Gillian Anderson: ‘The fact that I’m working consistently is miraculous’

On the surface, Gillian Anderson appears icily controlled, but under the cool facade, there’s a wild side. On the eve of The Fall’s third season she speaks to Jessamy Calkin. 

One night in the summer of 2014, during the Young Vic’s sell-out run of A Streetcar Named Desire, Gillian Anderson, playing Blanche DuBois with a rapture that seemed to almost deify the role, took to the stage for the customary standing  ovation with blood coursing down one leg.

Her knee had been hit by a splinter of china from a plate hurled by a furious Stanley Kowalski (Ben Foster), and the wound had split open when she dropped to the floor. ‘Never have I seen a production of the play that was so raw in its emotion, so violent and so deeply upsetting,’ said the Telegraph critic Charles Spencer.

I was in the audience that night, on my feet and cheering what was an incandescent performance. Now, two years later, Anderson shows me the scar on her leg. It had been bandaged up backstage and she thought it would be fine. The next morning, she lifted the bandage to take a look, and ‘I lost consciousness.

Gillian Anderson Lets It All Hang Out On Stage in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

In the new production of A Streetcar Named Desire at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, the icy cool X-Files star cuts loose as Blanche DuBois.
Thanks to a little television series called The X-Files, Gillian Anderson is best known to American audiences for her work as the ever-skeptical Agent Scully, which she has just reprised in the show’s reboot on Fox. Less known is the fact that Anderson, 47, got her start on the stage in a 1991 New York production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends. Since then, it’s mainly British audiences who get to see the London-based actress’s appearances onstage, notably in the Donmar Warehouse’s 2009 production A Doll’s House, and the Young Vic Theatre’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Fortunately, New Yorkers can now catch Anderson at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, where A Streetcar Named Desire has moved through June 4th. Under Benedict Andrews’s direction, the production provides a visceral, sexual, hormone-drenched take on Tennessee Williams’ canonic American work. Set in a seemingly Ikea-furnished minimalist apartment, the show features a rotating stage whose every turn reveals the depths of the characters’ despair, anger, and, yes, desire.

And you do really want the full 360-degree view of Anderson’s Blanche DuBois, who teeters into this Elysian Fields, Louis Vuitton luggage in hand, trembling in vertiginous heels, to spin her increasingly woeful tale. When she finally succumbs to the whirling forces around her, it is with the heartbreaking resignation of a prizefighter, stopped.

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Gillian Anderson: Reviving Blanche DuBois in Brooklyn

The star talks about the pull ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ has on her and her penchant for playing damaged people

The last time Gillian Anderson performed onstage in New York, she was living in the Village and waitressing on St. Mark’s Place.

She won a best newcomer award in 1991—and never came back. Until now.

Ms. Anderson stars as Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” opening May 1 and running through June 4 at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo, reprising her role from an acclaimed 2014 London production.

“I wonder how she gets through it every night,” said the show’s director Benedict Andrews. “I think she understands vulnerability and addiction and survival. And she is also not afraid to bring out those aspects of Blanche.”

Ms. Anderson talked to The Wall Street Journal about survival, “Streetcar” and the future of her most famous role, Dana Scully in “The X-Files.”

WSJ: What do you remember about that first New York production?

G.A.: I think initially I was cast because I could do a British accent. I’d only ever done college theater before that, so it was quite a big deal and a sizable house. Probably one of the biggest that I’ve ever played to—even still. I had a lot to learn.

Like what?

How important timing is on stage. I had a couple of dark experiences, panic attacks on stage.

Continue reading “Gillian Anderson: Reviving Blanche DuBois in Brooklyn”

Gillian Anderson’s Ferocious Turn as Blanche DuBois Has Been 30 Years in the Making

One of the most-anticipated theater performances of the year has arrived in Brooklyn.

When I went to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn on a recent sunny Monday afternoon to interview Gillian Anderson about her upcoming must-see run as Blanche DuBois, in a highly lauded London transfer production ofA Streetcar Named Desire, there was little indication of the whiskey- and perfume-scented hurricane that was about to blow through. Crew members were putting things together—chiefly the stunning rotating set that acts as both canny staging device and metaphor for a swirling, unknowable mind—though their work was surprisingly quiet. The production, directed by Benedict Andrews, uses modern furniture and sleek lines, not your usual Streetcar aesthetic, but what rages around all those IKEA trappings is as primal and elemental as Tennessee Williams gets.

