Gillian Anderson, speaking during a masterclass at the Canneseries television festival on France’s Cote d’Azur on Saturday, teased that she was developing “something else” based on the life of a historical figure, after her roles as Margaret Thatcher in “The Crown” and Eleanor Roosevelt in the upcoming series “The First Lady.” No further details were provided by the actor, who recently signed a production deal with Netflix.
Speaking about the recognition of her professional achievements, like the Variety Icon Award she accepted on Friday at Cannes, she said it was “a little surreal actually”, adding, “it’s kind of like it’s happening to someone else.”
Asked by French journalist Nora Bouazzouni, who was the on-stage interviewer, if she had realized that her role as Dana Scully in “The X-Files” was going to change the face of female protagonists on television when she reading the script for the first time, Anderson replied, “Oh my God, no. She considered it just work and “thought it might be a year’s worth of work”.
Anderson agreed with Bouazzouni’s assertion that Scully was a “tough guy” – “confident” and “no pressure” – and it set the tone for his entire career. “I think the badass-ness pre-existed in me […] and she brought that out in me. The tough guy nature has a bit of rebellion in it, and I had pushed that to its limits before Scully. But I’m definitely attracted to badass women.
She acknowledged that there was a ‘stigma’ attached to television at this time and said of her decision to take on the role: ‘It was a naive and very innocent entry into television. I hadn’t wanted to do television, and television – for women in particular – at the time was not something to aspire to.
However, she added, “I was really lucky in this first foray into television with this amazing character.”
Discussing her onstage role as Blanche DuBois in director Benedict Andrews’s 2014 production of Tennessee Williams’ ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, she said: “I had such an amazing experience working on this production.” Adding that, “once you do Williams, it lives inside of you – in your soul somewhere.” She said she got lost in the role, “to the point where I wasn’t sure I could get out the other side.” Andrews had said that the tension of the performance should be as if there was a spinning shark beneath the characters.
Acting on stage was “terrifying”. “There’s something about danger that appeals to me, whereas at the time it put me off,” she said. “And nothing beats the theater in terms of the exchange between the audience and the actor. Every night is completely different.
Moving on to her role as Stella Gibson in “The Fall,” she said the character was also a “tough guy.” She said such role models weren’t present in popular culture when she was growing up. “She felt so unique when I read her on the page. I felt she needed to be in the atmosphere. She needed to be released into the world. Almost like a companion for women. Just knowing that someone like that could exist.
Discussing her choice of roles, she said her characters “all seem like single-minded, determined workaholics”. An example was Margaret Thatcher in “The Crown”. She said she was “terrified” about taking on the role, because “people know her so well. She’s on the conscience of many of us […] and people have very strong feelings about him.
Anderson said when approaching a role “there’s no guarantee it’ll work out,” but the actor just has to get into the performance. She added: “Luckily I don’t think I took her home.”
As with Thatcher, she had studied Eleanor Roosevelt’s “vocal gestures” for her role in “The First Lady,” and that helped her get into character. She teased that she was developing “something else” with another historical figure at the center and then she would be “done” with historical figures.
Moving on to the role of sex therapist Jean Milburn in ‘Sex Education’, she said “it’s more me than any of the other characters”, adding “that’s not quite true”. She said: “I’m having so much fun doing it. We’re properly allowed to play and take things as far as we want, so it felt quite liberating for us. I love how inappropriate it is and morally ambiguous.She credited Milburn for “normalizing female sexuality” and noted that her podcast on Curio, “What Do I Know?!”, had a few articles devoted to the topic of sex among older people.