There’s perhaps only one thing worse than not being the star of a hit TV series, and that’s being the star of a hit TV series. Especially if the series is really, really popular, with a cultish quality to it that can turn some fans into fanatics. All of which is to say that Gillian Anderson likely will go to her grave remembered first, last and foremost for the almost 10 years she played FBI Special Agent Dana Scully in the spooky paranormal detective drama The X-Files.
There are worse fates, of course. But now the 44-year-old actress has the opportunity for another shot at TV greatness, courtesy of her star turn as Stella Gibson, the determined, tough-as-nails detective superintendent in pursuit of a Belfast serial killer in the BBC miniseries The Fall. The mystery thriller bowed in May in Britain, where its five one-hour episodes drew an impressive average audience of more than 3.3 million viewers per showcase while earning near unanimous raves from the critics and a production order from the Beeb for a second, six-episode season in 2014. Canadians are now getting in on the buzz with Bravo screening season one Sunday evenings into early August.
Reached by phone at her home in London last week, Anderson declared her pride in both the show and her performance. “And I had a fantastic experience working on it.”
At the same time, it would be a mistake, admittedly a modest one, to see The Fall as an out-and-out Anderson comeback. While her lead marks a return to the world of TV sleuthing that made her an international star in The X-Files, she actually has never been away. This is particularly true in England, which the Chicago-born Anderson has called home for years and where her fame and critical esteem have never abated, thanks to acclaimed appearances in such TV dramas as Bleak House and Great Expectations and films like The House of Mirth and Shadow Dancer. Indeed, when Allan Cubitt, the writer and co-executive producer of The Fall, began work on the scripts for the series in 2011 it was with Anderson firmly in mind.
Anderson’s career, as she acknowledged herself, “is about to get a lot busier than it has been. There have been good chunks of committed family time between jobs over the last few years.” (Twice married, she has three children, a daughter, 18, and two sons, 6 and 4, the last with businessman Mark Griffiths, from whom she separated last year.) “And now, all of a sudden, upon agreeing to take on a bit more, it seems like, ‘Oh my goodness, is there an end in sight?’ Because there’s quite a bit of juggling that’s going to have to go on in the next couple of years.” Among the balls to be juggled, besides season two of The Fall, are roles in two other series, both American, Hannibal and Crisis, plus “some things I can’t talk about yet.”
Anderson, known to be what one writer has called “a tricky interviewee,” said she drew most of the character of Stella Gibson from Cubitt’s screenplay and took mild umbrage when asked, jokingly, if perhaps Cubitt had sent her, as preparation, some screeners of Helen Mirren’s famous performances as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect. (Cubitt was the writer of Prime Suspect 2.)
“Did it appear that that had taken place?” she asked.
When told “not at all,” she said: “Well, okay, you’ve answered your own question then. Because if he had I’d be doing something differently.”
Anderson made these comments with an American inflection to her voice. By contrast, The Fall has her speaking, coolly and flawlessly, with a posh British accent – and it’s not just acting. Between the ages of 2 and 11 she lived in London, where her father was studying film production. One of the benefits of this is a bidialectalism – a term she confessed to not knowing – that to this day allows the actress to switch easily between British and American idioms as circumstance requires. She said with a laugh: “Before talking to you, I was downstairs playing with my [two sons] and when we’re conversing, I generally, or most of the time, probably have a British accent. But with my daughter, who’s Canadian [her father is Clyde Klotz, who was assistant art director on The X-Files when it was shot in Vancouver], when she’s around, the Americanisms and Canadianisms start to come out.”
One indicator of a show’s popularity and cultural resonance is the amount of discussion it generates in the media and around the metaphoric water cooler about the clothes of its characters. Certainly this was true in the U.K. of Anderson’s wardrobe in The Fall, particularly the creamy silk blouses her character favours. Unsurprisingly, much thought went into this. Anderson calls Stella Gibson “a feminine woman. She’s not trying to dress like a man nor is she dressing provocatively. She’s wearing clothes for herself and nobody else, and it just made sense that her outfit wouldn’t be a uniform or suits, but what I guess you’d call separates.”
What female viewers in Britain responded to in Gibson’s garb, Anderson believes, was “that she looked to be comfortable in her clothes, in her own skin. There’s nothing precious about them, or over-the-top. There’s a sex appeal to them to a degree, yes, but I think women also see them as representations of freedom, strength, self-confidence.”
The second instalment of The Fall airs July 14 on Bravo at 9 p.m. ET. Check local listings.