Gillian Anderson first moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s with the intention of transitioning from a career on stage to one on the big screen. After a year of “logging audition after audition” for films of various sizes, though, she agreed to add television to the mix as well. In 1993 she landed a spot on Fox drama “Class of ’96.” While that was a one-off guest-starring role, proving she could “hit a mark” and developing a relationship with the network helped her land “The X-Files,” the series she credits with launching her career. As “The X-Files” prepares to premiere a continuation of its 2016 revival, Anderson is celebrating with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Jan. 8.
Anderson attributes her big break to luck more than ambition. “I was so green at the beginning, and so young, and I was just exploring,” she says. “I showed up and hit my mark and learned my lines and was pulled into this vortex of this hit show. It was my first professional, proper gig, and it was a cannon of sorts.”
Anderson says she has always been, and always will be, very grateful to Scully for the impact that she’s had both on her own career and on a number of young women around the world, many of whom decided to go into the fields of science or law enforcement after seeing that world opened to them by the show.
“The character that Chris Carter created, one didn’t see her often on television at that time,” says Anderson. “So to be a part of that was incredibly empowering for me and extraordinary to be a part of both a character and a series that was so iconic and game-changing.”
However, she says that after living in Scully’s skin for nine seasons during the original run of “The X-Files” she was “so identified with that character” that it became important to her to prove that wasn’t the only thing she could do.
“In the U.K. there always had been a multi-platform for actors to work in — there hadn’t been a stigma between television, film and theater, and some of the best actors in British history have moved between the media effortlessly,” Anderson says. “And so when I moved there and was approached to do ‘Bleak House,’ I was slightly shocked that they would imagine that I would be able to do something like that, but that was exactly the kind of thing that I had always wanted to do. And so I leapt onto that.”
In addition to the 2005 BBC drama, Anderson points to a handful of titles when considering the projects that have been as personally career-defining for her as “The X-Files.” The 2006 feature film “The Last King of Scotland” is one she believes allowed “people in the industry to think differently” about what she could do, while working with Bryan Fuller on both “Hannibal” and “American Gods” has been “creatively fulfilling” and “wonderful both because he has my back and has created stuff specifically for me.”
Being able to return to the stage, including a 2016 production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” in New York, has had a “big impact” on her as an actor, as well.
And then there is “The Fall,” Allan Cubitt’s serial killer cat-and-mouse series on which she also served as executive producer. “‘The Fall’ was an extraordinary project to be involved in. Creatively it felt very collaborative, and I loved the character, and it felt very important as a woman to have that character out there in the world for women,” Anderson says.
Anderson first stepped behind the camera in 2000 for an episode of “The X-Files” she wrote and directed called “All Things” and has subsequently added book writing to her skillset. The first installment in “The EarthEnd Saga” sci-fi thriller series, co-authored with Jeff Rovin, was published in 2014; Simon & Schuster published the third installment in September. Earlier in 2017, she also published “We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere” with Jennifer Nadel, a book that is “part self-help and part social theory,” designed to encourage and nurture women to live happier and better lives.
Although Anderson admits that a certain sense of responsibility came when she realized the extent of her reach thanks to her role as Scully, the choices she has made in her career since — and the ones she continues to make as she prepares for the future — are not out of a sense of obligation to do things others may want or expect from her but rather what is “ingrained in [her] nature.”
“First and foremost I would say whether it excites me creatively to take me away from my kids,” Anderson says of what she looks for at this stage in her career. “That includes, obviously, the quality of the writing, the director that’s attached, the amount of time I would be required to work on it. I’ve got to feel that it’s going to be challenging and different enough from what I’ve done before.”