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It isn't hard to feed the mythology of the X-Files franchise. Thanks to the steady rise of DVD sales and the Internet since the show's 1993 debut, it's a beast that has found a way to nourish itself untended over the years. The fact that a major studio would bankroll a sequel (of sorts) to a film from a decade ago, based on a television program that limped to its conclusion in 2002, is a testament to the show's enduring mystique. The X-Files: I Want To Believe has been shrouded in secrecy, and its cast has been directed to remain hush-hush about plot points, though that's probably as much a marketing ploy as a legitimate concern for the show's creator (and I Want To Believe's director) Chris Carter. It's a conspiracy wrapped up in a mystery, and it's just the kind of thing that plays upon the anticipation of its devoted throng. Gillian Anderson returns as the scientific, skeptical FBI Special Agent Dana Scully. On the eve of the release of I Want To Believe, without having seen more than the film's trailer, The A.V. Club sat down with Anderson to discuss co-star David Duchovny, "anal efforts," Sri Lankan fanboys, and the art of answering "sucky" questions.
The A.V. Club: This interview poses a unique challenge, considering the screening of I Want To Believe is later tonight, and you aren't allowed to talk about its plot points anyway.
Gillian Anderson: Oh, shoot. So you're seeing it after this interview? That's kind of a drag.
AVC: Plus, we only have 15 minutes with you. This should be about as revealing as a Congressional hearing. You can just keep saying, "I do not recall."
GA: I guess, but you know what? It actually makes it easier on me, because otherwise, people ask direct questions if they've seen it, and I forget what I'm allowed to talk about and what I'm not allowed to talk about. But if they haven't seen it, then you just don't talk about anything.
AVC: David Duchovny seems to be getting most of the credit for shoring up the enthusiasm to make this film. What were your initial feelings about returning to reprise the role of Dana Scully? And did your feelings change or evolve over the course of making the film?
GA: I think it was something we were all initially really enthusiastic about. When the series ended, we all talked about future plans and how great it would be, eventually, to come together again and participate in something like this. My understanding of it is that over time, and through all the things that went wrong, Chris [Carter's] enthusiasm eroded a bit. That would be understandable, going through lawsuits and contracts and all that kind of stuff. So from what I've heard, David was the one who said, "We can do this. Let's take advantage of this." And Fox [Studios] said, "Yeah. It's now or never." But I think from the beginning, it's always been something that we, as a group, have wanted to take place. Our enthusiasm for coming together—and also for our individual characters—I don't think has waned. If anything, it perhaps has grown just from the distance-making-the-heart-grow-fonder kind of thing.
AVC: Internet message boards are full of fans picking apart the trailer, looking for the tiniest clues to the storyline. There's all this talk of scars around people's necks, green liquids, Billy Connolly's bloody eyes, dogs, snow, and so on. Is there any cohesive thing you can talk about, to help put all those elements into some context?
GA: One thing I can tell you, which is a big thing, is that all of the things that you see in the trailer do actually take place in the film. In this day and age, there's something to be said for that. But also, um… [Pauses.] Yeah. [Laughs.]
AVC: The show and the characters have a long reach. In your travels, do you find it's easier to have lunch successfully in some places more than others?
GA: I can have lunch more successfully because they get me a better table, or more successfully because they leave me alone?
AVC: Because they leave you alone.
GA: It depends. It's weird. I remember at one point, in a small town in Kenya, somebody recognized me. Another time, I was in Sri Lanka and the guy who was helping load the bags onto our trolley went nuts! It was completely unexpected. Most of the time, I forget, and it's not until somebody reminds me that I go, "Oh yeah. People recognize me." I didn't know what he was going on about, and then all of a sudden I clued in, but apparently the show is really, really popular in Sri Lanka. But then there are loads of places I've traveled—the majority of the places I've traveled—where there could be a huge fan base there somewhere, but it's not necessarily as in your face as it is in Western culture.
AVC: You've been in period pieces like The House Of Mirth and Bleak House. You've been in London stage productions and even hosted Masterpiece Theatre for PBS. Dana Scully seems to be the only character you've played that requires the physical exertion of an action star. Do you have any—
GA: [Laughs.] Regrets?
AVC: Well, maybe—
GA: Do you mean, is there some reason for that?
AVC: Did reprising this role require extra preparation after spending so much time away from this character and this kind of film?
GA: Fortunately, I had read the script in July and knew that I wasn't going to be shooting it until December or January, and what I had read had me doing a lot more walking than running. So I made a conscious decision that I wasn't going to put myself through any undue exercising. [Laughs.] No, but part of it was that I was planning on getting pregnant again—which I now am—and the thought of getting into shape in between and then having to lose it for the pregnancy, it just did not sound interesting to me. So Chris wrote in the words "run" and "climb" in David's version of the script, and not in mine.
AVC: How much is true about the enforced security surrounding the details of this film? There are stories about supporting actors having to read their scripts in a special locked room while being filmed so that there were no leaks. Is that just a marketing tool that plays into the mythology of The X-Files, or was it really that strict?
GA: It was strict. I was allowed to read it once last July on Chris' computer, in the house that I was staying in. He came over and sat in the other room while I read it. I tried not to delete anything. [Laughs.] Then he left with his computer. That's how it began for me. And then I didn't read it again until we had the read-through. Then there was no reading it again, because the working script that I got in January was just the scenes that I was shooting. If that's the extent they were willing to go to for David and I, then they better have made it difficult for everybody else. A lot of the crew didn't read the script; they didn't know what was going on. They knew a particular scene, and there's this guy and this dog, and there's this… [Long pause.] There's this…
AVC: Yes? Go on.
