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Archive for March, 2012

The Daily Beast: Gillian Anderson on ‘X-Files,’ ‘Downton Abbey,’ ‘Great Expectations’

Gillian Anderson on ‘X-Files,’ ‘Downton Abbey,’ ‘Great Expectations’
The Daily Beast

[Original article]

Gillian Anderson, famous for ‘The X-Files,’ stuns as Miss Havisham in Sunday’s ‘Great Expecations.’ She tells Jace Lacob about turning down ‘Downton Abbey,’ her British accent—and possibly playing Scully again.

Gillian Anderson is no stranger to strange worlds.

The former star of The X-Files, which became a worldwide hit and spawned two feature films, Anderson has, for now anyway, traded in Dana Scully’s FBI-issued handgun and severe suits for the tight-laced corsets and flowing frocks of such period dramas as Bleak House, The House of Mirth, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, The Crimson Petal and the White, Moby Dick, and Any Human Heart, in which she played a deliciously conniving Wallace Simpson, complete with a false nose. But it’s Anderson’s jaw-dropping turn as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, which airs Sunday evening on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic after a three-night run in December on BBC One, that erases any trace of Scully’s bravado.

An Anderson role in a period piece seems de rigueur these days: she was also very nearly in ITV’s critically acclaimed costume drama Downton Abbey, but turned down an offer to play Lady Cora Crawley, a role that went to fellow American Elizabeth McGovern. “They’re still mad at me,” Anderson told The Daily Beast. “Every time I see [creator] Julian Fellowes, he says, ‘Why?’ I’m very finicky.”

It’s no surprise that after her legendary turn as the emotionally haunted Lady Dedlock in Andrew Davies’s 2005 adaptation of Bleak House, which earned her Emmy Award and Golden Globe nominations, Anderson has a fascination with severe or extreme characters. In Great Expectations, adapted from the Charles Dickens novel by Sarah Phelps and directed by Brian Kirk (Game of Thrones), she stars as the malevolent and tragic Miss Havisham, whose blackened heart leads her to destroy the innocence of young Pip (Douglas Booth) and Estella (Vanessa Kirby), and doom whatever chance of love either has.

Todd Antony / Courtesy of BBC Pictures

There was much grumbling in the British press about Anderson being the youngest actress to play Miss Havisham, who is traditionally portrayed as a skeletal old woman still dressed in the tattered vestiges of her wedding gown, clutching at the last shreds of her youth, while already standing in her grave. (Helena Bonham Carter will play the role in a feature film version of Great Expectations, out later this year.)

“I appreciate the purists out there who have studied Dickens,” said Anderson, elegantly dressed in a flowing white blouse and gray skirt, and seated in an empty banquet room at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena. “But the facts are, from my understanding, Miss Havisham is around 50. That is not far from 43, which is what I am. They keep talking about me being the absolute youngest, when actually the actress who played her in David Lean’s version was 46.”

“I expected when I kept reading this stuff that I was going to read that she was 75,” she said of Martita Hunt, who played the wild-haired Miss Havisham in the 1946 classic. “They just have to harp on something.”

“If a good script comes along for another film, then I’m up for it and so is David. So is [creator] Chris [Carter]. I don’t see any reason not to do it.”

Indeed, by making Miss Havisham closer to Pip’s age, the production has heightened the sense of tension, both sexual and psychological, between the two characters. “She’s not an old crow and fawning after these children, which would end up being really creepy,” said Anderson. Likewise, an additional patina of tragedy is added to the deeply disturbed character, whom Anderson imbues with a blend of ghostly transparency and obsessive madness. Pip telling her that she could have filled her decrepit home, Satis House, with children of her own cuts even deeper—she still could choose to open herself up to love. Instead, her downfall is that she can’t let go of the poison in her heart or the heartbreak in her past.

Anderson herself is more or less a Dickens novice. Her experience of the author, who would be celebrating his 200th birthday this year, is limited to her own work in adaptations of Great Expectations and Bleak House.

“I can’t remember if it was high school or college, but I attempted to read A Tale of Two Cities and I don’t recall getting through it,” she said. “I don’t think I gave him more thought until he came into my life in this respect. One of the only things that I have regrets about in my life is my experience of school and education. I wish I had known how important it was to pay attention … My first foray into a lot of the classics has been through my work. It’s only after falling in love with the screenplay or adaptation that I’ve then gone on to read the novels themselves.”

Anderson was a bit of a teenage hellion. A far cry from the sleek and sophisticated star these days, the teenage Anderson dyed her hair multiple colors and had her nose pierced. (In an infamous anecdote, she was arrested on the eve of her graduation for trying to glue the gates of her school shut, but according to an interview in US Weekly, she got off with community service and spent a week cleaning a YMCA.) Born in Chicago, she was shuttled with her family around the world for much of her childhood: a stint in Puerto Rico as a baby, a childhood spent in London, and then, at age 11, her formative years spent in Grand Rapids, Mich., where her English accent marked her as an instant outsider.

