Getting the creeps with Gillian Anderson on the set of The X-Files: I Want to Believe
It's been 6 years since we last saw Mulder and Scully sharing screentime together. It's been 6 years since one of the most loved TV shows of all-time went off the air. After legal battles, time conflict resolutions and a studio finally saying 'yes' to a project fans have been screaming for for years, The X-Files is finally back in everyone's life on July 25th.
Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Billy Connolly and Amanda Peet, The X-Files is being classified as a supernatural thriller. A stand-alone story in the tradition of some of the show's most acclaimed and beloved episodes, and takes the always-complicated relationship between Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) in unexpected directions. Mulder continues his unshakable quest for the truth, and Scully, the passionate, ferociously intelligent physician, remains inextricably tied to Mulder's pursuits.
On a cold day last February MovieWeb was invited to visit the set of the upcoming X-Files movie sequel, which shot extensively in Vancouver, Virginia and a reservation in Mount Currie. Walking onset, I was instantly at home. A dark, misty vibe blanketed the studio and inspired that ominous feeling that could be reserved for the countless times I've indulged in the show's deep mythology while drifting off into unconsciousness. Flush with The X-Files signature moonlight prying through and silloutteting a darkened tree-line, the essence of the show was completely intact. What we saw that day instantly reunited me with all of the reasons I fell in love with the series in the first place. And, although the filmmakers swore all of us who were there that day to secrecy, I can say that new fans, casual fans, and superfans alike are going to be able to completely escape with a totally unique movie-going experience this film is going to bring this summer.
While the production of the film, the plotline, what we are allowed to know about the characters, and even the film's title have been as heavily guarded as the alien conspiracy the agents had chased so furiously during the series' 9 years on the air, we were able to get some insight about the mysterious project from actress Gillian Anderson (Agent Dana Scully) herself.
My first question is why come back to this after all this time? I thought you wanted to go off and do all these things in England and have this whole different career and wanted to leave The X-Files behind?
Gillian Anderson: Well I did, and I did, but I think that I've always made it pretty clear, no matter what has been rumored in the press that were we to get it together or somebody to get it together in order to do a film, that I would be happy and willing and hopefully able to participate and so I just assumed that it would be a matter of time. That there were a few times there when it looked like it might not happen. But there were many times that I thought even when people were saying it was going to happen, I didn't believe it was going to happen. But I was always on board, no matter what else I was deciding to do in my life at the time.
Do you feel like David does, in that, this movie could be the first of several?
Gillian Anderson: I don't know, I think that has been something that has been discussed for a long time, something that we have all been interested in. That if we are able to do one [film] that can appeal to mass audience and it's successful in the right ways, that perhaps we might even do another one after this.
So much has changed personally for you and in your career, and you've done some amazing things since the The X-Files, what's it like to come back to it? Is it familiar or does it seem strange to be stepping back into these shoes that you left so many years ago?
Gillian Anderson: You know I was really... well not so much cocky about it, but I was really confident that it was going to be really easy... you know, on the first day. And I wasn't afraid at all. I'm usually terrified before I start something for the first couple days. [But] it was Horrible! I had a really hard first couple of days and I think that part of that was that I've spent such a long time trying not to do anything that even remotely resembled Scully. If there's something, a gesture or a way, whether I'm successful or not, I don't know, but at least in my mind's thinking that I've just been pushing it away for such a long time and that when I was inviting it back... my brain was just going "No, No, this isn't supposed to be happening", and also... you know, we happened to start on the worst possible scene that we could of started with, it was probably one of my most difficult days. It was a confrontation scene, so I hadn't even been like normal flat line Scully, well no I didn't mean flat line... (everyone laughs) I didn't mean that, but that was funny! I hadn't even been normal Scully before I had to be upset Scully.
Do you see the character differently... does she change a lot?
Gillian Anderson: I don't think she has. I think what's been important is to not have her change a lot. She has been finding who she is again. I think it's important to show somebody that's recognizable to the audience who's used to that. But, obviously there's a maturity that's taken place naturally, and to hold that, and to use that fact to inform how she might be in this present state.
Without saying too much, were there some references to what happened to her in the last five years?