GA: [Laughs.] I'm trying to figure out what else I can say! There are all these elements—is what I'm trying to say—to each scene, but they didn't know necessarily where it fit, or what it meant, or what was going to happen next, or why. The thing is, with all the crew coming in and out and all the cast coming in and out and staying in hotels, call sheets being faxed, things being e-mailed, it's so easy to leave something behind—a photocopy or a script. I once left my working script… I haven't told anybody this yet. I left it somewhere in a little carry bag, but I left it in a very public place. I panicked a bit, especially after all the efforts everyone had been making. I'm generally not a forgetful person, but, well, yes I am. It just takes something small like that and the whole thing is blown. So it's important. I support them in their anal efforts.
AVC: Right from the very first episode of The X-Files, in the 1993 pilot, there was already a certain romantic tension between Dana Scully and Fox Mulder—
GA: The scene in his office?
AVC: Yeah, but even more so later on, when you're learning about each other, and it's candlelit, and he's telling you about his daughter—
GA: His sister, but I know what you mean.
AVC: Yes, his sister.
GA: You just revealed your true lack of knowledge about the series. [Laughs.]
AVC: There's also the scene where you take off your sweater to show him the markings on your back that turn out to just be mosquito bites. The point is, you had to maintain this kind of tension over the course of, what, 170 episodes—
GA: 201! I do hope your piece reveals the fact that you know so little about the series, and you aren't going to pretend that you're some die-hard fan. I'm just giving you a hard time.
AVC: Some of the speculation about I Want To Believe is that it's as much a film about your romantic relationship as it is about the action. There was even some rumor that you both fought to get a love scene out of the script.
GA: There is a lot of relationship stuff in the script. It kind of makes sense. As you'll see, the way that we deal with the relationship between these two people is integral to the storyline and how they deal with what they're going through. I don't know anything about fighting for a sex scene to be taken out. That could have been in an earlier draft, and maybe David had enough sex in Californication that he didn't want to have to do it in this film as well. [Laughs.] Also, I'm somebody that he knows so well—which I'm sure is not a preference—so maybe he just didn't want to have anything to do with it. I don't know. I didn't know that there was something other than what was in the final script, but maybe that is just part of all the hullabaloo that's been stirred up.
AVC: In terms of your career, was there any reluctance to go back to this? Any fear you may never be able to outrun the shadow of Dana Scully?
GA: Not really. It's taken a while for me to convince people that I can do something other than Scully. And it still takes effort. But I don't think at any time I did think, "If I do this film again, it's going to set me back." I think the benefits and the opportunity to do this far outweighs all that. Obviously, my preference would be that I could continue to do both and that the human race will be open-minded enough encompass both in their opinions about it. That's how I've been approaching it.
AVC: Even though you're best known for your work on The X-Files, it's actually the aberration when you look at your work as a whole. Over the years, you've been drawn to very different kinds of projects. Does it frustrate you at all that the public practically demands that you return to this world?
GA: I think it did when I was at the end of the series—after such a long time, I was really trying hard to start the ball rolling by doing other stuff. It was frustrating that I had finally done some different things, and within the first five minutes, an interviewer couldn't help but switch to The X-Files. It was actually during the series when I was at this huge charity event that I helped organize, and there was a woman who wanted an interview. I can't remember what newspaper, but it was legitimate enough, so we allowed her 10 minutes backstage during this huge event to do an interview about the charity. She asked one question about the charity, and then it was immediately about The X-Files. That's the kind of stuff that used to happen even while we were doing the series. I couldn't even do a good deed without it somehow being related back to the show. So by the time when it was finished, I just needed some peace of mind. I needed a break, I needed not to have to talk about it for a period of time until I was ready to talk about it again. A lot was made of my refusal to do so, but somebody's got to put their foot down.
AVC: You've recently started a charity auction of X-Files memorabilia from your own collection. Are you clearing out your basement completely, or are there any items you can't part with?
GA: I'm keeping stuff. I've been very careful. I've gone through pretty much everything. I'm very careful not to let go of the prized possessions, or too much of it that I'll regret in the future. But I had a heck of a lot of stuff. I must be some sick form of a pack rat, but there's a lot. There's going to be almost 700 items in the auction.
AVC: To promote the film, you attended the New York Comic Con this year. Did it ever become uncomfortable being that close to so many rabid fans?
GA: I don't think any of us were quite prepared for what happened at Comic Con. I think the whole series and the fact that a movie was coming up again, I think it was a surprise for Chris and [co-writer] Frank [Spotnitz] as well, about the degree of enthusiasm and how nuts people are still. I think that was a good indication for them that all the effort they had put in over the past months and years might have some reward in the end, with the praise and enthusiasm from the people actually showing up.
AVC: Well, that adds a bit of pressure. You live in London now, and there's allegedly one surveillance camera for every 14 people in Britain. Considering that The X-Files explores conspiracies and paranoia, have any of those themes carried over into your real life?
GA: God, that is a sucky question to end on.
AVC: Sorry. That didn't feel like 15 minutes.
GA: [Laughs.] I don't know. There's part of me that, actually, well… I'm not going to say that publicly. I tend to be very skeptical and judgmental. I'm not really a conspiracy theorist, but I'm more likely to believe the people that speak about a conspiracy, or are convinced of conspiracies in the government, than the people who have 100 percent faith in the people who are running America. Until Obama comes in! And then it will all change. Let me just say that. But, in my life, no. [Pauses and laughs.] I really don't know how to answer that question.