was a problem as a child. Born in the UK, but moving to the States at the age of twelve, she was bullied in school for her weird voice and relatively unusual appearance. “But by the time I was fifteen and had discovered punk rock, I couldn’t give a fuck,” she snorts. “There are those that see that period of their lives as a fashion phase, and those that become more embedded with the notion of anarchy and carry that forward in life. I fall into the latter category.”

This notion of chaos is underlined by another stream of water flowing steadily into her lap. It’s hard to take Anderson seriously as she crawls under the table to mop up the deluge, but she keeps up the patter like a seasoned pro. “One of my next big projects is a film called Our Robot Overlords with Ben Kingsley,” she explains, wringing out a serviette and looking pleased with herself for remembering to promote something. “What’s it about? Er, it’s about robots who take over the earth.” Do her kids appreciate the idea of that? “They don’t know what I do,” comes the blunt reply. “There’ll come a point when someone brings it up in their class and they’ll know enough to pay attention, but it’s not on their radar. I did have a dumb realisation when I was shooting that movie that they would see it one day. There’ll be a point when they discover The XFiles too.”

And with that she’s off, hopping into a car and heading to Legoland with her sons for the day. They may be oblivious to what their secretive mother actually does, but if there are any costume drama-loving lesbians with a penchant for paranormal detection wandering around – which is likely – they soon will do.

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