Gillian Anderson: Not really, I think that it becomes a given...there's something that's said at one point about the choices that she's made, which kinda covers that.
Gillian, what was behind your willingness to come back to this, was it you didn't want to be the one who said no, when the whole thing fell apart or you wanted to enjoy the character more or was it the fans?
Gillian Anderson: No, You know I thought it was enough a period of time, it was a formidable experience for all of us. And even at the time, which I was very outspoken about the challenges of it, it was still something I wouldn't have changed even at the time. I was always aware that this was something unique and valuable and precious and doesn't happen very often and that we were all incredibly lucky and even despite my frustration at the hours and exhaustion and all that kinda stuff, I've always been grateful on some level. And the idea of us all coming back together again has always been exciting. I mean even at the very end, I knew it would be at least a couple of years and I had to trust that even after two years, I'd think that this is a good idea.
You just didn't want to be defined as Scully for your whole X-Files TV career...?
Gillian Anderson: Well I think in certain ways sometimes I still am, when people, producers or whatever see my work, sometimes they go "oh, well...she, you know, well, she can act!" Ya know!? Which is nothing much that I can do about that. But all I can do is want to continue and to try and challenge myself and also continue to try and challenge the minds of people that want to put me in a box.
What do you think either what you love about your character or what other people love about your character and why you think it's resonated and that it's become this touchstone that's made Scully such a popular character and everlasting?
Gillian Anderson: Well at the beginning, we all know about the history of Fox being dubious about hiring me and all that kinda stuff about this red head. Scully's always been this 'little engine that could'. She was like this feisty, fiery intelligent, buster of everything. And I think that was kind of strangely appealing to people. It was just so different from what people had seen at the time. And the show was appealing to so many different kinds of people, on so many different levels. We'll see [at] the box office whether people care anymore. You know what I mean? These were great in the context of the series but maybe next to Julianne Moore or what ever. Who knows, I have no idea.
And do you think that character was for people who watch the show, was that a role model character, like she was an intelligent woman?
Gillian Anderson: Oh yeah, absolutely and I think that was primarily Chris and he was determined at the beginning to keep Scully that way. There were times in the beginning, where I'd done so little work on camera before, it was almost like in the beginning I was in a rehearsal for a play. The second day that I came to work was kind of different. And so the second day I remember crying once, when I was holding a gun and I got this phone call from "Scully cry!!! (Laughs) He didn't yell like that. But I really had to be molded and reminded, just who this person is. And you know eventually I got it and she developed and we all kinda grew together. yeah, I think that her resilience and her strength and her intelligence and her determination and everything was fortunately appealing for lots of young women. And you know... there's a whole new group of people who are discovering the show in re-run for the first time... Which is awesome! Cause you know, well I don't really get letters... but if anything comes through to me it's from grandmothers to four year olds! Which is really cool!
Do you think the intimate relationship between Mulder and Scully is more essential in this movie than the scare, chill fest that it's being promised?
Gillian Anderson: Oh, I don't know... I think that what is remarkable after working with many other actors is just what kind of energy there is. It just kinda happens, it's weird. I don't know why this chemistry. And it's cool now looking, once I've seen things in the past, like 'where the fuck did that come from'?! (Everyone laughs) so when it's still there... and of course that's what's going to be appealing to people, I now see what the appeal is. In the old days I was like 'yeah, so what, yeah, we get along... yeah, yeah, yeah there's chemistry.' I was just using that word and now I see there really was and there still is and I think that will always be there.
How much easier is it working with David again now when you're not on top of each other 16 hours a day?
Gillian Anderson: It's great, it was great then too. It's just like a sibling relationship, and I never had siblings. I had brother's and sister's that started when I was 13 and so I was out of the house and didn't have that experience. So it is always this natural love, hate... you know hate's too big a word... you know what I mean? It was always something and whether it was us coming together or us keeping our distance or whatever it is... It's just a natural relationship over a period of time. I think that now that we've grown up and we're older and I think we're more appreciative of the relationship period. And the unique experience that we had together and that we have an opportunity to continue that, and foster it. We've always loved each other and we're always going to be a battle sometimes.
