There’s a scene in the second season of BBC’s The Fall, now available on Netflix, in which Jamie Dornan’s serial-killer character, Paul Spector, pins a young woman to a bed and binds her hands with a tie. It’s easy to shout the obvious in that moment: “He’s basically Christian Grey!” But the show, while drawing superficial and absurdly well-timed comparisons to Fifty Shades of Grey, is fundamentally different from the E.L. James franchise: It doesn’t feature an Anastasia Steele. Paul’s victims are professional women in their 30s; his wife is an emotionally strong neonatal nurse; and the woman hunting him, officer Stella Gibson, is independent, laser smart, and the opposite of a submissive virgin. She’s also played by a veteran of the Strong Women on TV club, Gillian Anderson (The X-Files). Cosmopolitan.com spoke to Anderson about The Fall‘s depiction of male violence, daddy issues in sexually liberated women, and finally shooting a scene with Dornan.
Show creator Allan Cubitt wrote an essay for The Guardian in response to critics who’ve said the show glorifies violence against women. I agreed with his points: The series doesn’t show gratuitous violence, you get a sense of who the victims are. I’d also add that, if anything, the show is borderline misandrist — not misogynistic. What’s your take on the way gender plays out on the show?
I feel exactly the same way. Along the way of doing interviews, I was asked questions like, “What do you feel about the glamorization of violence against women? What about the glossy images of their naked bodies?” And I was like “Whoa, whoa, why are you saying glossy images? Let’s not use that word.” “Well, they’re glossy.” “No they’re not glossy.” They’re not. They’re pictures of women that a serial killer has posed, but they’re crime-scene photos. They’re not lingering on them, they’re not glossy, and they’re not an attempt to elicit a sexual response or to glamorize those women who have been victimized. None of that is actually happening. One of the things that Allan makes clear is the fact that sometimes when you point to something, you become accused of contributing to it. And that is, ultimately, what I think has happened.
There’s a scene in the second season when Jim Burns comes to Stella’s hotel room and drunkenly tries to force himself on her. Her reaction was sort of desensitized. She hits him, but she’s not mad at him — it’s as if he did something she’d expect from a man. And then she later tells him that he’s not as different from Paul as he thinks. So, is Paul basically a stand-in for all men on this show? It seems as if there’s a spectrum of violence that all men fall on.
I think all is a tricky word because I don’t think that’s what Allan is implying. But for the sake of argument, let’s say yes. I think that more men can identify, obviously, with Burns’s behavior than they can identify with Spector’s behavior, and yet there’s something about both of them that [is] not in any way out of the realm of possibility. That is Stella’s fascination: The spectrum that we are dealing with here. The fine lines — the step, which is a big step — between the fantasy of something and the doing of it. Without being able to jump into men’s minds or to ask them anonymously, point-blank, How often have you fantasized about this? … There’s part of me, often, that wants to say, “No, no, no, we’re talking about a cross section; we’re talking about a piece of the pie.” But actually … I mean, I’m also doing press for a film I did about the sex trade in the world [Sold] and the fact that the sale of children for sex is the fastest growing black market in the industry. It’s not so that women can have sex with these children. The sex trade, which is alive and well and under our noses in every city in America and around the world, is fueled by men’s desire, and if we’re talking sex trade, that’s not nonviolence.
In season one, Archie Panjabi’s character, Tanya, says at a crime scene that she’s taught her daughters to stay away from strange men — and then clarifies that that means all men. You have a 20-year-old daughter. What did you teach your daughter, if anything, about men?
I gave her a very long lecture on a long drive to the country that went on and on. It was mostly about protecting yourself physically in terms of sex, but it was also about honoring herself and about choices and encouraging her to be mindful about her choices and not jump into things that are potentially disrespectful to herself. But, you know, if my mom had said anything to me along the way, it went in one ear and out the other, and I had to find it out myself. My daughter is in the household with a mom who is having these conversations in a very public way on a regular basis because of The Fall and other things I’m involved in, and so she’s starting to think and consider these things for herself.
That must be nice to see.
Yes, yes, it is. When I first started to talk to her about stuff, she already had a very negative opinion of feminists. As did her friends. And through conversations and dialogue about it, I think she’s come to a new understanding.
After doing press for season one, you talked about how ridiculous it is that people make such a fuss about Stella’s sexuality, how there’s nothing shocking about a woman who wants to sleep with men but not have any emotional attachments to them — which I agreed with for the most part. But we find out in season two that she in fact has some daddy issues; as Paul says in her journal, she’s lashing out against a world of men. Does that undermine your point? Did it change the way you thought about Stella?
I think that it can all be true. It’s possible that whatever happened in her past — I wouldn’t say she necessarily has daddy issues but I think something transpired there that we might get into in later seasons — had an impact on her relationship to men, both in the broader sense and where intimacy is concerned. But I also feel like that doesn’t necessarily mean that when she takes care of those needs that it’s bad because she has issues. Someone can still have been raped multiple times in young adulthood, and then be very sexually confident in adulthood and have no shame around it, not be using [sex] for escape. It doesn’t necessarily get into any kind of fetishistic [behavior]; it can just be normal behavior, normal relationships. Because of the fact that she’s been raped, does that mean that all of her sexual activity is tainted in some way or that she has other motivations for it? Not necessarily.
It just is, in other words.
Everything that happens in childhood is going to motivate your adulthood. Is the only way we’re going to say it’s OK that she behaves this way is if she has a completely clean slate as a child and that nothing weird happened to her that she has issues about?
Also, everyone has issues — Paul has mommy issues. What was it like to finally shoot with Jamie in the interrogation room?
Well, it was kind of momentous because it was all leading up to it. When I read it as a scene, all 11.5 pages of it, I felt like it was a good climax. Jamie and I both approached it in the same way. We were both completely prepared with our lines and I don’t think we ever asked for a line off camera or had to stop. We just did however many takes we needed … it was almost like the words were already inside us. Because we hadn’t worked together, we were watching each other in the same way the characters were watching each other.
Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey?
I haven’t, so whether that influences the second part of your question or not, I have not.
Well, given your own experience with fandom early in your career, and now having worked so closely with Jamie just as he’s having this big moment of his own: What makes you saddest for him and what makes you happiest for him?
Well, I think his level of fan fame is already on a completely different level than my fan fame was.
It is. It’s gotten stratospheric and I think that he has a great perspective on it all. That is part of who he is as a human being, and what people find most interesting and attractive in him, and I guess my hope for him is that he doesn’t lose that. As long as he keeps that, then he’ll have a big enough distance from all the bullshit that he’ll be able to stay true to himself and his family.