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!”
Netflix has released the first looks at two of the most anticipated historical figures portrayed in season four of The Crown: Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher.
The streamer released a handful of photos from the upcoming fourth season of the British royal drama on Tuesday morning, including looks at Emma Corrin as Diana and Gillian Anderson as Thatcher.
Corrin’s Diana is shown being photographed on a street while Anderson’s Thatcher, who became the U.K.’s first female Prime Minister in 1979, is shown waving outside of 10 Downing Street.
…The fourth season of the royal drama, which is set to take place during the 1980s after filming wrapped at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, is set to hit Netflix on Nov. 15.
The fifth season will be filmed next year and not air until 2022, a similar pause to the one taken between the second and third seasons of the series, with seasons five and six set to take the story into the 2000s.
The cast of the British royal family drama will change again between the show’s fourth and fifth seasons, with Imelda Staunton set to assume the role of Queen Elizabeth, Lesley Manville playing Princess Margaret and Jonathan Pryce taking over the role of Prince Philip. Additionally, Elizabeth Debicki will take over the role of Princess Diana in seasons five and six.
Creator Peter Morgan recently revealed that he’d returned to his original plan to have the series run for six seasons instead of an abbreviated five-season run, which he had said at the time was the “perfect time and place to stop.” But, Morgan clarified, “season six will not bring us any closer to present day — it will simply enable us to cover the same period in greater detail.”
Gillian has been revealed to be the face of the Dune London Spring/Summer 2020 campaign! Thus, the gorgeous images from the collection have been added to the gallery. Enjoy!
Dune London have launched their Spring Summer 2020 collection today, with none other than the talented Gillian Anderson being the face of the campaign.
Gillian is known for her roles in the recent Netflix hit show Sex Education and her role in FBI drama The X-Files and also appeared in the stage production of All About Eve last year alongside Lily James.
The actress will also appear in Season four of Netflix’s The Crown, where she takes on the role of the iron lady, Margaret Thatcher.
The Dune London campaign is titled My London, which is a reference to the inspiration behind it.
The brand’s chairman, Daniel Rubin, commented on Gillian: “She is a truly talented actress and we very much align to her charitable activities and values. We are also both based in London, the inspiration for the campaign. Apart from being a major fashion capital, its diversity and energy epitomises our approach.”