Gillian Anderson: The Malibu File
At its peak, it seemed like The X-Files would go on forever. The show has certainly endured. Stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have reunited more than once with an eleventh season starting in a few weeks. In the intervening years, the show’s popularity has waxed and waned. The downturns have been more steep than anyone would have imagined when the TV show was still a pop culture phenomenon. When Anderson graced the cover of the December 1997 issue of Movieline magazine, she had just won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of FBI agent Dana Scully. She was also filming the first X-Files movie and was looking forward to life after the show.
Gillian Anderson is having a bizarre life. Six years ago at the age of 23, she came to Hollywood with negligible acting experience and got cast in a smart but iffy TV pilot as an impeccably groomed, unsmiling FBI extraterrestrial-buster endowed with prodigious gray matter. That show, The X-Files, took off like a shot to become a full-on small-screen phenomenon, and, though she remained for a while so unknown she was introduced at a gala party for Fox TV affiliates as “Gillian Armstrong,” Anderson, aka Dana Scully, soon came into her own as “the thinking man’s sex symbol,” a Clarice Starling for stay-at-homes.
Before long, the young actress who’d probably figured her best hope was to do theater and land the occasional role in an off-Hollywood independent flick, had become a Golden Globe-winning icon, riding higher and faster than she or anyone could reasonably have predicted.
The weirdness of Anderson’s professional life found a mirror on the personal front. During the first year of the series, she met and married assistant art director Clyde Klotz after a nanosecond’s courtship, had an unplanned pregnancy that nearly got her canned for imposing such inconvenience on the fledgling series, and gave birth to a daughter, Piper Maru. While motherhood took, the marriage didn’t, and she and Klotz separated. More weirdness kicked in. The once relatively low-profile, circumspect, and, one senses, insecure Anderson–now the wet dream of the pocket-protector set–abruptly emerged, as if from a chrysalis, a chic beauty ready for her close-up. A Leger-sheathed vamp one night, an Armani-clad knockout on another, Anderson suddenly reeked of self-confidence. She stared down cameramen with the ferocity of a seasoned diva.
Anderson’s fashion transformation was not the sum total of her Cinderella act. After separation from her husband, a British tabloid reported that she jetted to London to spend New Year’s weekend with actor Adrian Hughes, whom she met when he did a bit part on the series. Shortly thereafter she reportedly dumped Hughes upon learning of charges pending against him on grounds of sexual assault. Several months later, she appeared at a Gucci-sponsored AIDS Project Los Angeles benefit squired by Rodney Rowland, another X-Files guest acting vet, with whom, magazines reported, she was seen “passionately kissing.” Then at the MTV Awards, she and Rowland were all over each other like the high school swim-team captain and the head cheerleader. (Rowland was once again at Anderson’s side as she won her Emmy, but on this occasion decorum reigned.)
All in all, Gillian Anderson today is so far from Gillian Anderson of five years ago that she might just as well have been abducted by aliens.
More strangeness probably looms ahead if Anderson finds in films a fraction of the success she’s had on TV. Until recently, her only celluloid exposure was a tiny role in a way off-Hollywood indie now advertised in video stores with a photo of her unbuttoning her blouse. But this season, Anderson hits the big screen in The Mighty, an offbeat tale of a special kid who stops growing at age six, which costars Sharon Stone and Gena Rowlands, and the darkly funny Hellcab, in which she’s along for the ride with John Cusack and Julianne Moore. The big news, of course, the projed that has fans salivating, is the film she’s been shooting with David Duchovny, the big-budget, big-screen, big special effects X-Files epic, unofficially known as Blackwood.
I’ve been curious about Anderson since I first caught her on the show years ago. What fires are banked under that coolly impassive, I-dare-you-to-make-me-smile surface? Is she smart for real or just really good at acting that way? And how many of the great-looking guys she’s been photographed with are even semi-significant?
The truth is out there, all right. At the moment, it’s to be found in the Malibu Colony, the 24-hour-security guarded beachfront enclave where Anderson is residing under an alias while she does her big-screen Agent Scully. She’s set up in a spectacularly capacious, open oceanfront spread, a place of unearthly, preternatural quiet but for the roar of surf pummeling the shoreline. Barefoot and grave, Anderson greets me at the door, a fragile-looking, tiny, freckled, ivory-skinned 29-year-old. “It’s a rental,” she says wryly out of the comer of her mouth as she sees me gazing at an interior that looks like the kind of a place where a Joan Didion heroine would be found going over the edge. As she wafts me through the shimmering place, Anderson barely touches anything, skimming past surfaces and objets d’art the way one might do in a very good hotel suite someone else is paying for. She seems, with her erect posture and impassive expression, to be disconnected in the manner of someone who isn’t quite sure how or why she got here.