I think that was what the love of the show was it seemed such like you weren't acting; it was such a natural fondness for each other being brotherly, sisterly. Can you speak of that? I mean do you guys get along in real life?
Gillian Anderson: I think we kind of have to, I mean that's part of one of the big premises of the film, of the relationship and what makes the relationship work is this constant... fight to be right in some way, and I think no matter what film and what episode you have to maintain an element of that to make it interesting. I mean this isn't a love story. You know it can be; there are elements of that in the intimacy of the relationship and everything. But that can't be what's in the forefront. The forefront is these two peoples minds and their passions and so naturally they are going to swing in the direction that they are built for and that's going to cause tension between them and issues.
I want to know about Scully's journey; she started out as a skeptic, later episodes she became the believer to the new characters and are you going back to the skeptic believer relationship or have you moved so beyond that, that there's no going back?
Gillian Anderson: I honestly think that it's beyond that, its like, its beyond...
It just kinda worked out?
Gillian Anderson: Yeah... its beyond... it really has nothing to do with us, sorry I keep turning you on and...
Gillian, David was saying he was not a big fan of the deja vu moments like the pencils in the ceiling
Gillian Anderson: Oh really? He's not?
In this movie, that's not necessarily his thing. But were there iconic things, that even back like on an whole X-Files set that kind of took you back about 10-15 years ago?
Gillian Anderson: I was actually looking around on the set for more things that were there at the beginning. I was actually surprised that more things were brought out. They've gotta be in some storage space. I was amazed...that in Mulder's house or Scully's house or whatever, that they're like lying around or that he's got more stuff in his office at his house that he had back then, but there isn't. See that's the kinda stuff that I like, where I expect the audience members to go "oh did...!" You know.
Does Scully wear a cross?
Gillian Anderson: Oh yeah, I got a cross.
How do you see whole X-Files now in the context of the critter that your having, that you've done so remarkably, versatile work you know, on stage and in the movie?
Gillian Anderson: Thank you, I mean it's never really been my cup of tea, I'm just not a television watcher. I don't even think that were the show on, that I would of watched it while it was on. I can see what it is and I can appreciate the appeal to people and I can justify in the context of my life absolutely.
How comfortable are you now owning this roll that has become such a cultural icon and for a while it seemed you wanted to distance yourself from it. Are you more comfortable now with it? How does it feel to sort of have this with you for the rest of your life?
Gillian Anderson: I feel very fortunate. I think my desire to distance myself stems mostly from... You know I started when I was 24, I told them I was 27, to get hired. (laughs) But I was 24. You know at the time and it was like Yeah! Someone sent me an interview that I did on, I don't know what it is, some cheesy TV station. I was like so sure of myself, and the way that I was talking and everything. I know I think I had to, I had to surround myself with so many survival mechanisms in order to survive. You know just as 24 year old, to be thrown into that! So early when I'd done a little bit of theater really, was intense. And I didn't. You know people would say to me in interviews, what a whirlwind life you have. And I didn't even have enough of a respect to stand back and go... yeah man, ya know... my response was like, yeah. And I think, but in a sense to a detriment at times. Because I just assumed that I should be able to deal with stuff, I should be able to just press on and buckle up and do a service to myself. And so... I can't remember what your original question was... (Everyone laughs)
You were in survival mode!
Gillian Anderson: Yeah! So I was just in it for such a long time, so that when it ended, you know there was part of me that one didn't want to see a set for I don't know how long... I didn't know if I was going to go back and be on a set anytime ever again by the time it was done. It just got really intense. And also, I didn't do that much stuff when we were filming in my hiatus's, I did a couple of things. But I really didn't go after that, because between exhaustion and being a mom and stuff. I just wanted to do something different for fucks sakes, for crying out loud, you know... so I just really needed that. But I've found a place again, of appropriate perpective and great appreciation and gratitude for just being allowed and being invited into such an extraordinary experience.
Because the story is like Chris really fought for you, is that something that your thankful for?
Gillian Anderson: Yeah! He's the Godfather to my first born child! Yeah, I've acknowledged that over and over again. And he knows it.
You've gotten into Scully's skin now that after those first couple of days where you're brain was saying "No, no, no."