That accent still turns up on occasion, particularly when she appears on British talk shows like The Graham Norton Show or Parkinson, where Anderson deploys the cut-glass tones of one of her well-heeled characters. On this day, however, there is not a trace of Britannia in Anderson’s speech.

“When I’m in London, my partner’s British, my kids are British, and I’m surrounded by Brits,” she said, laughing. “It’s near to impossible for me to maintain my American accent in the midst of that. My first language was with a British accent … I could understand why it would be confusing for people in the States who aren’t used to me with a British accent, but I didn’t lose my British accent until well into college. Even when I started doing The X-Files, I was only a few years away from having decidedly losing it. It’s completely natural to me. When I try, in London, to not speak with a British accent or to keep it American, I just sound like a f–king idiot. It turns into some weird eurotrash thing.”

It was Anderson who raised the specter of The X-Files during the interview. After playing skeptical FBI Special Agent Dana Scully in Fox’s science-fiction thriller for nine seasons and costarring with David Duchovny in two spinoff feature films, 1998’s The X-Files and 2008’s The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Anderson was widely believed to have finished with the character and the alien-themed franchise. Not so.

“Not at all,” she said. “If a good script comes along for another film, then I’m up for it and so is David. So is [creator] Chris [Carter]. I don’t see any reason not to do it if the script is good and Fox wants to go ahead and put the money behind it. Now I don’t know if there’s a script, I don’t know whether Fox is even remotely interested, so it’s completely out of my hands. But I’d be up for it.”

Still, the entrenchment of Scully in pop culture has had its potential pitfalls, given how long Anderson portrayed the religious medical doctor-turned-FBI-field agent—she appeared in all but four of the show’s 202 episodes—and there was the risk that the actress could be pigeonholed afterward.

“There was definitely that concern coming off the series and wanting to do as many different things as possible,” Anderson said. “There is an argument that every time I decide to do another [X-Files] feature, it complicates that even more in that it solidifies me in the audience’s mind more as that character … [But] I’m not going to choose not to do it because people might be closed-minded.”

While another possible X-Files film percolates in the background, Anderson will star in the five-episode BBC Two psychological thriller The Fall, which will be shot in Belfast beginning this month and air later this year. In the project, from writer Allan Cubitt (Prime Suspect), she’ll play Metropolitan Police Detective Superintendent Gibson, who travels to Belfast to hunt a serial killer who is striking at random. The action swivels around the lives of those enmeshed in the killing spree: the victims’ families, the murderer, and Gibson herself.

“It’s so good,” said Anderson. “It’s like a miniseries; it’s only five episodes. It’s as close to Prime Suspect as I’ve ever read, which is very exciting because that was so well done and I really like this character.”

For Anderson, who said she’d also love to do a play in New York, The Fall represents yet another opportunity to do something different, in this case, short-form programming with a limited run.

“Why there have to be so many rules about what one should or can or cannot do is just so bizarre,” she said. “This is a time for experimentation and certainly there are a couple of networks that have been dabbling in short stacks of [programming], and that’s always refreshing to hear. All the stuff that’s now being shot over in Europe instead of in the States feels like it’s becoming more international than ever.”

“Surely in the world,” she said, “there’s room for everything.”

Vulture: Gillian Anderson on Great Expectations, Reading to the Royals, and Her Madonna-Like British Accent

Gillian Anderson on Great Expectations, Reading to the Royals, and Her Madonna-Like British Accent
Jennifer Vineyard

[Original article here]

PBS’s long-running Masterpiece franchise is suddenly cool again, thanks to Downton Abbey, Sherlock, and some new dusted-off Dickens adaptations, the most recent of which features a ravishing Miss Havisham, played by Gillian Anderson. The British-American* actress, much beloved by American audiences for her stint as Dana Scully on The X-Files, previously portrayed Lady Dedlock in Bleak House. Now, for Great Expectations, she’s a white-haired wonder who wears her moldering old wedding dress as a reminder of the long-ago day she was jilted at the altar. This adaptation is a salute to the bicentennial of Dickens’s birthday, and it’ll air in two installments, the first on April 1, the second on April 8. Anderson, who nearly became a Downton resident herself, called from across the pond to chat about her latest transformation, becoming besties with the royals, and her inconsistent British accent.

You just did a royal reading of Great Expectations for Dickens’s 200th birthday.
Yes, and now I’m friends with all the royals. That was a joke. If we were friends, it was for all of two minutes. They asked me to do it, completely out of the blue, and it just seemed to be one of the things that you couldn’t say no to. Not that I would say no.

