Since her breakthrough role in long-running sci-fi drama The X-Files in the ’90s, GILLIAN ANDERSON has captivated audiences of both screen and stage – most recently stepping into the shoes of Margaret Thatcher in The Crown. HANNA FLINT meets the actor to talk about the invaluable lessons of 2020, self-growth and why this lady is for turning.
It’s a sunny autumn afternoon in London’s Hyde Park and Gillian Anderson is doing a spot of birdwatching. We’re really here to discuss her latest role in The Crown’s season four, of course, in which she plays the formidable first British female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. But, every so often, the British-American actor becomes mesmerized by the creatures in the Serpentine lake. “Look at what that swan’s doing with its feathers!” she exclaims. “Sorry, but look at what the brown one is doing – it’s making a heart shape.”
Anderson is admittedly no student of ornithology – there’s a struggle to remember the names of some of the birds on view – but she did have a childhood dream of becoming a marine biologist. Now, the idea of even playing one would be a nightmare. “I wouldn’t want to get wet is the truth of the matter,” she says. “It’s definitely got to the point now where there are things I would refuse to do. A friend of mine was potentially going to be in the movie Everest, but I remember thinking at the time, ‘Oh God, imagine what that would entail!’ I’m just not that person.”
So, what kind of person is Anderson? As a much-celebrated actor, she has won several awards for playing Agent Dana Scully in the popular sci-fi series The X-Files, and earned further acclaim in The Fall as detective superintendent Stella Gibson, and then more recently in Sex Education as glamorous sex therapist Jean Milburn.
She’s a proud Londoner, too, having lived in the capital for most of her adult life. And she’s evidently an animal lover, given how many times the conversation has been interjected by a diving cormorant or a swimming Labrador. Privacy is very important to her, and she prefers to keep her family life to herself – although she isn’t afraid to share some funny personal truths. For instance, she turned down an offer to launch her own Sex Education-inspired sex-toy line: “I can’t remember why I said no.” And there was the time, many years ago, when she pitched a video-sharing idea to a woman who helped set up Google and Facebook. It turned out the idea already existed and was about to be launched as YouTube. “That was the last time I shared any bright ideas about tech,” the actor chuckles.
In the cold light of day, Anderson, who is 52 years old and currently makeup-free, looks as radiant as she’s ever been seen on screen during the past 30 years. Anderson cares about her looks (she points out that she had her roots done that morning, ready for some impending filmed press engagements), but is somewhat self-deprecating about how she’s managed to find a loophole in the aging process. “I’ve heard from my mum, my whole life, that my great-grandma Rose had really good skin, but I often fall asleep in my makeup, and whenever I do a photo shoot, everybody always points out that my skin is really dry.”
While the actor is modest about her appearance, she’s confident about the roles she wants to play and, really, who can blame her? “It’s different now than even 10 or 15 years ago,” she says. “[Then] a woman my age, at least in television, would be struggling to find something, but now there seems to be a plethora of rich roles.” With characters like A Streetcar Named Desire’s Blanche DuBois, Margo Channing of All About Eve and now Margaret Thatcher under her belt, she confesses, “It’s hard not to get a little picky.”
There was a moment, making the fourth series of The Crown, when Gillian Anderson was in full costume as Margaret Thatcher and her partner, the series writer Peter Morgan, came to see her on set. “I smiled at him, as me, Gillian, smiling at her boyfriend, and he said, ‘This is Thatcher! This smile is Thatcher!’” Anderson recalls, laughing. “And I’m like, no! This smile is me!”
Watching the show, you can understand the confusion. In the role, Anderson performs one of those metamorphoses where though she is entirely visible as herself beneath that great cloud of hair, she is also utterly transformed. For a while, the creative team had toyed with the idea of her wearing prosthetic teeth to capture the distinct shape of Thatcher’s mouth, but Anderson found them too cumbersome.
She wore a padded suit beneath her clothes to bulk up her frame a little, but otherwise there were no particular physical changes beyond what she was able to do as an actor: the grand, almost hoarse voice, the tilting walk, the smile that is genial but edged with intent. The important thing, says Anderson now, sitting in a Hyde Park café, “was not doing it so much that it ended up a parody.”
There’s nothing parodic about the finished product, released on Netflix this month. Instead, there is the weird sensation of finding yourself sympathising with one of the most controversial prime ministers the UK has ever had, who always seemed monumental and invulnerable until her final ousting from Downing Street.
As the episodes unfold, you watch Thatcher running up against the snobbish judgement of the Royal Family, the patronising disdain of some of her Cabinet members. “I had to get to a point where it’s nothing to do with my opinions of her policies, of her actions,” says Anderson. “It is only about her as a human being and her motivation as a politician and as a mother.”