Gillian Anderson: Yeah, yeah, yeah I think so, you know every once in a while something comes out and I go "what was that?" But that is inevitable, and yeah, I think so, I hope so.
I don't know how much you were talking about the plot, a story like this or in television you have a theme that is always backed up by an "A" story, the "A" story being monster of the week. Or whatever you guys are dealing with, I don't know what you guys are dealing with here, it's supposed to be the supernatural. But how is this story backed up by the relationship, cause Spotnitz says this falls very strong on character this time around and very focused on relationship so how does the supernatural elements and the relationship stuff work hand in hand? As opposed to something sci-fi alien?
Gillian Anderson: I do think they've done a really, really good job of touching on all of the elements that need to be important in this film to make sense to people, and to stand alone. And I think they've done a really good job actually in that respect. And there's enough of a balance between our determinations about the things we're currently working on, mixed with the dilemma's that we find ourselves in as the two characters mixed with the history, mixed with everything... they've done a really good job.
Is it a relief to get away from the really complex mythology keeping track of all the different strands go back to the...
Gillian Anderson: Who kept track???! (Everyone laughs) I think the fans know so much more about the episodes than I did, about what happened. I mean I practically forgot I had a baby when we started this, which is really sad. I'm exaggerating a little, but its kinda true.
What's the biggest difference between Scully now and the last time we saw her without getting a confusion... spoilers?
Gillian Anderson: You know, I think she's more relaxed. I think she's made some choices in her life that allowed her to do what she most wants to do and that's mellowed her a bit. She hasn't lost her determination and passion about things by any stretch. But she's mellowed a bit.
Having done and survived The X-Files series, would you ever do another TV series?
Gillian Anderson: You know, I'll never say never... because things change so much over time. But it would have to be something pretty extraordinary to take that kind of time and to move me back to Los Angeles which is really where it's likely to be shot. I'm 40 this year and I hope to still be working when I 60, so maybe as a 60 year old I'll come and do a comedy for NBC or something.
So how is the big 4-0? Well just by saying it like that its obvious you don't feel like "oh, lets not mention age" or something here "I'm a woman in Hollywood when I'm gonna be 40."
Gillian Anderson: Yeah! No, no, I'm cool with it... actually I'm looking forward it. I saw this woman a few weeks ago with silver white hair, I was in an airport or something and I got filled with this sense of calm and you know I'm really enjoying the degree of acceptance that comes. Not taking things so seriously, more able to let things go and not being so self obsessed and concerned about my thighs and all that kinda crap. You know, its just kinda like "hey I'm 40, I can have cellulite." (Everybody laughs) Talk to me in a couple of years... and there's a shot of me on the beach.
One last question, then I think we should wrap it up.
In the first movie you got to stand naked in freezing water for a lot a time didn't you? When you were in that fog or it looked like you were naked, I don't know if you really were.
Gillian Anderson: Oh did I? Did I? (Everyone laughs)
Do you get to do any fun stuff like that in this film, where you are physically uncomfortable or...
Gillian Anderson: Unfortunately David gets to do all of that. (Everyone laughs) Period. I should feel really sorry for him. (Laughs) I do, I've done a few times when I've come on set to do a dialog scene and he's been scaling cliffs and all that kinda stuff.
It's amazing that you don't have an accent. I mean all the Americans that went over there and they start speaking like British people.
Gillian Anderson: Well you know its funny is that I grew up in London, so when I'm in London I do, I can't help myself. Sometimes I'll be sitting at a table... and in my life, my partner is British and the majority of my friends over there are British and it was the first language that was in my ear and as much as I try to not get in that, I can't help it. And once in awhile like an American will be at the table and they'll say something in that ear, and I'll answer it with an American accent but I'd just been talking in a British accent! It's actually a bit embarrassing to be honest. (Everyone laughs)
Do you have to consciously do it when you're doing Scully? American...
Gillian Anderson: Yeah, definitely, yeah I have to, yeah most definitely, and sometimes when I do interviews, if I'm doing an interview, but I'm supposed to be talking American in the interview or does British have to find somebody to do American just so I can hear it in my ear so that I can answer the question.