The jest files
Gillian Anderson in Melbourne to promote her latest film Johnny English Reborn. Picture: Chris Scott Source: Sunday Herald Sun
DRAMA and thrills have left Gillian Anderson with a taste for comedy.
GILLIAN Anderson shot to fame as Special Agent Dana Scully over nine seasons of The X-Files. Since leaving the cult sci-fi hit nearly a decade ago, the Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor has shifted effortlessly between the stage (she was nominated for an Olivier award for her West End role in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House), TV (nominated for a BAFTA for Lady Dedlock in Dickens’ Bleak House) and film (two X-Files films, and The Last King of Scotland). The US-born, England-raised actor lives in London with her three children and partner Mark Griffiths. She visited Australia with co-star Rowan Atkinson this week to promote their film, James Bond spoof Johnny English Reborn.
What was the appeal of Johnny English Reborn for you – was it working with Rowan Atkinson?
It was a mixture of Rowan and the thought of playing the head of MI7. It sounded like a really cool thing to do. I could also see the potential in the script of what they were aiming for and the idea of it essentially being a James Bond with humour.
Are you a Bond fan?
I think I am a Bond fan like any other. I have all the Bond films but I haven’t seen one in a really long time. And if you really look at them, there are really only one or two really good ones. I think Goldfinger is one of them. The others are really just cheesy, bordering on parody.
All the Bond parallels in the film place you squarely in the shoes of Dame Judi Dench. Did you go back and watch what she had done as M?
I didn’t, because it’s clear that the two characters are quite different. But in thinking of her as M, I realised how much power she has as an actress to be able to basically whisper and allude to so much power over everybody. She doesn’t raise her voice at all. It’s really quite straight and laser-like. I found that fascinating.
Am I right in thinking you are both attached to a movie with the unlikely title of The Curse of the Buxom Strumpet?
Yes. I don’t know what’s going to happen with that. It’s a zombie film and that title is alluding to a ship. But we will see. If they get their financing together and we are both still available, then maybe. It’s quite funny.
Is there a big difference between Rowan Atkinson on and off set?
There is a big difference when the camera is actually rolling to the Rowan Atkinson off-set. Especially if there are physical gags involved. Very often it will be discussed, but he won’t necessarily go through the motions of it because it’s exhausting and he very much saves himself for when the camera is rolling. He is not one of those actors or comedians who spills out all over the place and you get it in spades before the take. It’s quite disconcerting when you are talking on an intellectual and technical level and all of a sudden the camera rolls and this master of comedy pops up out of nowhere.
Did you enjoy the comedy aspect?
Actually a good portion of the theatre I have done has been comedy and a fifth to a seventh of the X-Files were comedy episodes. I have done a couple of comedy films but I would actually like to get to be more funny. This is a straight character to Rowan’s comedy and I am very much interested in getting to be the comedian because I enjoy it very much.
You came very close with what you did on The Simpsons, but The X-Files is surely ripe for its own spoof?
We actually talked about it for a while. There has always been the idea that every few years we would come back and do another picture and within that there was always a desire that at some point we come back and do a spoof. It may be too late now but I love the idea of it. There is so much stuff we could pull from. There is one episode called Bad Blood which is actually one of my favourites and we kind of take the p— out of ourselves in that and it was so much fun to do.
I think a lot of people were hoping the second X-Files movie would answer a lot more questions. Were you happy?
I think that if we were to do a third one, it would answer a lot more of those questions and maybe also have something to do with aliens, which is ultimately what people want to see. David and I have been very vocal about the fact that if Chris or the studio were to come to us to do another one, we would do it. Recently Chris announced that it was likely to be in the works but I have no idea what that means or at what stage it is or who is writing it or whether Fox is even interested.
Do you miss Scully?
I miss her when I am together with David and Chris and we are reminiscing about it, or somebody is a particularly big fan and brings something up, but I don’t think about her on a daily basis. I think I am more appreciative of all that she was now than I was even at the time.
Why does the show continue to strike such a chord?
I have no idea. I really don’t know. There are new generations of fans out there, which always surprises me. I get letters from people who say ‘I’m 12 and I just started watching the series and I am so glad it’s out there. That’s cool.
You are becoming quite the Dickens specialist too, after Bleak House, and now you are playing Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. How do you go about breathing new life into these revered literary characters?
When I read a script I generally know on the first read whether that person is inside me somewhere, and that was a case where I got her. It’s my version of her, but there is something inside that went ‘Oh, I can do this. I get who this is’. Sometimes I read stuff and I just don’t get it – it doesn’t resonate. I get very specific images and vocal mannerisms, and then it’s just down to hoping they come together in the right way and other people agree you are on the right track. When I showed up to the set for Great Expectations I hadn’t really discussed that much with the director about the direction I was taking her, and it didn’t actually occur to me until the second day that he could have said ‘What the f— are you doing?’ I just really hope it’s good. It looks like it will be, but you never know.
You keep returning to the stage. What is it you get from theatre that you don’t get anywhere else?
It terrifies me. I hate it as much as I love it and I only decide to do something every few years because of that. Along the way there is at least 100 times where I go ‘Why did I subject myself to this again?’ But at the same time there is a part of me that is fed in a completely different way to anything else in that live process with an audience and discovering stuff in the moment and the danger of it.
Johnny English Reborn opens on Thursday.