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.
How important timing is on stage. I had a couple of dark experiences, panic attacks on stage.
Literally, like, I thought somebody had dropped acid into my cup. It was horrendous. I don’t know why it happened, but it came out of the blue while I was on stage. At first I thought, “I don’t know my next line and I don’t know that I’m going to be able to get it out.” And then my mouth just started moving and I was able to have the panic attack while doing the play, which I learned is possible. That’s not fun because once that kind of starts, it starts a cycle. But anyway. Let’s get off the panic attacks.
Talk to me about the first time you encountered “Streetcar” and why it’s had such a hold on you?
I’d seen some productions in the past and felt “No!” Just that—I felt like there was part of me, my bones or something, that wanted to jump on the stage and go “No, this is how you…!” I’m not saying in any way that I’d say it the right way or whatever, but just that it’s been—it’s almost as if the doing of it pre-existed in my life.
Has being 47 years old influenced your portrayal of Blanche, who is usually much younger, or do you think it’s irrelevant?
I don’t think it’s irrelevant. I think that ultimately her self-obsession and her—I mean, she only wants to be in darkened rooms. That’s pre-plastic surgery, you know? I definitely feel like I wouldn’t have been able to play her or to understand certain aspects of her psychology prior to a decade ago.
But that had less to do with age and more to do with another level of understanding of self-destruction, self-hate, the concept of being misunderstood. There’s a desperation that is inside her. It’s essential, I think, to who she is. Whether it’s on the surface, whether you see it or not, it’s got to be under there.
That’s how you would describe the past 10 years?
The longer you live, the more death you experience, the more loss, the more tragedy and grief. I think [it] just makes for a—it can’t not have a—I don’t want to say a positive impact but an impactful presence on a performance.
You’ve played a lot of strong, damaged women. Why?
I’m damaged in many ways. And yet a lot of what my fight is about is pushing through that to live a meaningful, sane existence and make a difference and play to my strengths. So I think damaged characters resonate with me. It might be the one area where I get to reveal those aspects of myself because the rest of the time I’m caught up in being this responsible mother of three children and the activist and the author and the blaaaah. All that stuff. And so it’s like the little hole at the top of the brown-rice pot that lets the steam through.
I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about “The X-Files.” What did you think of the recent six-episode reboot?
I think there was an expectation that we would rewrite the book like we did originally and what [creator Chris Carter] was right again about is that that’s actually not what the fans wanted. What the fans wanted was their comfort food and that’s what he delivered.
On behalf of all fans, regarding the last episode, I have one question: What the heck?
On behalf of Scully, good question.
Will there be more?
It’s more likely than not.