Gillian Anderson’s about to reopen ‘The X-Files,’ and she knows it won’t be easy
Gillian Anderson says that until this interview (which began precisely at 9:42 p.m. May 19) she hadn’t really thought about what it will mean to play Dana Scully again — what it will feel like, how difficult it could be. But it’s time. She can’t avoid it any longer. No more time for “denial,” as she calls it. No more ignoring the inevitable: Just days after her weekend trip to Dallas for Fan Expo Comic Con at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, she and David Duchovny will return to Vancouver yet again in search of the truth …. and a proper farewell.
“At the end of the day I thought it might be fun for David and I to work together for a few months,” she says. “And if no one was going to put up the cash for a feature and it fit into my schedule … . ” She says it just made sense to her to shoot six episodes for FOX, scheduled to air in January.
Duchovny has said he’d like to see it continue, if Anderson has the time. That’s iffy. It’s not exactly like she’s been bored during the seven years since the second and final X-Files movie. Quite the opposite. She’s as ubiquitous as a raindrop in Texas.
At this moment, in fact, she’s starring in two television series: the BBC’s streaming-on-Netflix The Fall (in which she’s a cop chasing Jamie Dornan’s serial killer) and NBC’s Hannibal, in which she plays the iconic serial killer’s wife (or hostage … or something?). To that estimable — and creepy — pile add a mini-series (War and Peace, nothing mini about that) and a novel (A Vision of Fire) with a second on the way. She knows what she’s doing on any given day based on the wig she’s wearing; acting, she offers as a half-joking but entirely brilliant summation of her craft, is all in the hair.
“I didn’t realize how important it was to me until I was in the middle of doing — literally in the same week — The Fall, [the now-canceled NBC series] Crisis and Hannibal,” she says. “All three are blondes, and it mattered. The hairstyle mattered in terms of how it felt on my head, knowing in an intrinsic level I was in that character. ” A pause and a small laugh.
“Even if I make that s— up, and it’s what I need, then that’s what I need.”
But Scully’s a whole different ball of hair. Anderson played the skeptical Scully to David Duchovny’s true-believing Fox Mulder for nine seasons (1993-2002) and two movies. And when she set aside The X-Files after the second movie, 2008’s The X-Files: I Want to Believe, she wasn’t done with the character; she and Duchovny thought for sure there would be one last conspiracy to chase. But there wasn’t. No fade to black, just a fade-away. No last hurrah. Not even a last gasp. Even the casual fan found it all so disappointing. A shrug is no way to part company, even with an acquaintance.
“You just saying that made me think for the very first time that … we didn’t really say goodbye last time, because we didn’t think it was goodbye,” she says. “We thought there’d be a third film. Knowing this is the end, that the six [episodes] is a goodbye, yeah …”
Anderson even wrote an episode detailing her character’s backstory — Season Seven’s “all things,” which also marked her debut as a director. Actors on long-running television series often take ownership of their characters; there’s but one Captain Kirk, and he’ll always be William Shatner. But seldom as literally as Anderson. It’s only now, though, as she returns to the character — her mannerisms, her beliefs, her hair — does her deep connection with Scully begin to sink in.
“I think maybe I’ve minimized the import of her in my life as a living, breathing character separate from the series, so to speak, separate from the scripts and the commitments and the fandom but just as an entity in and of herself who lives and breathes inside me,” she says. “There were various times I was in the midst of shooting I felt her ongoing presence, and when the series ended I needed to literally close the door and put a lock on it. And I don’t think I’ve given enough credence to the idea that in stepping back into her, it’s almost a ritual that needs to take place whereby I take the lock off and open it back up, and there’s somebody I know like family member.
“I usually take a lot time to work on stuff. I literally am asked to do something, and this plane ride on that day is when I work on that. I think I’ve been postponing the unlocking of that door till a few things conclude. I’ve got a deadline on the second novel. But the time is creeping up when I need to get that key out, and I am in denial about that. But I will embrace the enjoyment of the process, of opening that up and breathing it in again. That can be enjoyable. I do compartmentalize things, maybe as a survival mechanism. You’re reminding me that it’s time.”
On juggling so many different jobs:
“I guess the ones I care about the most are the ones I am more concerned about and spend more time working on. I often rely on airplanes to work. I like to be more prepared than just memorizing lines on an airplane on a way to a job. So I will start to work on it beforehand, but it also depends on kids’ schedules and homework. It’s a constant negotiation with myself about what I am willing to give up.”
On how she chooses a role: “I try and find things I feel like I haven’t done before or that are entertaining and interesting to me. It’s not wanting to replicate things. If a role is too close, or it’s too tedious to figure out how to make it the same but different, I won’t do it. But sometimes — and it’s usually on a first read — a character will jump out, and I will know on a chemical level if I’ve done it before or whether there’s something new and different. If I can’t figure out my way into it, it doesn’t interest me.
“I’ve done jobs before where I’ve thought, ‘It’s not fun anymore.’ And I’ve questioned why am I doing it rather than Legos on the floor with the kids. Sometimes it’s a financial decision, and sometime’s it’s a creative decision, and I’d say sometimes there are gifts of pure pleasure no matter how challenging they are.”
On attending comic cons:
“I am not really a big people person. I am a bit of a hermit. But somewhere in there I had done one of them — I don’t remember where, but it was before [The X-Files’] 20th anniversary, I realized what a gift that interaction can be. It’s not just about hearing the love or hearing the impact I’ve had on people’s lives. It’s … it’s … It gets me out of myself in a way I don’t usually give myself unless I am with my kids. And I do my best to be a good person in the midst of those things and truly be present to each person and give back. The interaction of that energy I think is very powerful. It’s powerful for me and for other people.”