At times, she says she found herself questioning the portrayal – why wasn’t there more on the poll tax or Northern Ireland? But she was given no special treatment as the writer’s partner to shape her character. “For our own sanity, and actually for the benefit of the relationship, we had very clear boundaries,” she says. “I am not going to comment on the script, but you are not allowed to comment on the performance!”
A follow-up course in Sex Education has been added to Netflix’s winter curriculum: The streamer announced Monday that Season 2 of the acclaimed British comedy will drop all eight episodes on Friday, Jan. 17.
Netflix unveiled the premiere date along with the following mural, which features the show’s main characters: Otis (played by Asa Butterfield), Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), Maeve (Emma Mackey), Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), Adam (Connor Swindells), Ola (Patricia Allison) and Lily (Tanya Reynolds).
Sex Education follows the aforementioned Otis, a socially awkward high schooler who lives with his sex therapist mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson). In Season 1, Otis and his friend Maeve set up a sex clinic at school to capitalize on his intuitive talent for sex advice.
When we pick up in Season 2, “late bloomer Otis must master his newly discovered sexual urges in order to progress with his girlfriend Ola, whilst also dealing with his now strained relationship with Maeve,” according to the official logline. “Meanwhile, Moordale Secondary is in the throes of a Chlamydia outbreak, highlighting the need for better sex education at the school, and new kids come to town who will challenge the status quo.”
We chat to acclaimed actor and activist Gillian Anderson on philanthropy, style and her sophomore collection for Winser London.
Here, Gillian Anderson talks about her work with Women for Women International, how she likes to spend her downtime and collaborating with Winser London on her hotly anticipated second collection.
What was the inspiration behind your second collection?
The primary inspiration was that I had so much fun with the first collection that I knew I wanted to do it again. Rather than reinventing the wheel we decided to put out a couple of different colours in the same cuts of two successful styles and even used the cut of the Boyfriend Jumper for the lips range. Then the question was, if we only do one dress – what is a style that can cross seasons and feel dressy and yet equally casual with a pair of boots and a funky coat? If we only do one blouse, what style is both the antithesis of last season’s Silk Blouse and also matches the personality of the dress? And if I’m to do a trouser, given last season was a Tuxedo Cigarette Pant why not try and create what I wear day in and out through the winter, Mini Bootleg Black Low-Rise Stretch Jeans.
What are your favourite pieces from the new collection, and why?
Oh that’s hard! I do love the Lips sweaters, not least because a percentage of proceeds is being donated to one of my favourite charities for women but also because the quality of the image worked and kept its personality even on a cashmere blend, which is a challenging expectation. The hooded coats are definitely a favourite because they are so versatile and fun.
How would you describe your personal style?
Eek, I’d say simple. I think? On a day-to-day basis I don’t put a lot of effort into what I wear and dress for practicality (with heels though) but if I’m dressing up I do like clean, classic lines and am not likely to go for a pattern – as much as I like patterns they just don’t work on me.
Who inspires you in work, life and style?
Probably my friend Gabriela Hearst. She has an incredible personal style which is reflected in how she dresses. She works so hard on her clothing line and fabrics and manages to balance it effectively with kids and husband and friends and meditation. She’s a force to be reckoned with. If she is a racehorse, I am a miniature pony.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?
Do your very best and let go of the results. That means to show up prepared and committed and positive and present and leave the results to the powers that be. As long as you know you have done your best, nothing else matters. Great if whatever it is works out, and if it doesn’t at least you know you did your best and it simply wasn’t meant for you at this time. Difficult to do in practice at first and easy to get into self-criticism and blame and resentment, but once you get used to truly letting go, it can be one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself.
Tell us more about your work with Women for Women International and how they’re spotlighted in your new collection?
Jennifer Nadel who I co-wrote WE: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere with first brought them to my attention and we encouraged readers of the book to make donations to this wonderful organisation. Since then I have tried to help raise awareness and funds.
Women for Women International helps women in post conflict zones get back on their feet. It teaches them about their rights, teaches them a trade so they can become self-sufficient, teaches them about personal hygiene and how to take care of themselves and encourages them to be active in their communities. They really honour the women they work with and stay in contact with them for years afterwards – personally visiting the women on the ground on a regular basis and making sure the programs are running effectively. It’s just a wonderful organization.
One of the fundraising projects I did was to partner with RedBubble to make a T-shirt with an image of my lips that had been presented to me by a fan. Other fans started buying the t-shirts knowing all our RedBubble profits were going to Women for Women. I then decided to take it one step further in this Winser London collection with a cashmere blend sweater where the image was worked into the weave in three great colours.