And Anderson, petite and friendly and measured when we spoke in a little side room antechamber at St. Ann’s, was, of course, nothing like Blanche, Williams’s most indelible creation, an addled, broken, toweringly tragic anti-heroine. Which makes Anderson’s performance, a breathless and breathtaking piece of finely tuned melodrama, all the more impressive. Blanche is something of a Mt. Everest in the theater world, a perilous undertaking that many actresses feel a kind of calling to attempt at least once in their lives. I was curious if that was the case for Anderson, who’s enjoyed over two decades of critically acclaimed success in television and on the London stage.

“Blanche was in my acting plan for 30 years,” she told me plainly. “I’ve wanted to play her since I was a teenager.” Her experience playing the character, first in a sold-out, extended run at London’s Young Vic in 2014 and now until June in D.U.M.B.O., has been so enriching, though, that she worries it’s maybe ruined her for everything else. “You kind of feel that you can’t go backwards in terms of degree of genius,” she said with a laugh. “So it really does feel like, where does one go from here? And does that mean that you’re primarily sticking within the classics and the odd contemporary play that blows everybody’s mind? And if that is it, do I then start making the list as a 47-year-old, ‘O.K. so how old approximately is Hedda [Gabler], how old is Lady Macbeth?’ Do I need to start mapping that out?”

I was curious how Anderson maps out her somewhat peripatetic career, switching between stage and screen, from the U.K. to the U.S. She told me that a good deal of her decision making comes down to practical things like being near her three children, who live in London, but there’s also the all-important matter of material (“Logistics has a lot to do with it, but bottom line is material”), and of the intense commitment that live theater requires. “I’ve been asked to do plays next year already,” she said. “But I’m not that person who can do six- to twelve-month runs, or who can do a play every year. I just don’t have that in me. I generally only do a play once every three or four years.”

She’s plenty busy in television, anyway, recently reviving her most famous role as skeptical F.B.I. agent Dana Scully in six new episodes of The X-Files, and having just wrapped shooting Season 3 of the grim British cop-vs.-serial-killer drama The Fall. (Speaking of serial killers, there was also her turn as a loony psychotherapist on NBC’s cult favorite Hannibal.) Despite the sometimes light, playful tone of the new X-Files episodes, this is all pretty dark stuff, but none more so, in some ways, than Blanche’s descent into madness and ruin.

Anderson told me that she sees both a timelessness and a timeliness in all that aching despair. “One of the things that Tennessee wrote about is the innocent and the poetic, the sensitive of the world. The bombardment upon them from society at large. That has only increased over time, with technology and with what we as humans are expected to endure on a daily basis.”

That’s a heavy bombardment to endure night after night—watching Anderson power through the three-hour-plus play is exhausting and rattling in the best kind of way—but Anderson has already survived it in London, and now, two years later, seems ready and eager for her New York run to get underway. (The show opens on May 1.) Imagining that she might need the occasional break from being inside Blanche’s roiling, reeling head, I asked her if, with her limited downtime, she’ll be getting up to anything fun or relaxing while in the city. “My kids are going to come out a couple of times,” she said. “And I think we’ll probably end up doing some of the things that I never even did when I lived here. We might go up to Rockefeller Center, or the Empire State Building.” Nice, normal, happy stuff, and many miles away from the horrors of Brooklyn—I mean, Elysian Fields


Gillian Anderson: Bringing Blanche to Brooklyn

Special to the Brooklyn Eagle

Diane Arbus, who certainly knew a thing or two about risk-taking, once said, “My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.” Judging from the bold choices Gillian Anderson has made as an actress, she also lives by this credo.

In the course of her almost 30-year career, Anderson has been fearless and determined in her pursuit of difficult, demanding roles. She refuses to be pigeon-holed; it would have been easy and safe to have dined out on agent Dana Scully for the rest of her career and to have coasted: another series, tent-pole movies, vanity projects.

Instead, she chose Arbus’ route. In the past 10 years, on stage and television, Anderson has tackled such challenging roles as Nora in “A Doll’s House,” Ms. Havisham in “Great Expectations,” Lady Dedlock in “Bleak House” and Anna Pavlova Scherer in “War & Peace.”

Now, following an award-winning, sold-out 2014 run in London, and marking the first collaboration between the Young Vic and St. Ann’s Warehouse, Anderson will be reprising her acclaimed performance as Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” She is rejoined by fellow London cast members Ben Foster, Vanessa Kirby and Corey Johnson. Benedict Andrews once again directs.

