A burly shadowy figure silently swoops into the Gardens restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles. He stops at a corner table, where actress Gillian Anderson is gingerly picking at her crab-claw brunch, and adjusts the listening device in his ear. Pinned to the lapel of his drab gray suit is a small circular button bearing a single cryptic letter: X.
”Everything is clear,” he reports to Anderson. ”When you come out, I’ll be there.” Then he slips away.
Who was that massive man? ”One of my security guards,” Anderson explains, somewhat abashedly. The 27-year-old actress has traveled from her home in Vancouver to appear at her first X-Files convention, and the organizers have provided her with the sort of protection usually afforded heads of state. A few days earlier, four barrel-chested escorts met her plane at LAX.
”One of them looked like Dr. No, or Mr. No — that guy who threw his hat and killed people,” she says, meaning the Bond hitman Oddjob. ”I was walking with my arms folded in the middle of these people. It’s the most bizarre thing in the world.”
A funny reaction from a woman who gives life to FBI agent Dana Scully on a series about mutants, aliens, and other paranormal perversities. As counterpoint to David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder, who never met a conspiracy he didn’t like, Scully’s cool, scientific skepticism has turned her, despite some of the dowdiest clothing on TV, into a thinking man’s babe. The Gillian Anderson Testosterone Brigade, a group of men who worship her from the Internet, consider her no less than the personification of ”the real woman, not yet another bimbo chasing after criminals in high heels. She isn’t a supermodel and doesn’t try to be.”
This season has provided Anderson’s meatiest plot to date; in the episode ”Revelations,” Scully finally suspends her disbelief to fight the devil himself — much to the surprise of a for-once skeptical Mulder. It was the kind of performance that justifies her 1995 Golden Globe nomination and prompts X-Files creator-executive producer Chris Carter to liken her to gold: ”I feel blessed every day that I watch her work, because she gets better and better.”
And yet, while Duchovny has blazed a trail across magazine covers and through late-night talk shows, Anderson’s star has risen slowly. ”At first I felt like, This is our show. It wasn’t just his show,” she says. ”But I learned to not care so much.”
Fame remains something of an alien experience for Anderson, and in conversation she protects herself from its intrusions almost as vigilantly as the men who surrounded her at the airport. Dressed for the convention in a Scully-appropriate teal blue suit and plain wire-rim glasses, she looks more like a bank manager than a glamour girl. As the security guard escorts her out of the restaurant, she blanches in mortification: The white stretch limo sent to deliver her seems big enough to host the convention. ”This is too much,” Anderson protests. Her manager dutifully makes a note on the first page of a script: ”Limos — smaller.”
Anderson is perhaps warier than usual. After a restless night before her convention debut, she’s nervous and tired. ”I ate a brownie at 11 o’clock and got wired,” she says. (”That Gillian, what a wild woman,” Duchovny later deadpans.) She’s also still smarting from a Los Angeles Times story of three days before, which included a few injudicious Anderson quotes, including one that described her X-Files shooting schedule as ”a death sentence.” ”It was a meaningless joke,” she says. ”I felt bad for the people that it affected, and so I’m being careful.”
”I was upset,” Carter acknowledges. ”I called her and said, ‘Look, this is a chance of a lifetime. The work is so hard, I’m sure it feels as if you’ve signed your life away. But if we all felt like that, we might as well go home and pack it up.”’
Anderson’s habitual earnestness doesn’t serve her as well as her co-star’s quicksilver glibness, and it frustrates her: ”David is very good at [interviews]. I’m not good at smart, witty, two-line comments that can’t be misinterpreted.”
Avid viewers of The X-Files know two things about Agent Dana Scully. Not much grosses her out, trained as she is in forensic medicine (when it comes to rotting corpses, Mulder is the sensitive flower). Anderson, as it turns out, mirrors her character on this point. ”I love dissecting things, ironically enough,” says the actress, who illustrates this revelation with a little story about pigs’ eyes she planted in a teacher’s drawer. Last season, she put a cricket in her mouth for ”Humbug,” an X-Files episode about circus freaks. ”There was this [tattooed] guy sitting in front of me eating 200 [live bugs] at a time, chomping on them — and I’m not going to put one in my mouth?”