How did it go?
It was the funniest thing, because I wanted to ask the Prince of Wales if he wanted to sit down, and I was practicing how I was going to ask it, because you can’t just say, “Charles, sit down.” So that was highly amusing, figuring that out. And then what to read? I was deciding between a lot of different passages. I wanted something that would be approximately five to seven minutes long, with a lot of description and without a lot of characters, because I didn’t want to do too many voices. That might be distracting. So I decided on when Miss Havisham meets Pip for the first time, and his description of her, and the house, and all the mice and beetles crawling over the wedding cake.

Are you a big Dickens fan? This is your second role in an adaptation of his work.
You know, I have a list about as long as from here to eternity of all the things I’d like to read, and Dickens is on that list, but I’m not sure I love him above all the other classics. I’ve become more fond of Dickens since working on him, but I’m not necessarily a bigger fan of him than, say, Charlotte Brontë or Edith Wharton, who are some of my real favorites. But I am more and more a fan. He was a complicated man, and he had a certain genius.

Miss Havisham is a complicated woman. The way you play her, with that singsong voice, adds a beautiful lost-soul quality, as if she were a child who’s never grown up.
That’s an aspect of her. There’s a certain amount of childish spitefulness, too. I didn’t want her to be eaten away by resentment, because it’s not clear that it’s eaten her alive. There’s a lot more poetry to her than that, and that’s what I found in her voice after the first few readings. I thought of her like an addict. She was living vicariously through Estella. She fed on the information Estella would give her, jonesing for that fix, like it was a dose of heroin. And there was something about that state of craving, obsessing, jonesing, that makes her interesting.

Do you think she was playing a Victorian version of The Game? The way she teaches Estella to be a pickup artist of sorts, to always have the upper hand?
[Laughs.] That’s absolutely it! I think it’s all about how to break a man’s heart — to be alluring and seductive and then completely frigid and insulting. I absolutely imagined all of those things — and simpler lessons that were more about not giving, not being generous, not being kind, making fun of people. I would imagine how she would teach Estella to master that kind of control over somebody, how to walk in a room and draw them in, make them fall in love, and then treat them like shit. And she taught her that love was death.

You almost make her sound a little punk rock!
She is a little punk rock. [Laughs.] She’s got crazy hair. There’s three stages of wigs there.

A lot of people got caught up with how you’re the youngest actress to ever play her …
And yet I’m exactly the right age to play her — she’s in her early forties. People get so used to what’s come before. As much as the David Lean version was the be all and end all, that version portrays her in a much more outwardly haggard and spiteful way. Without getting into prosthetics, this is another take on how someone can age during twenty years of seclusion, with no access to light. And there’s something interesting about Pip being closer to her age once he gets older and realizing she’s subjected herself to this torture. She could have had happiness, a house filled with children. That’s the tragedy.

Have you seen the spoof where Miss Havisham’s sassy gay friend tells her to take off the dress, take a bath, and take advantage of online dating?
No! [Laughs.] But I love that! At one point, at a certain time, I would have definitely been up for spoofing The X-Files — back when people would have given a shit. You know, like an Airplane version. That would have been really funny.

People still give a shit! There’s an X-Files mash-up with Downton Abbey, since the theme songs are almost the same. Do you watch Downton Abbey?
It’s nuts, but I don’t watch anything. I don’t watch a single thing. I never have. But I’ve got friends who I respect who are obsessed with it, so there’s part of me that wants to. Michelle [Dockery, who plays Lady Mary] did something for one of my charities, so there’s a double whammy there.

You’re about to start shooting a new BBC series, The Fall, in which you would play a detective hunting a serial killer.
Law enforcement is my specialty! [Laughs.] It’s a very different character than Scully, because if it were remotely the same, I wouldn’t be doing it. But it’s actually fun to play law-enforcement chicks and keep them apart. In the first episode, there’s been a death and a son of a politician is implicated; all sorts of things go wrong in the investigation, and she’s there investigating the investigation, when she discovers links to other crimes. It’s a script as close to Prime Suspect as any I’ve ever read — not that they’re trying to re-create that. The American attempt didn’t do so good. But it’s a very compelling story, especially given that she’s British and working in Belfast.

You know, I’ve noticed you usually use a British accent when you’re interviewed by Brits, and an American accent when it’s someone from the U.S. Sometimes you slip between the two. Do you have a preference?
I don’t. It depends. You know, I’m so over it. [Laughs.] This was my first language, and someone in Tennessee convinced me that I should talk more “normally” when we moved to the U.S., and I learned how to do a Midwest accent. So I can slip into that. But this is how I learned to talk, and it comes naturally to me. I’m so sick of people talking about it! I’ve made a point from now on, even if it’s really, really hard, if I’m sitting in front of a Brit, I’m determined to talk in an American accent even if it kills me. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t fucking help it. [Laughs.] Even after talking a few minutes to my mom, this is how it comes out. I ended up in someone’s house today, she’s American, and she’s only been in England for four years, but she had a British accent, too. It’s not just me and Madonna!

*This post has been corrected to show Anderson was not born in England.