Finally, what do you like to do to relax?
Watch documentaries. Heaven.
Source: Winser London
Gillian Anderson is a woman of many duelling qualities, and it is hard to know quite what to expect when meeting her. Her old interviews are displays of either surprising candour or frosty reserve. She can be earnest and thoughtful, sometimes to the point of seeming grave, yet she peppers her social media with “penis/yoni of the day” posts, pictures of things that happen to look like genitals, even when they are not. She speaks with an American accent when with Americans, and with a crisp British accent with Brits, though she retains a US sheen on only one word that I clocked: “process”. She is extremely famous and has been for more than half her life, yet has maintained a sense of mystery and intrigue, and is keenly private.
Naturally, then, in a photographic studio in a tiny back street in north London, talk has turned to tattoos of Anderson’s face on strangers’ buttocks. It started with one of her own cashmere jumpers, part of her new capsule collection for the London brand Winser (she turned designer for them in 2018, adding another string to an already creaking bow that includes activist and author, as well as actor) that features a familiar-looking mouth emblazoned across the chest, accented by that Monroe-esque beauty spot.
“It is a strange thing, yes,” she agrees, adding that of all the pieces, she probably won’t make a habit of wearing the one with her own face on it. It’s an impish design, but this being Anderson, there’s more to it than a bit of self-reflective fun: some of its profits will go to Women for Women, which helps support female survivors of conflict.
“Well, the way that started was, a fan showed up with a T-shirt that she had made with my mouth on it. Which I recognised, and I went, ‘Wait, is that…?’” That might be an unnerving experience for most people, but Anderson has to admit that for her, it is not so out of the ordinary. “I’m kind of used to it,” she shrugs. “Especially because of my old job. The enthusiasm of the fans, from being in something that’s remotely science fiction, is more intense. And so I’m used to tattoos on calves and buttocks and stuff like that.”
In 1993, The X Files arrived on television, with Anderson at the helm as the sceptical FBI agent Dana Scully. She had just turned 25, and she found herself at the frenzied frontier of a cultural phenomenon. The tattoos soon followed.
“It was really early on, actually. I had gone to Australia to do press, and somebody had David Duchovny and me on their buttocks, and were offering to show us.” She laughs. The thought of what they might look like now tickles her. “I don’t know whether we are both less… chubby-cheeked?”
Anderson has been wrangling with what is public and private for the past three decades. Recently, she has found herself having to think about it again. The X Files came back in 2016, after 14 years away, and now there is Sex Education, the Netflix teen comedy-drama in which she plays a sex therapist. “This has gone to a completely different level,” she smiles. “And it’s been a while since I’ve been in something that is so universally watched as this is. Even when I did The Fall, it was popular, but it wasn’t Netflix popular, you know? So the level of recognition has gone up to what it was when I was younger.” The trouble is that she forgets. “I’m so used to sliding under the radar that there have been some situations recently where it’s just been… a lot. Travelling with kids and stuff. You don’t want to be that person. You want to be like, ah, thanks!”
Actors including Gillian Anderson, Joanna Lumley, Meera Syal, Jim Broadbent and Damian Lewis are to appear on stage in a murder mystery where their lines will be fed to them through an earpiece.
The Park Theatre in north London has revealed details of an eye-catching play in which one of the main characters will be played by a series of actors who have had no rehearsal, direction or access to the script.
Whodunnit (Unrehearsed) will feature a different guest performer each night. Other names so far are Catherine Tate, Juliet Stevenson, Maureen Lipman, Ruby Wax, Tim Vine, John Bishop, Clive Anderson, Simon Callow, Ronan Keating, Marcus Brigstocke and Gyles Brandreth.
After a two-week run in London in July, the concept will be repeated at the Edinburgh Fringe in August with more guest performers yet to be announced.
Gillian Anderson said the theatre, which gets no public subsidy, needed to raise more than £250,000 a year just to keep the doors open.
“The monies raised from this production’s higher ticket prices will support their core ambition to present accessible theatre over the coming years and to further their work with the local community,” she said. “A number of £10 day tickets will also be available. I do hope people will come and enjoy, and reap the benefit of supporting this fantastic cause.”
Audiences will not know in advance which guest actor they will see. Other actors in the company will have rehearsed the play, which will also feature the pre-recorded voices of Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench.
Each guest actor will be fed their lines through an earpiece and will endeavour to solve the crime, set in an isolated manor, in real time.
