Portrait of a lady

Gillian Anderson is an interested woman - books, history, and heroines. She'd debate the word "lady", though.

Do you think the definition of what it means to be a lady has changed? How would you define it?
I don't know if I would be so bold as to define it. I think that there are more examples of women being allowed to be complicated in popular culture, which is where we end up getting our cues as to how it's OK to be in society. It feels like, even though there seem to be attempts to drag us backwards in the political realm, in the cultural realm it feels like [progress].
We're seeing examples of complex, more interesting and less two-dimensional women. I'm talking about women, not ladies - the word "lady" to me feels archaic, like it's contributing to putting a woman back in a box of correct behaviour. Unless you're deliberately using that word to blow [that perception] apart, there's something about the word "lady" that really bothers me.

There's a piece by the feminist writer Ann Freidman that tracks the evolution of the word among women who might not be comfortable with the label 'feminist'.
I'm not familiar with its evolution - it still sends me back to older variations. In the new BBC series The Fall, the character I play is a detective superintendent who is independent and strong-minded, yet is very aware and comfortable with herself, her sexuality, what is feminine about her. She doesn't use her femininity to get what she wants in a flirtatious way, but she's aware of the fact that she is a woman - she takes care of herself. She dresses for herself, and wears nice underwear, and silk, crepe and suede.
I would say if you were using "lady" in the context that you're talking about now, she could be put into that particular box - but as a compliment, not pejoratively.

You're plugged into "The Matrix". What are you going to learn?
There are so many things that my brain has not held on to! I think I'd start with history, but then I'd pretty quickly move onto languages, French, Italian and Spanish.

Fantasy dinner party guests?
John F. Kennedy, Freud, Hemingway, Louise Bourgeois and maybe Krishnamurti. Let's put Susan Sontag at the table, too.

And on the menu?

A simple but really yummy vegetable soup, like you'd find at Moro [the Spanish/North African restaurant in London's Exmouth Market]. Then a big, whole seabass in the middle of the table with pots of aioli, and some blanched vegetables. A big chocolate pudding for dessert, with lots of berries and cream. You'd have to have a side of beef for Hemingway, though - just next to his chair. And lots of alcohol.

If you had a humanoid robot, what's the first thing you'd make it do?

Would I get arrested if it committed a crime?

What's your guilty pleasure?
I've got two answers for that - let's just leave it at chocolate.

What are you most curious about?

I'm very curious about science and the brain - I have a lot of books on my shelves about brains. I'm also curious about anthropology and how humans work.

What is your favourite swear word?
Probably 'fuck' - I use it quite a lot.

What character trait do you most admire in others?
I would say honesty - real honesty. I think that as a society we get really used to telling half truths and protecting ourselves, and not wanting to appear as we are. When people are really honest about their part in things - when you've made a mistake, rather than making it vague or [blaming] somebody else - to really be able to say sorry - is one of my most disarming characteristics. Until there is pure honesty, thransformation can't take place.

Gillian Anderson stars as DSI Stella Gibson in BBC2's The Fall this summer.



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