I'm a lifelong X-Files fan. This is emotion I had to suppress, rather violently, when I was sent to interview Gillian Anderson in a private hotel room on the 24th floor of… alright, you know what? I was freaking out. When I got there I was ferried into an immaculate room, in which two easels bore enormous posters for Johnny English Reborn, the film in which Anderson plays Pegasus, a Judi Dench-type character, and English's boss. Incidentally, I have unbelievable trouble separating character from actor, and given that I get very attached to my heroes, if she'd been unpleasant, it would have ruined me.
Our interview starts off with a full minute of her complimenting my beard and gets a little weird towards the end when I tell her about the dream I had as a 17-year-old that involved her on a ski-lift.
Well, here's how it went down.
I like the beard!
Is it for something?
Well I grew it for a small acting role and just kept it.
It’s quite something. I don’t know if a lot of people would be able to grow one quite so long.
I started twirling the moustache recently, but I untwirled it, for this.
I think it’s great.
[Not an awkward silence]
So, you’re very funny. In terms of when you do comedy, you’re very funny; what is it that appeals to you about comedies, such as this film?
Well, the weird thing is, I do enjoy doing comedy very much, but playing the straight man, or straight woman, is a very different thing. And that particular kind of comedy I don’t think I’ve ever played before. It’s much more technical than many other kinds of comedy I’d done, which is more spontaneous, off the cuff... we try a whole bunch of stuff out, and the editor ends up deciding which was the funniest in that moment. And with a lot of this stuff in this film has been worked out beforehand, because it actually matters to the storyline how things play out. So it felt... it doesn’t really feel like your doing a comedy in the midst of all the technical aspects, but it was still appealing. I mean, I enjoy some comedies, and I enjoy the idea of doing a spoof of a James Bond film.That was very appealing to me.
Yeah, as far as the genre goes, I... because this is effectively a James Bond movie, and it’s at least eight times better than the last Peirce Brosnan film... uh... I can’t remember what the fuck it was called.
But have you ever had ambitions to be in a genre piece like this?
Yeah! Oh, god, I’d love to; what appeals to me is a Bond-like character. Not necessarily a female in a Bond, but a Bond-like character. A female Bond appeals to me, uh, and I guess the person that’s really done that so far, or taken that forward is Angelina Jolie... she’s gotten to take that forward in a couple of situations, in that film...
Yeah, that’s what I was thinking of, like that, or, uh... I don’t know! Is there another, uh...
It feels like there is!
There is, I know there is, I just...
Oh! Wanted, with James Macavoy?
Oh, yeah... eh? Kind of. Not really.
Um... anyway, it seems to me that there’s room for that, but I appreciate the genre, I love all those Bourne films.
So you’ve been doing a day full of press...
What are the shit questions you’ve been asked over and over?
[Laughs] Oh, man...
Because I know for a fact that one will have been, ‘What do you think of Australia?’
No, I mean, they’ve said ‘How are you enjoying Melbourne?’, ‘How are you enjoying Sydney?’ but nobody’s asked me... no.
Different deck on the same ship, right?
Yeah. But, here are the questions.
'What’s it like working with Rowan Atkinson?'... 'How hard is it to keep a straight face when you work with Rowan Atkinson?'...
And, um... 'Tell me about your accent.'
.. .OK. I won’t ask any of those. I wasn’t going to ask any of them, I swear!
They came in before you and said ‘Everyone has asked about the damn accent.’
Yeah! Literally every one I’ve done today, that’s been the big question. And I am really... I mean, obviously by not bringing it up, we’re bringing it up and having this conversation about it, but I am... a little bit dumbfounded as to why people are so fascinated by it.
I think it’s because it’s an easy question. It requires the minimum of preparation, you could just watch the trailer and go, hey, a British accent!
But I’d seen Bleak House, so I guess I was ready for it.
Well, the trailer for it.
But playing the straight man must be odd. Because you know in Arrested Development, where the main character is just... straight as an arrow.
And everyone just... revolves around him. Was it ever tempting to break out of that mold during the film?
Well, it’s not necessarily, well... it is tempting to want to be funny if you’re in a comedy... but the challenge, I think, is to stay true to the character! Be true to the necessity of the particular character in the whole of the big picture. And it makes Rowan funnier to have the stakes as high as possible, and the seriousness as serious as possible, to bounce off of. But really it’s something that needs to be gauged, throughout the film, in terms of how much one sees, how much one lets on that one sees, and what do you do about it if you’ve seen it. It is very tempting to, you know, raise a bigger eyebrow, make a bigger expression.
Um... I had something I wanted to run by you. This is... this is really odd.
When I was about 17, I had this dream that I was, uh... in like a ski-lift above Vienna, above the treetops. And up until that age, I had this crippling fear of horror films, and generally scary shit. Then you appeared next to me... and slapped me really hard...
... And told me to kind of, just take it down a notch. And ever since then, that’s kind of purged me of that fear of... you know, scary things... and...
Is that true? Is that an actual dream you had?
Yeah, very much so, totally true. Um... I hadn’t planned on... I didn’t realise that I’d have to prepare for a reaction from you after that... but I promised myself I’d tell you. So thank you.
[Laughing] And I had no reaction!
No! No reaction!
[Still laughing] So, wait. What did I say? Did I literally slap your face and say, ‘Wake up, man!’?
You just said calm down.
‘Calm down, man.’
‘Pull yourself together!’
It was very bracing! And I woke up and thought, yeah. Well, you know...
I’m not gonna be such a wimp?
[PS. What you don't see at the end was me throwing in a final question as her minder came in and told us to wrap-up; a rushed answer to 'any news on the fabled third X-Files film'? to which she gave a polite response, but being paranoid and needy, I suddenly felt like I'd ruined a burgeoning friendship or something. In this way, and many others, I am retarded; she liked me, we got along, and one of my heroes turned out to be totally on the same page as me. At least, most of the time.]