BLACK + WHITE, # 51 April 2001
Gillian Anderson trades the paranormal for parasols with her acclaimed portrayal of a socialite on the way down in The House of Mirth.
Transcribed by Lucy.
When Gillian Anderson first started work as FBI agent Dana Scully on The X-Files, she was walking two steps behind the "star" of the show, David Duchovny. Originally hired against the objections of studio execs who felt she wasn't conventionally attractive enough for TV, Anderson was paid a pittance in comparison to her co-star. But a lot can change in eight years, and Anderson's Girl Friday days are well and truly over.
With Duchovny making only occasional appearances in the latest series, Anderson has come to the fore as the show's driving force. Duchovny stepped back to concentrate on his movie career, but ironically it's Anderson who is attracting attention and acclaim on the big screen, with her starring role as Lily Bart in The House Of Mirth.
Based on the 1905 Edith Wharton novel, the film deliciously satirises New York's amoral, money-fixated society at the turn of the century. Bart is a beautiful but impoverished socialite on the hunt for a wealthy husband. Replacing Scully's professionalism and cold logic with Lily's flirtatiousness and drawing-room repartee, Anderson's performance has been described as extraordinary.
Anderson has described Bart as " an emotional brat". Wharton was slightly kinder. Presenting her through the eyes of her admirer, Laurence Selden, she wrote" He had a confused sense that she must have cost a great deal to make, that a great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious way, have been sacrificed to produce her."
Indeed, it's Anderson's porcelain beauty that enticed cult British director Terence Davies (The Neon Bible, The Long Day Closes) to offer her the role during a meeting at London's Covent Garden Hotel in the summer of 1998. " She has this luminosity I associate with the great stars of the 1940's." Davies told US Weekly." She's like a Greer Garson. Hers is a beauty out of its time."
Clearly, Scully's pants-suits just don't do Anderson justice. But then transformation is something Anderson knows a lot about. Born in Chicago in 1968, she lived in Puerto Rico and England before spending her teen years in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There she fell into the local punk scene and stole op-shop dresses to pair with her Doc Martens. At 17 she left home to study drama, first at Cornell University, and later at Chicago's DePaul University. She has since won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her role as Scully, divorced Clyde Klotz, the X-Files set designer she met during the show's first season, and had a daughter, Piper, now six.
Black+ White: What was it like wearing all those corsets?
Gillian Anderson: Corsets are a pain in the butt. There was one corset that I wore at the beginning, before I got it right, where I thought that my kidneys were going to explode. But the wonderful thing about corsets is you're forced to do certain things as they did back then. The minute you dress yourself in that way, it just delivers you into another place.
By contrast, we hear you sported a purple mohawk as a teen.
Well, Grand Rapids is a very small town, and I felt completely out of place. I was angry, and I didn't feel I had any way to express that anger. Looking different was my defence. In thrift-store clothes I was able to amass an identity and I felt it made me powerful, in a strange sense.
Do you think you could have handled living in the early 1900's?
I think that I probably did. I think that we all did. But that's another subject.
Did you feel a personal parallel between yourself and Lily?
The most easy parallel would be for me as an actor choosing to do films that move me and are socially conscious, as opposed to those that could make more money. Not only do we see Lily struggling between marrying for love as opposed to marrying for money, but she's not choosing either. I think that a lot of us are in the same dilemma on a daily basis, where our egos still get in the way.
Lily makes bad choices when it comes to men. Can you relate?
I think I have always, in the past, gone towards dangerous men. By dangerous, I mean someone who doesn't quite give you enough love. You're never quite good enough. And if that's how you're used to feeling as a child, then that kind of relationship feels very comfortable for you. But I have to honestly say that I am over that. I am definitely, definitely over that.
Dan Aykroyd (who plays Gus Trenor, one of Lily's financial associates in the film) is a science fiction buff. Did you discuss your mutual interests on set?
Oh, we had many conversations about that stuff, crop circles specifically, because while we were filming he was going and visiting crop circles throughout Scotland.
Did you learn anything?
Actually, yes. The statistics that he can come up with, one is hard pressed standing in front of him to even consider that it is not plausible.
What are your memories of early days of The X-Files?
I was thrilled when they cast me because I was convinced they were looking for someone leggier and with a bigger chest. I remember I was totally clueless. I had no idea what I was doing or what I was getting myself into- I was terrified. But then I knew there was one thing I could rely on, and that was I knew how to act, and that I would be robbing myself of an incredible experience if I didn't jump in, head first. So I did. I learned to trust my instincts and commit fully to my choices.
What are your feelings now? I know David Duchovny would say he's very tired.
I was always the first one to say that I was tired, but the good thing is that we all seem to get what we want right now, which is that David gets to be in the show for a few episodes and then he gets to go off and do films, and the miracle is we have a man stepping in (Terminator 2 star Robert Patrick) who has 54 films under his belt. He's a damn good actor and has literally shaken us all up, and thank god. The truth is I've had people tell me "I haven't watched the show for a year and a half" and right now, with the writers being as excited as they are writing this new character and all the different dynamics, we're having a heyday.
How are you and David these days?
We're not close. Once in a while, we find ourselves in intimate conversation, but we don't visit each other on weekends.
Did this have to do with the salary discrepancies?
Well, originally, I got even less than half of David's salary. At the time, it was okay. He was coming off 10 features and I was coming off nothing. But things gradually shifted. It became a two-person show and we both did the same amount of work. After a while, it sucked. It gave a bad image in society in terms of what a woman is worth in this world. It was insulting.
There seems to be a new genre of films featuring ass-kicking women. Do you think Scully had anything to do with it?
The irony of it all is that Fox Studio was like" No way, not her, this ain't going to work" and then a couple of years later, it was like "Fine, this is Scully", and then all these other TV shows mirrored not only that kind of show, but that kind of partnership- a strong woman with a strong man- and you know it's fantastic. It's a completely different TV world than we lived in 10 years ago. The truth is that it's better that it ever has been in terms of women in this business, but the irony is that no one wants to see a chick flick. Unless you have Julia Roberts up there. The only way that they want to see a chick flick is if it's Charlie's Angels.
What do you think of your huge lesbian following?
It's fantastic. You know, I think that as many people that can support a strong, independent woman who can kick some ass on the side, the better.
So what's next?
I'd love to be part of a movement that gets actors and models together, strips them down, and takes photos of their bodies- no computer enhancements, no makeup, no lighting- and lets you see that these are the real bodies. Part of me wants to do a naked scene, cellulite and all.
TEXT BY HONIE STEVEN AND ROBIN LYNCH
The X-Files is © 20th Century Fox
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