Vine said he was looking forward to a “unique theatrical experience”. He said: “To be honest, I’m often on stage with no idea what I’m supposed to be doing and a strange voice in my head, so this ought to be a piece of cake.”
All the guest actors are giving their time gratis. The theatre’s artistic director, Jez Bond, said: “We’re very fortunate that the leading actors in our country understand the power and importance of smaller-scale theatres and the challenges they face.”
Source: The Guardian
Early on in the London stage production of “All About Eve,” Gillian Anderson’s Margo Channing removes her stage makeup in a bright dressing room mirror. As she swipes away the layers, Anderson’s face is projected in close-up on massive video screens, which magnify the actual lines and dark circles under her eyes.
It’s a moment of realization for the audience: This is no straightforward production. This is a story about seeing the truth in ourselves.
“A couple people have said, ‘You’re so brave,’ ” said Anderson, sitting in her basement dressing room at the Noel Coward Theatre. “So much of what we see of people these days is Photoshopped and filtered, so the fact that I’m allowing the audience to see all the nooks and crannies of my face is unusual. And I hadn’t thought about that until someone said it. I didn’t feel brave in doing it, at all.”
Anderson arrived at the role of Margo, the aging theater diva faced with a diminishing career and a potential rival in her young assistant, Eve Harrington (Lily James), by happenstance. Anderson’s boyfriend, writer Peter Morgan (“The Crown,” “Frost/Nixon”), had suggested she look into whether the 1950 Bette Davis-Anne Baxter film had ever been translated to the stage when she discovered theater director Ivo van Hove was already adaptating Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s screenplay.
“I was trying to find out what his plans were for how he was going to cast it,” Anderson recalled. “Then I found out that Cate Blanchett was doing it, and so I slowly backed into the shadows and thought, ‘Man, do I want to see that.’ ”
Blanchett, it would turn out, had a scheduling conflict. Anderson signed on, and her thoughtful performance has earned her a lead actress nomination for the Olivier Awards on Sunday.
The recognition comes despite the fact that the cast, which includes Monica Dolan and Julian Ovenden, had just four weeks to rehearse. Actors were instructed to arrive off-book on Day 1. There was almost no discussion of the text, so Anderson slowly worked out Margo’s mindset and motivations along the way, well into previews in early February. Part of the challenge was working with a camera crew that filmed the stage action live to be projected on the aforementioned video screens. (Van Hove did something similar in last year’s adaptation of “Network.”)
“I wasn’t nervous about the cameras, but what was very clear when we started out was that none of us quite knew what it was that we had,” Anderson said. “I know that’s always slightly the case because one’s never in the audience looking back, but for some reason with this I think we didn’t quite know how it fit together, or whether it all fit together, or what it was that we had until we’d been doing it properly for a while. And then something seeped in and we understood it.”
Good news! The somewhat confusing British school with an American vibe & 70’s fashion aside, I actually quite enjoyed this series, so I’m happy to see it return for another season!
Netflix is bringing back awkward comedy series “Sex Education” starring Gillian Anderson and Asa Butterfield for a sophomore season.
The streamer announced the season 2 renewal Friday, with production on the eight-episode season slated to begin this spring in the U.K. According to Netflix, the series is among its most popular recent originals — on track to be viewed by more 40 million members worldwide within the first four weeks of season one’s Jan. 11 release.
“Sex Education” centers on 16-year-old Otis Milburn (Butterfield), an inexperienced, socially awkward high-school student who lives with his sex-therapist mother (Anderson). Otis is a reluctant expert on sex but comes to realize he can use his knowledge to gain status at Moordale High School, teaming up with bad-girl Maeve (Emma Mackey) to set up an underground sex-therapy clinic for fellow students.
In addition to Anderson, Butterfield an Mackey, “Sex Education” stars Ncuti Gatwa, Aimee-Lou Wood, Connor Swindells, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Tanya Reynolds, Patricia Allison and Alistair Petrie, who are set to reprise their roles. Creator Laurie Nunn will return for season 2 and executive producer with Jamie Campbell set to executive produce alongside Nunn. The U.K.’s Eleven will continue as the production company for the second season of the breakout series.
“The reception to season one has been so exciting,” Nunn said in a statement. “Seeing how people across the world have connected to characters that began as ideas in my head is incredible. I’m hugely grateful to every person that has taken the time to watch the series, and I can’t wait to continue this amazing journey.”
“Laurie Nunn has captured the awkward teenage experience with a lot of heart and humor in Sex Education,” said Cindy Holland, Netflix’s VP of original content. “Along with the Eleven team and executive producer and director Ben Taylor, she’s created a universally relatable series that has resonated with our members around the world.”