The other thing about Scully? She’s so detached, so restrained, so unemotional, you sometimes want to smack her. It’s not that there’s a lack of feeling; it’s that there’s such a reluctance to act upon those feelings and the possibilities they offer. In the past year, scripts have provided welcome cracks in Scully’s armor; rather than being Mulder’s foil, she is suddenly his passionate equal. As a result, a nice little tension is building between the two agents.
Likewise, Anderson becomes more appealing when she opens up a bit. Born in Chicago and raised in Puerto Rico, London, and Grand Rapids, Mich. (where her father now runs a film post-production company; her mother is a computer analyst), Anderson was, in fact, a poster child for tortured adolescence. As a teen, she pierced her nose, shaved her hair into a Mohawk, and joined a band of kindred, combat-booted dispirits. ”We’d walk down the street and give the finger to [whoever stared at] us,” she recalls. ”We’d go hear bands and smash against each other and jump off the stage. It was cool to get hurt. I needed to express my anger, because I had a lot of it — and I still do. I was never very good at expressing other emotions,” adds Anderson. ”I did everything I could not to feel pain.”
The dime-store psychoanalysis stops here; suffice it to say that, in Anderson’s opinion, acting saved her. ”It gave me an outlet to express myself,” she says of her first play, at a Grand Rapids community theater. ”It was so freeing.” She went on to graduate from DePaul University’s theater school, then appeared in a few Off Broadway plays and in the independent feature The Turning before heading to Hollywood. After a year of auditioning yielded just one small TV role, she read for a show called The X-Files.
”She came in looking a little disheveled, a little grungier than I’d imagined Scully,” Carter recalls. ”But you can’t miss those classic features. And she had a seriousness, a believability as a scientist.” Network execs balked; they wanted an established TV actress. ”I got up,” remembers Carter, ”and said quite loudly that I did not want that other actress. I wanted Gillian.”
A few days after getting the part, Anderson flew to Vancouver to start shooting. ”David took me under his wing,” Anderson recalls. ”[His reassurance] meant a lot to me, and still does, because it was a very scary time.”
Anderson scoffs at rumors of a romance with Duchovny. ”I love rumors that have no basis in reality that are funny,” she says with a smile. ”[They’re] not hurting anybody.” Duchovny, whose two-year relationship with actress Perrey Reeves ended only a few months ago, is less enchanted. ”I think gossip is hurtful,” he says, before turning blasé. ”You know, it doesn’t matter to me.”
Anderson did find love on the X-Files set, with art director Errol Clyde Klotz, 34, near the start of the first season. Four months later, they married in Hawaii. (Klotz left The X-Files and has since worked on ABC’s animated series Reboot.) Soon after, Anderson was pregnant. With her due date falling smack in the middle of the second season, Carter wrote around it: Mysterious forces, possibly aliens, made off with Scully. Ten days after giving birth by cesarean to a girl, Piper, Anderson returned to the set to lie in another hospital bed; Scully, back from her abduction, was in a coma for one episode.
Today, Piper accompanies Anderson and a nanny to work. One day in January, the toddler tooled around the set clutching an alien doll with a missing front tooth; its little T-shirt read, ”The tooth is out there.” Oddly, with all the monsters lurking about, it’s the sugarcoated creatures that scare Piper. ”They had a Santa on the set,” recalls Anderson, ”and she was terrified.”
At the X-Files convention, Anderson is experiencing a similar terror. Dean Haglund, who plays one of the Lone Gunmen, is getting avalanches of laughter with an audience-assisted, improvised spoof of an episode. ”I don’t have anything funny to say,” Anderson frets in the makeshift green room.
Moments before she’s to speak, the vast hall’s lights dim. Clips of Scully’s greatest hits play on a giant screen and the crowd erupts into whoops and hollers, particularly when Scully gets cranky and kicks butt. Off stage, Anderson laughs in amazement. When she walks on, the applause is tumultuous. Flashbulbs fire. The 2,000-plus crowd stands up or perches on chairs for a better look. Kids, many of them young girls, some holding bouquets as if to throw at the feet of a diva, scurry to a microphone. Clearly overwhelmed, Anderson abandons her speech and immediately offers to take questions. An adolescent boy asks why Duchovny has received more cover stories than she has. For a moment Anderson looks as if she might sidestep the question or defer to her costar. But she doesn’t. ”Maybe it’s my time now,” Anderson replies.