Gillian Anderson on ‘Hannibal,’ Clarice Starling and ‘The X-Files’
If you’re casting a dark, troubling television crime drama, you can’t do much better than signing Gillian Anderson.
Between BBC’s “The Fall,” in which she plays a detective investigating serial murders in Northern Ireland, and NBC’s “Hannibal,” where she portrays Hannibal Lecter’s psychiatrist and accomplice, the “X-Files” veteran brings more than a touch of class to the grim and gory.
She also happens to be returning to her signature role of FBI agent Dana Scully on Fox’s revival of “The X-Files,” which will hit TV screens in January. Since Anderson is so busy with several other projects, it took her a while to get excited about the new episodes, she told Speakeasy in an interview. But now that she and co-star David Duchovny, series creator Chris Carter and the rest of the crew are at work in Vancouver, she added, “I’m actually really excited.”
Anderson also talked about how she and “Hannibal” co-star Mads Mikkelsen have forged their unique brand of onscreen chemistry and whether she identifies with “The Silence of the Lambs” character Clarice Starling. An edited transcript follows.
It’s hard to tell whether Bedelia is Hannibal’s prisoner or if she’s actually playing him in a way. Where do you think his head is at once they settle into Florence and Hannibal has begun to kill again?
The trouble that I have in doing interviews about Bedelia is that part of what is interesting about her is what we don’t know and is about the lingering question marks. If I were to answer [about] my thought my process in it or what I feel is motivating her, where I think she’s standing or what Bryan has told me, it completely takes the joy out of it for the viewers. So, I often struggle in interviews to have anything of value to say … because I’m trying to protect the viewer in having a real-time and organic experience rather than being told what’s going on.
Everybody wants to know, but it’s almost better in not knowing, I think. I’ll say that she’s intrigued and she’s scared and she’s in way over her head. But I think where the question mark lies is still within that. Where lies her complicity? Where lies her power? Does she actually have the upper hand without him realizing it? Those are the multi-leveled question marks.
At the end of episode one, which everyone has seen already, Hannibal tells Bedelia she isn’t just observing, she’s participating. Do you think that’s true? How culpable is she especially in that instance?
I think it changes halfway through. Not that she would be able to do anything about the current moment and what is transpiring in front of her, but she recognizes, legally, in that moment, if she continues to live there that the longer she stays, the more she will seem to be complicit in what’s going on. I think that is partly why she then starts to do what she starts to do, which I can’t talk about. The question that he poses in that moment is a question she works out for herself in that moment. Her reaction to it is what then moves her storyline through the rest of the episodes. That’s potentially quite a big turning point.
The way you and Mads Mikkelsen play these characters, it’s almost like you’re playing a chess match. How do you two, as actors, get into that rhythm? It’s a very specific, fine-tuned rhythm.
It is, and I don’t know where it began. I don’t know how that initially manifested. It kind of began at the beginning of our first scene together, sitting across from each other, and we carried that with us. It’s possible that I set that up, not necessarily intentionally, but just coming into a new show and trying to figure out who would be this person that might sit across and deign to be a psychiatrist to Hannibal Lecter. It’s certainly progressed from there.
It feels like everything that’s on the page and the environment that we are standing in when we are doing these scenes — the interior of the Florence apartment that they created in Toronto — it feels like it can carry that chess match. It feels like we’ve immersed ourselves in this very unique and bizarre world. It almost feels like we’re talking a different language, like we have our own kind of cryptic dialogue. … I think it’s just a mixture of the two of us and the particular kind of actors that we are and the environment and the clothes and the words we say. They all lead toward this kind of rarified relationship.
You’ve always been, fairly or not, associated with the Clarice Starling character. There was talk that they maybe wanted you for the role in “Hannibal,” and then of course “The X-Files,” when it came on, Scully reminded a lot of people of Clarice from the movie. Have you read the book “Hannibal,” by any chance?
In that, she goes off with Hannibal Lecter and he kind of influences her, and she kind of becomes like him, in a way. Do you ever feel that with Bedelia, you’re kind of bringing it full circle?
I haven’t had that thought, no. I think that certainly the trajectory that Bryan is writing in there, one can see the potential for Hannibal to be doing that, whether he’s doing that intentionally, creating a protege or whether that she is adopting herself, I think we’ll always, in every episode, question whether that is transpiring or not. But I think it lingers. I haven’t really related her in any way to Clarice, but I definitely can see what you mean and I will give that some thought. It hasn’t crossed my mind.
Duchovny recently said the script for the new “X-Files” made him cry. How did it make you feel?
I think since I’ve come up to Vancouver [to shoot “The X-Files”], I’ve become more excited, emotional and embraced the journey we’re about to go on. I’m actually really excited. I don’t think it initially hit me in the first read, but it was more to do with my needing to compartmentalize and not really address the fact that it was all about to happen until I actually got up here because there were too many other things I have to think about.