Gillian of the Spirits

Gillian Anderson, star of The X-Files on big screen and small, talks about acting with bees, swimming with sharks, kissing with David Duchovny, consulting with psychics, contending with past lives and taking chances with her new film, _ Dancing About Architecture._


Every inch of the serene, rustic wood interior of the house Gillian Anderson is renovating urges your eye toward what is, at the moment, only warm darkness punctuated by the low thunder of waves hitting the sand a few feet away. The cavernous, dimly lit living room opens out onto a deck that looks over a world of silver water and is cooled on this hot Los Angeles night by the only fresh air in the whole city.

The X-Files bought this gem, and The X-Files makes it a necessity. Anderson knows better than to complain about the brutal schedule she's working for a sixth season of The X-Files, but the series that made her famous has to wear on her no matter how much it pays, no matter how much validation it generates and no matter how much more fun it is than any other job in modern America. And not only is there the grinding demand of The X-Files to deal with, there's the challenge of escaping from The X-Files into the movie career she really wants. You need some peace and quiet to mastermind a trick like that.

So far, Anderson has turned down all leads in all alien-infected spectacles she's been offered--except, of course, last summer's The X-Files movie and its upcoming sequel (due out in the summer of 2000). She's taken instead a succession of small, non-Scully character parts in independent projects. She played an eccentric alcoholic biker chick in The Mighty and a nail-biting, working-class girl who fights with her boyfriend in Chicago Cab. And in her new film, Dancing About Architecture, which surrounds her with a remarkable ensemble that includes Sean Connery and Gena Rowlands, she plays a romantically embittered theater director who gets her faith restored by Jon Stewart.

The unusual thing about Anderson's big-screen career is not that she's avoided parts that play off Scully, but how good she's been in her aggressively eccentric departures. Odd as it seems for someone who's managed to portray the same character week after week for over five years, Anderson appears to be a chameleon-type actress. The extreme purposefulness with which she approaches her work may be the only characteristic she shares with Dana Scully. Anderson herself is an emotional self-explorer for whom the truth "out there" has never been as compelling as the truth in there. It would probably take quite an array of different screen characters just to let out the energies that have been tamped down by seasons of playing the straight-arrow Scully. Any conversation had with Anderson over the sound of waves in the dark of night would convince you of that.

VIRGINIA CAMPBELL: I remember that you rented a house on the beach when you were making The X-Files movie--is that what made you want to buy this place when you moved back to L.A.?

GILLIAN ANDERSON: Yeah, actually. I almost bought a place in town, but after living next to the water I realized the balance it gives you. I felt like I needed to have the water around me. It's very soothing.

Q: Are you going to redecorate this place by yourself or hire someone to do it for you?

A: I'm doing this without a decorator. I know exactly what I like. It's going to be very natural, very clean, a mixture of ancient and modern--white walls, black-painted wood floors, contemporary paintings. I've been fortunate enough to start a collection of art.

Q: Are the artists you collect famous?

A: One of them's relatively famous, Alexis Rockman. One has become one of my closest friends--Darren Waterston. Another is Tony Sherman, who I'm working on some projects with.

Q: What kind of project would you be doing with a painter?

A: He's painting me. For one project, he wanted to know which fictional or historical characters I'd like to portray.

Q: Good question. What did you tell him?

A: Two images in particular have really affected me. One is the pre-Raphaelite painting by Sir John Everett Millais of Ophelia floating down the stream amid flowers. The other is the scene at the end of The Piano when Holly Hunter put her foot deliberately in the coil of rope and she's been dragged into the ocean and everything goes quiet and she has that vacuum of choice. There's a peacefulness and a holding of time in that moment.

Q: You obviously like the water. Do you go diving?

A: The first time I ever scuba dived was in Australia when I was doing press for Twentieth Century Fox. I'd asked if there was anywhere I could go snorkeling and the studio misunderstood and set up a thing at Manly aquarium where I was scuba diving in a tank with gray sharks. It was exhilarating.

Q: I would assume that because you're valuable to the studio, these sharks were well fed.

A: Yes, though there was one that was a bit moody and feisty because she was pregnant. She didn't want anything around her and she turned very quickly.

Q: It's an odd idea of how to please a star.

A: But it's exactly how to please me.

Q: Well, they should know--they're the same studio that put a live bee on you to interrupt your kiss with David Duchovny in The X-Files movie, right?

A: No, in that scene there was only a dead bee that I pull out from my collar. You saw the bee go under my lapel in the previous scene. For that, they had a queen bee in a container and they put it under my lapel before they started shooting. Then they put the other bee on my shoulder and hoped it would find its way under my lapel to find the queen. They always go to the queen.

Q: Well, live bee or dead bee, Scully and Mulder's near-kiss scene was probably most people's favorite scene in the movie.

A: We actually do kiss on an episode of the new season of the show.

Q: That's certainly good news. What are the circumstances?

A: It happens on an episode where Scully and Mulder are investigating the Bermuda Triangle and find themselves on an old ship in 1939.

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