X Files star Gillian Anderson reflects on her incredible career
Star: Gillian Anderson started her career over 20 years ago
The actress, who got her big break in The X-Files was born in Chicago, moved to Puerto Rico when she was still a baby and spent her primary school years in North London. Before she had celebrated her 12th birthday Gillian was uprooted again ending up back in the US living in a small mid-west town where she was bullied because of her English background.
It was a deeply unsettling time and it’s no surprise to learn that she was a rebellious teenager who once sported a blue Mohican haircut and was frequently in trouble. On her high-school graduation night she was arrested for breaking into a building.
Though she may not have appreciated all the upheaval it proved to be a blessing. Gillian, who is on our screens in BBC Two detective thriller The Fall and has just won a theatre award, learned at an early age how to change accents seamlessly. Initially it was an attempt to blend in but it’s said that when the 46-year-old appears on chat shows she now adopts an accent to suit the country she is visiting.
For the first time in a long time it involved a strong, independent, intelligent woman as a lead character
It was a skill that helped when she decided to make acting her career. Her father Edward was a producer who brought the family to Britain while he studied at the London School of Film Technique. They lived in Crouch End and then Stamford Hill, shaping Gillian’s character and providing a degree of Britishness that she has always retained. It wasn’t until she was back in the US living in Michigan that Gillian showed any interest in acting.
She became hooked when she appeared in a school play and her new-found desire to become an actress coincided with an upturn in her grades as she found a purpose. After graduating in 1986 she studied acting, eventually heading to New York. As she won a series of parts and began attracting critical acclaim it seemed she was destined for a successful stage career but instead she followed a boyfriend to Hollywood.
She says of the move in 1991: “First of all I swore I’d never move to Los Angeles and once I did I swore I’d never do television. It was only after being out of work for almost a year that I began going to TV auditions.”
TWO years after heading west she auditioned for a lead part in a pilot for a new sci-fi series called The X-Files. Unlike some of the other jobs this time she was keen. She recalls: “For the first time in a long time it involved a strong, independent, intelligent woman as a lead character.”
Executives wanted someone with more obvious sex appeal but producer Chris Carter was adamant that she was perfect for the role of the no- nonsense FBI agent Dana Scully. He got his way casting her opposite David Duchovny, playing FBI agent Fox Mulder who believes in aliens.
The show was a phenomenon and would run for nine series, changing Gillian’s life. She relocated to Vancouver, Canada, where The X-Files was filmed and fell in love with one of the show’s art directors Clyde Klotz. They were married a year into the run.
Her absence while she gave birth to their daughter Piper was explained by Scully being kidnapped by aliens. But Gillian suffered from post-natal depression, not helped by the punishing filming schedule and her first marriage was over after three years. There were also mixed feelings about The X-Files for which she earned Emmy and Golden Globe awards. Although the hit show and spin-off movies made her financially secure she started craving new challenges.
“I’m exhausted by the series,” she said in the late 1990s. “I would like to do different characters.” At the same time she found herself in demand for shoots for glossy magazines and frequently topped “sexiest actress” polls. Gillian was once asked how she felt about being described as “a thinking man’s crumpet” replying: “Well, it’s better than being ‘a lobotomised man’s crumpet’, I suppose.”
Finally she made the break from The X-Files safe in the knowledge that she could afford the luxury of being choosy about the roles she accepted. The show, which ended in 2002, had accounted for a decade of her career. Knowing the end was in sight Gillian had already begun to cast her net wider by appearing in The House Of Mirth, a tragic love story based on an Edith Wharton novel. She proved herself to be a versatile performer and won a British Independent Film Award for best actress.
She was also on the move again switching to live in London so she could seek demanding stage roles while also keeping her fi lm and TV options open. There were frequent theatre appearances and she starred in a BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House for which she was nominated for a Bafta. In 2004 she married documentary maker Julian Ozanne but it lasted less than two years.
Rare talent: Anderson alongside David Duchovny in the X-Files
There were also appearances in two British films The Last King Of Scotland and Straightheads in 2006 and 2007 at about the time she began a relationship with businessman Mark Griffiths. It resulted in sons Oscar and Felix but they split in 2012.
Last year she expressed regret that she has been ruled by her heart too often. Speaking about the choices available to her daughter, who had just turned 18, Gillian said: “I’m encouraging her to follow her heart in big things rather than following men. The amount of time I wasted on that… ridiculous.” She also caused a furore last year when she admitted to having had a fl ing with a woman when she was much younger.
In the past few years Gillian has focused on being a mum and stage and TV acting, rather than chasing big-screen roles. After a string of nominations she landed a major stage gong this week when she was named Best Actress in the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.
A wider audience is enjoying her performance in the second series of The Fall as DSI Stella Gibson, an icy but vulnerable Metropolitan Police officer who is sent to Belfast to trap a killer. It’s another complex role but on a lighter note her wardrobe of silk blouses has also attracted attention. She has not turned her back on the land of her birth, recently joining the cast of US TV series Hannibal. It’s her first small-screen role there since Dana Scully and she has hinted that she might like to try her hand at directing.
However Gillian has spoken about how much she loves London. With her history of wanderlust don’t bank on her being around permanently but for now Britain is more than happy to claim the very talented Gillian Anderson as one of our own.