Out on a sun-dappled rear deck that faces the Pacific and is littered with playthings, Anderson sits us at a long table where cool tumblers and an icy pitcher await, and she momentarily eyes a pack of designer cigarettes and a lighter so accusatorily she seems to be wondering whose they could possibly be. “It’s been very momentous for me to be by the water and in the sun,” she declares, wrapping herself, Marilynesque, in a thick cotton robe and tucking her legs in a semi-lotus position while staring off at the whitecaps. “It’s opened up huge areas for me. I’ve realized for the first time how much I like to feel the sun on my skin. I’ve always been living in dark places. I’ve always been forcing myself into dark places. This, being here, has been very cathartic for me.”
And, no doubt, an antidote to the mold and mildew of Vancouver, where The X-Files has been shot for nine months of each of the last four years. Then again, perhaps her newfound love of sand and sea has something to do with the aforementioned Rodney Rowland, who’s a surfer as well as an actor. But more later about such things.
“You’ve become an icon in a genre that inspires rabid devotees,” I observe to Anderson, noting that on the Internet there’s the Genuine Admirers of Gillian Anderson page, from which one can download bytes of dialogue from various interviews, as well as the horny-guy-oriented Web site known as the Gillian Anderson Testosterone Brigade, not to mention the Gillian Anderson Estrogen Brigade for gals who find her “attractive, talented, witty, and altogether wonderful.” What’s her take on the massive public response she creates?
“I have an odd perspective about it all,” she observes, managing to sound quite formal and quite young. “I think it’s some type of survival mechanism for me, but my honest response is, ‘Wow, isn’t that weird?’ And that’s the end of it. There is only so much my brain can comprehend of that stuff before it shuts down. So what if people are fanatical? The only way it can get to be an obstacle is if I base my actions on their opinions. If that’s the way these people want to spend their time, it’s none of my business. Hey, if it keeps kids off the streets, you know?”
Speaking of kids, did Anderson happen to read her costar David Duchovny’s crack in Movieline about how glad he was he wouldn’t have to pay the psychotherapy bills for Anderson’s three-year-old daughter? Duchovny was, of course, joking–in response to the way Piper Maru, a constant fixture on The X-Files set, was fearlessly inspecting an oozing, bloody goat’s head that was serving as a prop. “I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate for him to originate that statement,” Anderson asserts evenly in the measured tone and mildly arch diction she employs when venturing into touchy territory. “But I didn’t have a strong reaction to it, because I recall having made a comment similar to that in jest at one point myself. I feel that right now in her life, [Piper] has a healthy sense of fear that is no more or less natural for a child her age. What’s fascinating is that she can play with a doll for five minutes, then carry around a rubber version of an emaciated sheep’s head as if it were a baby. She can look at someone with physical challenges, and, in her curiosity, still feel love for another human being. I think it’s good that my daughter can look at a man who’s got blood running out of his eyeballs and be compassionate, not terrified.”
Resolving to veer away from the subject of Anderson’s daughter, about whom I’m certain she could talk passionately and endlessly, I ask, “How satisfied are you with the way your career’s going?”
Anderson smiles and lolls back her head to soak up the waning sunlight. “It’s interesting how, after I did a cover story for a magazine last year, my manager [Connie Freiberg] got a phone call from someone saying things like, ‘What an amazing job you’ve done with Gillian’s career!’ and ‘What an amazing career this girl’s had!’ Connie laughed hysterically and said, ‘What career are you talking about? She hasn’t done anything but The X-Files‘ ” Here, for the first time, Anderson laughs airily and not a bit defensively. She knows how far she’s gone on precious little previous experience.
Yet, such is the breakneck nature of Hollywood on-the-job-training and freakish fame that Anderson, who many in town predict will become a movie star, now wields the clout and the self-possession to utter such pronouncements as: “I want to work with Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Meryl Streep, Patricia Arquette, Isabelle Adjani–people whom I respect, obviously, but also with whom I want to share an energy. I won’t necessarily be in these movies I develop. But if I feel a project is something that needs to be made, a story that needs to be told, then, that’s where I want to be at.”