“Sex Education” season one was created and written by Nunn and executive-produced by Eleven’s Jamie Campbell and Ben Taylor, and co-executive produced by Sian Robins-Grace. Taylor also served as a director on season one along with Kate Herron.
It’s been confirmed!
Gillian Anderson is set to star as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the fourth season of The Crown.
The X-Files star has been signed up to play the Iron Lady, although viewers will likely have to wait more than a year to see her on screens as the third season of the Left Bank drama has yet to air.
The third season of the Netflix drama, which will air this year, will see Olivia Colman replace Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II and Tobias Menzies replacing Matt Smith as Prince Philip. Elsewhere, Ben Daniels will play Antony Armstrong-Jones, starring alongside Helena Bonham Carter’s Princess Margaret. It begins in 1963 and will cover events such as the rise of the Beatles and England winning the soccer World Cup in 1966. Characters such as Camilla Parker Bowles, Call the Midwife‘s Emerald Fennell, will also start to emerge in the next season.
The fourth season is likely to move into the 1970s, where Thatcher served as Britain’s first female Prime Minister between 1979 to 1990.
I’ve added several images to the gallery from a gorgeous new photoshoot for The Telegraph magazine; the accompanying interview is posted below. Enjoy!
Gillian Anderson is hard to pin down. Is she American or English? (Her accent slips between the two, depending on who she is talking to.) Guarded or warm? (She can be either, based on her mood.) Tough or vulnerable? (Or both?)
‘‘Because my parents were American and we lived here in the UK, there was always a sense of not quite fitting in. Because of that I’ve always felt a bit of an outsider. I have perpetuated that because that is what feels familiar to me, it is what feels comfortable,’ she explains.
When we meet Anderson is English and warm, talking about the birthday parties she has to organise (she has three children, Piper, 24, Oscar, 12, and Felix, 10); and although she is very petite, wearing white patent stiletto boots and slender black trousers, she exudes the commanding charisma that makes her perfect for her imminent roles.
Rumour has it that she will be playing Margaret Thatcher in an upcoming series of The Crown, the Netflix series created and co-written by her partner, Peter Morgan. No one is confirming this, but no one is denying it either.
Meanwhile, this month she stars in a new Netflix series, Sex Education, in which she plays a sex therapist who lives with her teenage son (Asa Butterfield). And in February Anderson has another plum role: Margo Channing in Belgian theatre director Ivo van Hove’s much-anticipated adaptation of All About Eve, also starring Lily James as Eve, with music by PJ Harvey.
The play – a modern reinterpretation of the 1950 film, which starred Bette Davis as Channing, a blazing Broadway star who is gradually supplanted by a younger rival – is about ambition and betrayal, femininity and anger, stardom and personal sacrifice.
Anderson’s is a bravura role, one that requires not just the cool intensity that we have come to expect from her, but also humour. Channing is deliciously droll, delivering endlessly quotable lines with comic precision (‘I’ll admit I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut’).
‘A couple of years ago my boyfriend Pete said to me, “You know what would be a great role for you? Margo Channing,”’ Anderson says. ‘So I rewatched the film and I thought, “Oh my God, how much fun would that be!”’
Anderson, not one to wait for opportunity, discovered that theatre producer Sonia Friedman had the rights to the script and was working on it with van Hove – Cate Blanchett was set to be Channing. ‘So I thought, “Ah OK, I’ll just slink into the background.” Then my agents got a call to say that she [Blanchett] had backed out due to scheduling conflicts, and there was interest, and was I interested? So I was like, “Yes! When’s the meeting? Now?”’
Van Hove, on the phone from New York, is equally excited to be working with Anderson. ‘Margo needs someone who understands what the theatre is all about, someone who can carry a play, who can occupy the whole stage, and Gillian can do that; she is a fabulous theatre actress. Although, of course, she became iconic for me in the 1990s when she was in The X-Files.’
There is something a little surprising about Ivo van Hove, an avant-garde director celebrated for his reinterpretations of plays and operas such as Hedda Gabler, Antigone and Lulu, professing fandom for a mid-’90s sci-fi series; but that is to forget the huge cultural impact of The X-Files, its quality and its ingenuity.
The series was about two FBI agents, played by Anderson and David Duchovny, who attempt to unravel various natural and supernatural mysteries. No one expected it to become such a success, least of all Anderson, who was 24 when she was cast in the show. It was her first major role and it made her a star.
She won multiple awards for her portrayal of the sceptical Dr Dana Scully, including an Emmy and a Golden Globe. But such stardom often involves sacrifice and Anderson was suffering.