Gillian Anderson is looking luminous sitting in a sun-drenched Pasadena hotel room wearing a white flower-print dress.
It’s a far cry from the world she inhabits on “The Fall,” in which she plays a British police detective on the trail of a serial killer of women in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The entire second year of the series is being released Friday on Netflix.
The first year introduced viewers to Anderson’s character, Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, who had been sent from London to Belfast to look into an unsolved murder case. When it becomes apparent that it involves more than one killing, she stays on.
“The Fall” makes no secret of the murderer, a seemingly mild-mannered bereavement counselor in plain sight named Paul Spector. He is played by Jamie Dornan, a relative unknown when he was cast by series creator Allan Cubitt.
Since then, the 32-year-old actor became the subject of much hoopla when he was cast as the male lead in the film adaptation of the sexy potboiler “Fifty Shades of Grey,” being released Feb. 13.
Before reading the scripts for “The Fall,” Anderson, who starred on “The X-Files” for nine years as FBI agent Dana Scully, was reluctant to do a TV series again. She also didn’t want to do a character that might be seen as something she’s done before. “But it was clear from the get-go the scripts didn’t resemble ‘The X-Files’ in any shape or form,” she says. “I couldn’t say no to it.”
Since her time on the Fox series, which ended in 2002, Anderson, 46, has made her home in London and taken on a number of challenging roles, mostly in British TV, film and stage, including miniseries adaptations of Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House” and “Great Expectations.” Last summer, her performance as Blanche DuBois in a revival of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” in London’s West End won raves.
Born in Chicago, Anderson moved with her parents to London when she was 2, and she lived there until she was 11. Her parents then moved back to Michigan, and she eventually graduated from DePaul University in Chicago.
Making her base in Britain wasn’t intentional, the actress says. Her parents had maintained a flat in London over the years and she had gone back a lot. Anderson thought she would split her time between there and Los Angeles, but she ended up “buying a house and falling in love and staying.”
The relationship ended, but Anderson, a mother of three, had established her professional career there. One senses Anderson is just as tough and tough-minded as the character she plays on “The Fall.”
The actress describes Stella Gibson as someone with “strong beliefs and opinions and not shy in expressing them.” Cubitt, who wrote for “Prime Suspect,” which starred Helen Mirren as a detective, says he was careful when creating Gibson not to make her “a man in a skirt.”
“She’s protective of women,” notes Anderson about Gibson, “and she has a lot of opinions about men and their place in the world and how that has contributed to the degree of violence and disparity toward women.”
On the other hand, the character doesn’t hide her assets as a woman, often in heels and revealing outfits. ”She dresses like a woman in touch with her femininity,” says Anderson. “It’s evident that she is dressing for herself and not for anybody else. She’s not trying to get attention from men or have sway in the workplace.”
Early on in season 1, the character shows her sexual independence by choosing a police officer she fancies for a one-night stand, which ends up having dire consequences. In the new season, there is a surprising moment between Gibson and her friend, a medical examiner played by “The Good Wife’s” Archie Panjabi.
The first season of “The Fall” drew some criticism when it debuted in Britain before streaming on Netflix for supposedly glamorizing violence against women. The Daily Mail called it “the most repulsive drama,” although admitting it was “BBC2’s most popular drama for 20 years.”
Those critics have since backed off somewhat, and “The Fall” has proved itself as an intense psychological thriller.
Both Anderson and Cubitt were puzzled by the complaints. “What Allan has created focuses on certain aspects of human behavior and psychology,” says the actress. “What transpires is not even close to what transpires in ‘Dexter’ and ‘Hannibal’ and a number of other series with more fantastical scenarios.” As it happens, Anderson — a guest star before — is joining the cast of “Hannibal” full-time for season 3 as serial killer Lecter’s psychotherapist.
A season three of “The Fall” is expected, but what shape it might take depends on a number of factors. Season 1 ended with a cliff-hanger, and as season 2 goes on there will be growing obsession between the hunter and the hunted. Gibson and Spector will meet, but that’s all we will reveal. There also has been talk about an American version of “The Fall,” but Cubitt says they aren’t concentrating on that now.
For the moment, Anderson is happily juggling her commitments on both sides of the Atlantic, hoping to mount “Streetcar” on Broadway. The actress does note a major change in TV since she started on “The X-Files” more than two decades ago on Fox.
“ ‘The X‑Files’ was the beginning of appointment television,” she says. “We’re at the end of appointment television.”