Recently, via email, theBrooklyn Eagle had a chance to catch up with the actress before the play’s opening night.

Eagle: Elia Kazan is quoted as having said “Tennessee [Williams] is Blanche.” What’s your take on that?

Gillian Anderson: From everything I’ve read about and seen of Tennessee, I would say that is likely! I think, however, his woven fantasy was on the page, rather than in life. But certainly that life bore the weight of tragedy, the bouts of alcoholism, the flamboyance, the vanity. Kazan saw that firsthand.

Eagle: I read in The Guardianthat you told a London-based producer that “Streetcar” was the only play you were interested in appearing in and that you also stipulated that it be done in the round. Why?

GA: I have always felt very separate from the productions of “Streetcar” that I have seen and I yearned to be inside it as an audience member. Also, these characters are trapped in this moment of time in this one tiny apartment. How better to perpetuate the claustrophobia of their particular hell than to have it surrounded by an unseen, looming presence — the audience?

Eagle: I’ve also read that you deliberately have never seen Kazan’s film version of “Streetcar” and that you didn’t even allow yourself to watch “Blue Jasmine.”

GA: Well, I have seen bits of the film over the years, never in its entirety. As for “Blue Jasmine,”

I will wait to see it until I’ve finished our run. I am so admiring of Cate Blanchett and I don’t want to think for a second that I am picking up on or emulating her work.

Eagle: You’ve played some iconic roles — Lilly Bart in “House of Mirth,” Nora in “A Doll’s House.” What attracted you at this point in your career to playing perhaps the iconic female role in American theater?

GA: It is clear to me now that, from the moment I first read Blanche on the page, something inside me said, “I know what that is!” Somehow, something in me recognized something in her and I became determined to play her. I cannot tell you definitively what that “something” was, except that she is so complex and her journey, whatever the truths or falsehoods of it, so easy to empathize with. And, of course, she meets such a devastatingly sad end.

Eagle: You’ve had, and continue to have, a diverse career, alternating work in film and television and theater, in the States and in England. Conscious choice?

GA: Yes! What a blessing to get do it all and on many continents! I am very lucky.

Eagle: Finally, this is the first time you have performed in Brooklyn. Do you know the borough at all? Have you spent any significant time in Brooklyn?

GA: I lived in New York for a short time in the ’90s, playing in off-Broadway productions. Of course, I have visited many, many times over the years. For some reason I always had in my mind that Brooklyn was Manhattan’s smaller suburb! I am so sorry! I had no idea Brooklyn was so big, that there are so many fantastic neighborhoods, all with very different personalities. I am very much enjoying the opportunity to explore and yet I’m gob-smacked at how long it takes to get from one point to another. Who knew?

Eagle: Well, if you happen to get lost, you can always rely on the kindness of Brooklynites to give you excellent directions.


Gillian Anderson-led Streetcar Named Desire coming to New York

New York doesn’t want realism. New York wants magic. New York wants Gillian Anderson in A Streetcar Named Desire.

The acclaimed Young Vic production of Tennessee Williams’ classic play, starring Anderson as Blanche and Ben Foster as Stanley, will make its American premiere at nonprofit Off Broadway theater St. Ann’s Warehouse, the theater announced on Tuesday. The show will run from April 23 to May 22, 2016.

Directed by Benedict Andrews and performed in the round, the production debuted in London last summer to rave reviews—especially for Anderson, whose devastating turn earned her an Olivier Award nomination for Best Actress. The Telegraph called it “the performance of her career.”

No surprise, since Anderson says that she’s been pulled to the character for years. “I didn’t actually know what the draw was till I’d had a chance to jump into her skin,” she told The Guardian earlier this year. “It just became one of those things. I felt if I got to the end of my life and had not done it, I would have failed myself in some way.”

Let’s just hope it doesn’t take the kindness of strangers to score a ticket.


Olivier awards 2015 Gillian is Nominated

Best actress
Gillian Anderson for A Streetcar Named Desire at Young Vic
Kristin Scott Thomas for Electra at Old Vic
Imelda Staunton for Good People at Hampstead theatre and Noël Coward theatre
Penelope Wilton for Taken at Midnight at Theatre Royal Haymarket

Also A Streetcar Named Desire got nominated as Best revival

The winners will be announced at a ceremony at the Royal Opera House on 12 April.


‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ Images

The gallery has been updated with production stills, posters, and images from the rehearsals for A Streetcar Named Desire. Gallery links & previews are below, enjoy!

Gallery Links
Artwork & Posters
Production Stills