Back to investigate the paranormal after a hiatus of 13 years, X-Files star Gillian Anderson talks to Vogue about finding Scully again, and why this time she’s better dressed.
In the beginnning, Dana Scully’s hair was my natural colour, which is as dull as anything. It was 1993 and I was 24. After we shot the pilot and The X-Files was picked up for series, our executive producer Chris Carter said: “She’s going red.” And that’s how Scully became a redhead. For the next nine years I dyed it on a semi-regular basis, but then the show ended in 2002 I defiantly became a blonde and have been one ever since.
For the 2015 reboot of six episodes, the question naturally came up: to dye or not to dye? My hair was already falling out from playing so many platinums (Stella in The Fall, Bedelia in Hannibal, Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire), so “wig” was the answer.
Cut to day two of filming in the heart of downtown Vancouver (taking the role of Washington, DC), smack in the middle of lunch hour. We were drawing crowds, and these days “crowds” means phones, photographs and instant internet activity. A close-up of my hair was immediately posted online: “It’s not the right red!” (outrage); “The parting is wrong!” (disgust). Fans ,who know more about the show than any of us making it, were spot on - they had been watching Scully right from the show’s beginning - and a new wig was made.
The X-Files was almost the first thing I had done as an actor. I had been in theatre in New York and a couple of commercials. In my early twenties I didn’t understand the TV industry: about the investment of a network, about what it meant when people talking about whether we would get “picked up”. It all flew by me. I told the producers I was 27, and went in to the auditions not expecting anything, not knowing what it would mean to be cast in series, or what series actually were. I didn’t even watch television in those days.
I liked Scully though, right from the off. She is very serious: a forensic pathologist and a famous sceptic, she is very authoritative. And a genius. Well, both she and her partner Mulder, played by David Duchovny, are, in that they know the answers to any scientific, historical, geographic or anthropological query that arises.
We made 202 episodes in the end, over nine seasons, and worked long 16-, 17-hour days. David and I were in almost every scene for years - often at night, in the rain, on location. So much of it was shot in the dark, with us lighting ourselves by flashlight, in all kinds of weather, and in the forest. Oh, the forests. When the show finally moved to Los Angeles I can’t say we missed them, or the weather, but Vancouver really did set the mood for the show in a fundamental way.
And then there’s that undeniable chemistry between the two of them, the two of us, David and me. That was present from our first exchange. That thing that drove fans crazy, regardless of whether David and I were even speaking to each other at any given time. You can’t fake that. It’s bigger than the two of us, and is there for the service of the series and its fans.
To say people were obsessed with the show was an understatement, and still is. When it began there was nothing else like it on television. The way our show was lit, the production values, the fact there was a woman as intelligent as - and an equal partner to - the man. The X-Files was also the first of what became know as “appointment television”, when viewers planned their evenings around it. The X-Files brought people together, saved marriages, got family members to sit still in the same room and scream and laugh and theorise for a whole hour. It became integral to many people’s childhoods, teenager-hoods, young adult lives and not-so-young adult lives. There was, and remains, a trajectory of ages that still come up to me wanting to share how it impacted them and how excited they are to share it now with their children. It’s a rite of passage.
For me, as an actor, there have been so many other roles since Scully, I naturally assumed I would just be able to jump on that bicycle again. Entirely unexpectedly, it took a while to rediscover her. For instance, I didn’t remember that I had always used a higher, slightly more nasal pitch of my voice when playing Scully - probably because I started playing her at such a young age. In fact it took much of the whole of the first episode for me to fully inhabit her again.
Sure, there have been X-Files movies, but when the last season ended it seemed unlikely there would ever be a television series again. Until recently, a new show would have meant making another 24 episodes - something not remotely possible for David or me. So it wasn’t until TV networks became more open-minded about shorter series that it even became a possibility. David took the lead and ran with it, but it took me a while to catch up. In other words: over my dead body. But I reconsidered, and it suddenly started to sound as if it might be the only feasible way for us to achieve closure while giving the fans a taste of what they had been clamouring for. Also, I figured it might possibly be quite fun.
One thing that was going to be different this time around, though: Scully’s wardrobe. During the original series, I had paid not a lick of attention to her style. I had known that I wanted her to be homely, because I was determined to be a real actress who didn’t care about vanity. But little did I realise that my lack of awareness would lead to years of bad hair and polyester suits. To be fair, the show’s costume girl was great and was simply pulling outfits from what was on offer in the mid-Nineties: fabrics that I can’t even think of without shivers running up my spine; double-breasted suits and shoulder pads as big as a house. Scully’s taste got better as the seasons went on, but it wasn’t really until the sixth season when we moved down to Los Angeles and a new team came on board, that I was forced to address the issue, head-on. New, hipper clothes and a slicker haircut for Scully. Even a leather coat, here and there.
This time around, after 13 years of creating other characters and realising that I not only have a say in how they appear but that I actually enjoy that part of the process - I have strong opinions about how my characters express themselves through clothes - I worked much more actively with The X-Files wardrobe designer Chris Hargadon to hone Scully’s style. I had worked with Chris on Hannibal, in which he got to express his creative genius through Hannibal’s fine tailoring. Our squarish FBI agents were perhaps not quite so fun to dress, yet it was essential to precisely define their typical wardrobes. So Scully is still a bit homely but with a taste for fabric and colour, more cotton than silk, no zips as accent, nothing too fitted, no patterns.
So aside from a few stylistic tweaks, what we are giving the audience in this new mini-series is exactly what they got originally. I was nervous that, because the show pushed so many boundaries on its inception, we would need to deliver that again. But it was actually Simon Pegg, the ultimate sci-fi fan, who reassured me: “No, what we want is exactly what you gave us - we want comfort food.”. He was proved right when spontaneous cheers of joy rose up at a recent screening in Cannes as that unmistakable X-Files theme tune played over the deliberately chosen original opening credits.
If we didn’t know it already by the time we wrapped this latest series, David and I were both profoundly aware of how lucky we have been. How fortunate we are to have played these two characters who have had such an impact on television, defined a genre, found affection with so many people - and lasted for so many years.