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.