The only ‘Crisis’ Gillian Anderson faces is her commute (2014)
by Mary Murphy
Gillian Anderson is back on TV. And she’s everywhere.
The TV icon, who starred as Dana Scully on “The X-Files,” is returning as a series regular for the first time in 12 years on NBC’s drama “Crisis.”
But that’s not Anderson’s only gig. She also plays a therapist on NBC’s “Hannibal” and a wildly sexy London cop on the BBC critical darling “The Fall.”
On “Crisis,” she’s Meg Fitch, a single mother and the CEO of a high-tech multinational conglomerate — think like Hewlett-Packard — whose only child has just been kidnapped.
Each show films in a different city: “Crisis,” in Chicago; “The Fall,” in Belfast; and “Hannibal,” in Toronto. Anderson has become somewhat of a multinational high flyer. This morning, she’s in Chicago calling from her car phone while on the way to the airport.
“I’m flying to Belfast,” says Anderson, 45. “Then come back here next week to shoot the last episode.”
It’s sort of like having different lovers in different time zones.
“It’s kind of been manageable,” she says, with a slightly exhausted laugh. “Except when it’s not.”
“Crisis” centers around the kidnapping of students from a very prestigious Washington, DC, high school — think Sidwell Friends — where the world’s most powerful parents, including the President of the United States, send their children.
As Meg Fitch, Anderson’s power is established almost immediately. She lands at the school in a private helicopter and joins the other frantic parents. The show shifts easily between scenes with the kidnapped kids, the kidnappers, the parents, and the team of FBI and Secret Service agents leading the investigation (played by Rachael Taylor and Lance Gross). In a clever twist, it turns out that the FBI agent in charge (Taylor) is Fitch’s younger sister — the black sheep of the family — with whom she shares her most closely kept secret.
Anderson admits that shooting in America again has been an adjustment after living in England for 12 years.
“It is less about shooting in America and more about shooting for an American network, which is much more of a machine than you experience in the UK,” she says.
It turns out that network anxiety over viewer erosion is felt as far away as a location shoot in Chicago. Anderson may have a velvety voice, but she is a straight shooter, like many of her characters, as she explains the impact.
“The networks are struggling and the formats are changing and everybody is trying really hard to find some stuff that is going to stick, and that people want to watch, because everybody wants to binge watch. It is a tricky time,” she says. “There is definitely a feeling in the air of insecurity and wanting things to work. You can feel that on the set.”
NBC executives should be tense, since the other DC kidnap series — CBS’s “Hostages”— was rejected by viewers.
What “Crisis” is not is “Hostages”-lite.
The canvas is bigger and more believable. The network may be selling the show as a thriller, but it’s also an exploration of high-powered parents’ relationship with powerlessness.
“Gillian’s character is a master of the universe and a mother whose world collapses and explodes,” says Rand Ravich, the “Crisis” creator. “She wants to manage the situation but has to decide: Does she lead or does she follow?”
To lure Anderson to a full-time gig, the producers had to promise her that she would not have to move to Chicago — ironically, she was born there and both her sister and mother live nearby. “So that is great,” she says.
“But I was adamant that I had to be able to travel,” says Anderson, 45, the mother of three children, Piper, 19, Oscar, 7, and Felix, 5, who live and attend school in London, a routine she does not want to disrupt. Their dad, Mark Griffiths, she says, is “totally active in their lives.”
The cost of transcontinental airfare turns out to be well worth the price. “Gillian was a great get,” Ravich says. “Honestly I never thought I could get an actress of this stature for the part. But when she came on board it raised the profile of the entire production.”
It’s hard to believe that Anderson was just 24 years old when she was cast as Scully on “The X-Files.” When it started shooting, no one seemed to pay much attention.
“Fox was not even considered a network then,” she says. “And we felt disposable. They weren’t really behind us until we aired. Then ‘The X-Files’ became appointment watching.”
Her friendship with her co-star David Duchovny, who played Fox Mulder, is still strong.
“I just saw him when I was in Los Angeles,” she says. “We have a very unique friendship. It is different from any other relationship I have, in its intensity. I have spent more hours with him than with any member of my family.”
Ultimately, the fame of “X-Files” proved too much for her, so when the show was over she moved to London, where she had lived with her parents until she was 11, and where her parents still had a flat.
“I moved there because I wanted to do plays,” she says. With two marriages and another long-term relationship behind her, Anderson is single again, but her career dreams have certainly come true. She has appeared on the London stage. She also starred in the BBC productions of “Bleak House” and “Great Expectations.” This summer, she’ll return to the London stage as Blanche DuBois in a revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
But for now Anderson is Belfast bound — via a stop in London to see her children — to the set of “The Fall.” She hints there will be some sex scenes ahead, maybe even one with co-star Jamie Dornan, who plays a serial rapist and killer (and has the lead in the film version of “50 Shades of Grey”).
“He is the sweetest guy,” she says, “But I never read ‘50 Shades,’ so I don’t understand the hype.”
Stella, like Meg, is a cool customers “People hire me to play those roles because they think I am cool — like cool temperature, not like a cool dude,” she says, with a laugh.
“But I like to sit on the floor with my kids and play with Legos,” she says. “I am goofy and silly and warm. I am not someone conscious about my looks, which is probably why I live in London. I haven’t started putting needles in my face. And if I have a period of time I do yoga and meditate. When I’m home I do nothing.”
And who can blame her?
“My life works great right now,” she says as she hangs up. “And there doesn’t seem to be any area that is in crisis.”