Gillian Anderson: It’s time somebody was brave enough to ask me out
After two marriages and three children, the star of The Fall and The X Files says she would not rule out another same sex romance – as long as her next relationship is The One
Enigmatic. Complex. Intense. Controlling. Serious. Just a handful of the epithets used to describe Gillian Anderson on screen, and indeed the 46-year-old actress herself.
Her difficult characters are never easy to read or play: take the sceptical Scully in The X-Files, steely yet sexually assertive Stella in The Fall. Anderson was a neurotic, reclusive Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, while her heartbreaking, ravishing turn as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic sees her nominated as Best Actress in the Olivier Awards next month.
We meet in an ultra-hip glass and chrome North London eaterie where she has a favourite table. The moment she enters the building I can detect an invisible forcefield of self-containment around her. Petite and porcelain-pretty, her tawny hair is blonder than in recent years, her blue gaze narrow and fight-or-flight watchful. She seems at once strong and fragile, which maybe explains why she is usually handled like a piece of (terribly serious) bone china.
And so I take a possibly brave, possibly foolhardy decision to ignore the forcefield. We haven’t been given her favourite table. She is politely perplexed and purses her lip, but no more than that. I offer to make an actressy fuss.
“Gillian’s Not Happy!” I cry to nobody in particular. “A blood sacrifice for Gillian!” She giggles and shushes me, then picks up the teapot and cups (it’s wine o’clock but she’s not a drinker) and matter-of-factly whisks us off to a more discreet corner banquette. And as she does, it starts to emerge that she has dropped something. Her guard. I’m not quite sure where, exactly, it’s gone, but I’m not complaining.
“So, Gillian,” I say. “Have you seen Jamie Dornan, your serial killer co-star in The Fall getting his Christian Gray kit off in Fifty Shades?”
“No,” she demurs, copping out of the question with non-committal diplomacy. “I’ve been too busy. I’m either filming or on planes or putting my sons to bed.”
Too busy to make time for young Jamie whipping and chaining and rumpy-pumpying? Come on, woman, haven’t you got a pulse? Aren’t you even a little bit curious?
“I will see it,” she insists. “I am very interested to see his – range.” The imperceptible pause is too perfect an opportunity to ignore.
“Oh-ho, Gillian is that what we’re calling it these days?” And with that she dissolves into shrieks of laughter. Yes, Gillian Anderson isn’t just laughing, she is dabbing her eyes and laughing.
“That’s terrible! I mean, I like a good double entendre as much as the next person…but I really did mean his range.” She trails off and throughout the subsequent pot of tea there’s more laughter, a bit of relaxed swearing and an unflinching honesty that is, in its way, almost as discombobulating as her unflinching gravitas.
First comes the denial of the tabloid reports that she had given broadcasting black sheep Jeremy Clarkson her unalloyed support. “All I said was that he had been very nice to me when I went on Top Gear [As the ‘Star in a Reasonably Priced Car’ she holds the record for fastest ever lap in wet conditions] and that he obviously fulfilled a demand for what he does because he’s so popular,” she says, with a sigh. “I can’t comment any more because I don’t know any more. I’ve got – and I don’t mean to insult my entire profession – an actress’s brain. I’m not a politician or much of an activist because I won’t speak out until I’m absolutely sure of the facts. Every fact. Every. Last. One.”
This is classic Anderson; scrupulously attentive to detail, precise in both preparation and execution. But then she unbends a little. “Also, I never know from one day to the next whether I’m feeling outspoken or not, which wouldn’t make me the most reliable spokeswoman for anything,” she laughs.
Anderson is that rarity among actresses; one whose career has gained traction after she turned 40. Her star is in the ascendancy with the dark and gripping gripping thriller The Fall, now commissioned for a third series and surely a contender in the forthcoming TV Baftas; a new BBC mini series of War and Peace in which she plays socialite Anna Pavlovna; her continuing role as Hannibal Lecter’s psychotherapist in the US TV series Hannibal; and now talk of a reprise of The X-Files with David Duchovny.
By way of a left field departure, she’s playing the mother, Kate, in a new British family sci-fi film, Robot Overlords.
“It’s a lovely family movie; compared to my usual roles I’m frumped down and softer and quirkier,” she says. “I feel like she’s closer to who I am, how I am. I have a tendency to be sillier and more frivolous than I generally get to play.”
