Gillian Anderson 'I let go of things I cannot control'

Mother, actress, rebel and chilli-chocolate enthusiast Gillian Anderson explains why - at last - she has reached a point in her life where she can relax.

Copertina Psychologies

When Gillian Anderson was 24, she was busy carving out a successful career as a theatre actress. Then a script for a new drama about supernatural conspiracies landed in her lap. Having sworn she'd never do a TV show, she fell in love with sceptical FBI agent Dana Scully and took the role, expecting it to run for a few episodes. The X-Files took off in a way no one could have imagined, catapulting Anderson and co-star David Duchovny to worldwide fame. There were awards, adulation and 'sexiest woman' accolades.

The enormous success of the show caused a tabloid frenzy, with exposes claiming Anderson had been an unruly teenager with a pierced nose and brightly coloured hair, voted Most Likely To Be Arrested in high school. When we meet, she looks fresh-faced with strawberry-blonde hair flowing loosely around her shoulders. She doesn't want to talk about her teen rebellion, dismissing the stories as 'boring'. Now, she says, she doesn't have any vices. 'Although I have had many, many, many in the past,' she laughs. She purses her lips then, suddenly, remembers. 'I do have a vice: chilli chocolate from the South Devon Chilli Farm. You have to try it,' she says, reaching into her handbag and producing some. It is indeed delicious, and a fitting vice for a US-born woman who's fallen for all things Brit, including her partner, businessman Mark Griffiths. The couple live in London with their children: sons Oscar and Felix, and Anderson's daughter Piper, from her first marriage. For the first time, the 42-year-old actress says, she feels completely relaxed about life.

How long have you lived here in London?
Eight years. But I also lived here from age two to 11. I think that ingrained a certain level of Britishness into my system, as this country feels more like home than anywhere else. My family and oldest friends are in America, but I have a wonderful set of new friends here, or friends from the past decade, anyway. God, that makes me sound old.

How did growing up in two different countries shape your character?
I was teased a lot at school in London. I was pasty, pudgy and all the kids referred to my parents as Yanks. Then we'd visit family in the US and it was all sunshine and candy, so it had a magical tinge to it. I wanted to move back but, when we did, it wasn't like that at all. We moved to Michigan, nowhere near any family, and that had an impact on me. I didn't know where I belonged. It wasn't until my twenties that I fell in love with London again.

Let's talk about Any Human Heart, the Channel 4 adaptation of William Boyd's book.
I pay Wallis Simpson, which was fantastic. I've shied away from playing real-life characters, as expectations are so high. But she had such an interesting life and I loved working with Matthew (Macfadyen) and Tom Hollander, who is a friend. Kim Cattrall was lovely, too; we've stayed in touch. She also lived in the UK as a child, and she was rehearsing for a stage production of Cleopatra, so it was nice to chat about the theatre.

Do you have plans to do more theatre?
No solid plans at the moment. I love theatre, but it terrifies me.

In a good way?
Ultimately, it's a positive terror. But, when I sign up for a play, I always think I must be nuts. The same happens with film. On the first day, I think, 'I'm awful, why have they hired me?' Then, slowly, I start to feel I'm putting together something that makes sense and my confidence grows.

How ambitious are you?
I have waves of proactivity, where I'm lighting fires under people. I'm not sure I'd call it ambition, though. I'm not even a hugely ambitious parent, but I've gotten more spontaneous over the past few years. My daughter and I explore London lots: neighbourhoods, galleries, museums. We got up at 8am yesterday and went to the Millennium Bridge and ran around and had coffee. She's 16 and, when I was first a parent, I couldn't be spontaneous because I was locked in to a series for a long time.

How do you feel about growing older?
I look forward to it. I've enjoyed the calming of my mind that has taken place. There was always a part of me waiting for when everything would feel less intense. In my head, my twenties and thirties were very intense. Being a parent to two young kids now is a very different experience from when I was first a mother, in my twenties. I'm more appreciative of the parenting process, and how joyful it can be to participate in your children's journeys.

What's the most important thing you want to pass on to your children?
I'd say a strong sense of self. That they have, not arrogance, but a true feeling of self-worth so they can think of others, not just themselves. It doesn't happen very often that you meet a teenager who is genuinely present, not texting all the time, but can sit with another person and ask how they are. Engaging in conversation because they take appreciation in another human being. That's a sign of a child growing up very well-rounded. I've no idea whether the way I'm parenting will end up with my kids being that way, but I hope so.

Can you see similarities in your relationship with your daughter and with your own mother?
My relationship, right now, with my daughter is very good. I am fully aware that could change at any moment. But I think we've done all right, we're very close. We discuss a lot with each other. My relationship with my mother improved later on in life. When I was little, I was very keen to get out of the house. I didn't share much of my experiences with either of my parents. Probably trying to protect them.

Do you think you will marry again?
It's not on the cards at the minute. My relationship is not wanting of anything, and if it isn't broke, don't fix it. But, we'll see. Things change.

This month's Dossier is about confidence. How confident are you, in your personal life or career?
It comes in waves. There are times I feel very outgoing, and others I feel less confident. There have been various stages of life with big versions of that. Mostly, I think those difficult times come as opportunities to reassess things and, on the whole, I've come out the other side better for them. Sometimes it just takes a simple adjustment in attitude, or lifestyle. A new exercise regime may be enough to kickstart feeling better about yourself. Or exposing yourself to things that make you happy: whether it's going to a museum once a week because you get fed by art, or subscribing to a magazine that makes your brain work.

So it's a case of identifying your own needs?
Exactly. And sometimes you realise you don't actually know what you need anymore. Especially if you have kids, it's easy to get bogged down by daily rituals. One loses a sense of who one was prior to that. But it's important to find what makes you happy and make a commitment to do it. If you've always wanted to draw, why not take a class in that? There are so many possibilities.

What's the best advice you've been given?
It's a very simple concept: the fact one can choose to live life one minute at a time. We worry too much about the future, thinking, 'What if...?' Then what happens is you end up not being there for the people in front of you: your partner, your children, your friend, your boss or whatever. I've learned to let go of attachment to things I can't control. Just park them to the side and focus on what's in front of me. The concept of that is very freeing.

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