“Thinking man’s crumpet? Well, it’s more flattering than being a lobotomised man’s crumpet, I suppose…” Amazingly, Gillian Anderson doesn’t understand what people are going on about. A sex symbol? Her? She can’t see it herself.
“I don’t particularly feel like a sex symbol,” she laughs. “But then somebody asked me the other day what it was like to work with a sex god like David Duchovny, and I can’t get that out of my head. Sex god?”
The woman known throughout 60 countries as FBI agent Dana Scully barely thinks of herself as a star, let alone a fantasy object. Try to get her to analyse the success of the programme, or her own role, or anything really, and she just shrugs it off… Amazingly this is only her second TV role.
“I’d actually done an episode of one other thing called Class Of ’96 before I got The X-Files ,” she says matter-of-factly, “but that didn’t lead to anything.” It’s almost as if she doesn’t realise she’s an international star.
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet, to be honest,” she laughs. “Well, I did think when we started work on season two that perhaps this thing might be going for a while, because it seemed to be the only Fox show that was doing any good. We had a feeling we might be caught up in this for the long haul.”
Long haul? She makes it sound like a chore.
“It’s insane. It’s 12-16 hours a day, five days a week, ten months of the year. And then I spend my holidays working.”
Ah, presumably she’s referring to the fact that while the show is in hiatus, she’s being whisked around Europe on Fox publicity tours. Sorry…
So what was The X-Files like at the start? Did series creator Chris Carter know exactly what he wanted?
“Chris had a very, very strong idea about who Mulder and Scully were, and he was very particular about how he wanted us to act in terms of their degree of intelligence, seriousness and what drove them. He was very adamant about that. But in the long run, it’s the actor who plays the character, and, of course, there are interpretations and flavourings that will come into play. But I think we both have a similar idea who the character of Scully is anyway.”
Back in the first episodes of the show particularly, but really through most of the first season, Scully was a bit of a sceptic. The audience was always going to side with Mulder, because he was the believer. Didn’t she get fed with being the obtuse one?
“Sure,” Anderson smiles, “though she has loosened up a great deal recently. But there are times when it’s frustrating being the negative energy in a situation.”
But in the season two episode “Excelsis Dei” where ghosts molest the residents of an old people’s home, the roles of sceptic and believer are reversed.
“Yes, in that case they were, but that was because it was a rape story. But yes, beyond that there have actually been episodes in the second season where she is more ready to believe than Mulder.”
So what’s the best thing about playing Scully?
“Once in a while a really good script comes along that deals more with what drives her and Mulder emotionally and psychologically. And they’re the ones that are more challenging to work on, and, ultimately, the ones that make the best shows. Things like ‘Beyond The Sea’ and ‘Irrestistible’. So I guess that if I had any wish, it would be that there were more of those episodes.
“Actually, there was another one that was a lot of fun,” she grins. “In ‘Humbug’ we move into a town that’s full of circus freaks. Are you familiar with Jim Rose? Well, his circus came to work with us. It was bizarre. One man hammers a nail into his nose on screen, and someone else eats a live fish.”
Anderson does admit that she would like to get to know more about Scully’s private life. What does she do for fun? And who are her friends? There have been sightings of her family in the series, and the odd date, but little else…
“I would like to have more of that,” she says. “But to run those sort of stories all the time would be inappropriate considering what the show’s about. I think the audience wants it, though, and it would be interesting to see a little bit more of their personal lives.”
Not that – to the disappointment of many – she thinks that anything romantic will happen between the two leads.
“Everybody and their dog asks me that,” she laughs. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen. The show’s not about that, and what we have going right now seems to be working, so to alter that might destroy it.”
So despite the gruelling schedule – and having to talk to people like me all the time – she has no plans to leave the show?
“No. I think it’ll go on about five years. There more to go,” she sighs stoically.
No worries about typecasting?
“I don’t think so. The stuff that's being offered to me at the moment is a far cry from Scully. I haven’t had any actual film offers yet, but there have been TV movies, although I haven’t done any. The thing is, we haven’t had the time to do the kind of auditioning other actors do, and I’m not sure I’d want to work over the hiatus anyway.”
Of course, Gillian Anderson did take one much-publicised break during the second season, when she gave birth to her daughter, Piper. Well, sort of. She only got one episode off, in fact: the one where Scully gets whisked off by aliens. The producers were kind enough to keep her in a coma for the episode where she returned, though.
“Yes, and I actually fell asleep during the coma scenes,” she admits sheepishly. “I’d just had Piper. I was in hospital for six days and then I was back to work four days later. It was nice only to have to play being in a coma but they could have put another episode with me off in space in between.”
It was during the pregnancy that that raincoat came into its own – just the job to disguise the developing bump. “It’s funny,” she says, “because David and I wear raincoats about the same amount of time in the series, but it’s me that gets the comments about it. Actually, they’re very necessary in the cold and wet of Vancouver, and I’m glad of them.”
Ah, those soggy Vancouver forests, where two thirds of the episodes seem to take place. They’re The X-Files ’ equivalent of Doctor Who ’s gravel pits. “Well that’s all Vancouver has to offer,” sighs Anderson.
So what about these rumours we hear that season three will feature some globetrotting stories? Will she ever get out of Vancouver for at least a couple of episodes?
Perhaps not. “I don’t know how they’re going to do that,” she says. “It’s so expensive to shoot as it is. They were trying to shoot one episode in another part of Canada and they found out it was too costly, so they forgot about it. So to bring everybody over, to get together another crew in England… I’d like to see it.”
It may come as a surprise, but Anderson is no stranger to the UK. She spent six years in London when she was growing up, part of the time in Crouch End. “We actually drove through Crouch End one time this visit,” she says. “But we didn’t stop. It was pissing with rain.” Pissing? Yep, that must have been picked up in Blighty.
Many of Anderson’s favourite actors are British too – Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Emma Thompson. When asked whether she'd like any of them to appear in The X-Files , though, and she looks horrified.
“No! Well, it would be fabulous if Gary Oldman could step into the show for a day, and there has been some interest from a few stars, but wouldn’t it end up distracting from the show? It might take the audience away from and environment and mood that we desperately need them to stay in.”
It’s a mood that definitely seems to have got its claws into Anderson. She has no problems accepting some of the more bizarre goings-on depicted in the show, and admits to having been fascinated by the supernatural ever since she was a child.
“I’d like to see an alien very much,” she confesses. “It wouldn’t surprise me if there were a government cover-up. It seems so likely that there’s something other than us in this universe. Cover-up is synonymous with government. It just is.”
When it comes to the future of The X-Files , however, Anderson could be accused of organising a bit of a cover-up of her own.
“I don’t think Chris Carter knows what’s going to happen,” she says politically. However, she does let slip that her abduction in season two might have “repercussions”.
And if she weren’t in The X-Files , what does she think she would be doing? “Sleeping.”
At which point, I decide to leave her to put her feet up.