But that’s probably because she does repression and angst and complicated so very well. To wit, her critically acclaimed, emotionally raw portrayal of Blanche, which has her to thank for the fastest ever sellout in the Young Vic’s history.
The other Best Actress nominees are Imelda Staunton, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Penelope Wilton. “For most of my life I’ve wanted to win an Olivier,” says Anderson. “It’s every young actress’s dream; these are the stage Oscars and to be considered one of four contenders is such an honour and I’m really chuffed about it.”
A word like “chuffed” sits oddly on her lips. Most people who grew up watching The X-Files assume Anderson is American. Strictly speaking she is, because she was born in the US, but she moved with her parents to London as a toddler, attended primary school here and has a cast-iron English accent. The family returned to America when she was 11 and she began her career in the US, taking on the role of Dana Scully at the age of 24. The series, which earned her an Emmy and a Golden Globe, ran for 202 episodes.
She married and had a daughter, Piper, now aged 20, but went on to get divorced, then remarry. That marriage also failed and Anderson, who by then had moved to the UK, subsequently had two sons, Oscar aged eight and six-year-old Felix, with a long term partner Mark Griffiths. That relationship has now ended, but they are amicable – and successful – co-parents.
“Mark and the boys bond over computer programming and gadgets, which is great because it lets me off the hook,” she says. “I don’t understand technology. I don’t even Tweet. I have someone in the US who does that for me; nothing personal, just work stuff.”
The one time Anderson was tempted to Tweet herself was when she mentioned to a US magazine that in her youth she had several relationships with women. This caused social media outrage among die-hard conservatives in the Bible Belt. “I was so close – and I mean minutes away – from Tweeting back, but somebody had the presence of mind stopped me,” says Anderson, ruefully
When she tells me what she was going to Tweet, it is so appallingly rude and inflammatory that it’s my turn to get a fit of the nervous giggles, but Anderson – who clearly feels very strongly – will only allow herself the hint of a smile that could well be a self-righteous smirk. Would she ever consider another same-sex relationship?
“I wouldn’t discount it,” she says. “I did it before and I’m not closed to that idea. To me a relationship is about loving another human being; their gender is irrevelant.”
A relationship is something Anderson has given some thought to recently, despite the fact her diary has never been busier.
“I’m so lucky to have such great work. I’ve got a fantastic life, I have a wonderful relationship with my kids, and there’s nothing lacking, but I’m leaning towards the idea that it’s time for somebody to be brave enough to ask me out,” she chuckles.
She’s not entirely joking. If at all. “I’ve asked out guys in the past. I remember being in the cinema in the States and I made eye contact with a man going in,” she says. “I noticed we laughed at same points and seemed to respond in the same way to the same moments. We were both with friends, but he caught up with me as we were filing out.”
The pair chatted briefly about the movie and then headed in opposite directions to their own cars. “Halfway, I stopped and thought ‘*** this! What am I doing?’ So a rushed back down the street, went up to him and said ‘Would you like a coffee sometime?’ We dated for six months.”
Anderson tells this with insouciance; she’s a woman who knows what she wants, and up to now has seen little point in waiting for it to fall into her proverbial lap. Passivity does not suit her.
“I’ve looked at a lot of the areas that might be a challenge for people living with me,” she says, reflectively. “I’m very headstrong in terms of how I want things to go, so I’ve made an effort to become more patient and compassionate.”
“I don’t have a tendency to share. Even my own assistant doesn’t know what is scheduled for my week or my day. That’s obviously a control thing because I can tell you what day of the month February 20th is next year. Opening up all that to somebody is a challenge, but one I’m definitely up for.”
All the same, not being a wallflower, when she recently met someone in London, she was considering asking him out. But her research threw up the fact the potential object of her affections was married.
“To me, a married man is simply a No Go,” she says. “I’m not interested in younger men either. I suppose I might ask a man out, but I believe at this stage of my life, it’s better not to manipulate the situation. If it happens, it happens. What I am sure about is that I want my next relationship to be The One.”
It’s a big admission for a woman whose idea of me-time is forcing herself to take a leisurely bath instead of a shower, yet she’s incontrovertibly putting the thought of romance out into the ether.
But Gillian, will any suitor be brave enough?
The Olivier Awards 2015 will be held on April 12 at the Royal Opera House.
Robot Overlords is at cinemas from Friday March 27