You would think Gillian Anderson would command a little more respect. After all, the 27-year-old actress has played a vital role in transforming Fox's "The X-Files" from a cult favorite when it began two seasons ago into a mainstream sensation today.
An entire subculture has developed around the noirish Friday night series, which is currently the third-highest-rated drama among 18- to 49-year-old television viewers. Conventions, comic books, related merchandise and Internet bulletin boards have all been outgrowths of this chilling show about two FBI agents (played by Anderson and David Duchovny) who investigate the paranormal and the supernatural.
Yet of the two co-stars, it has been the more conventionally sexy Duchovny who has landed most of the national media attention. For instance, Duchovny has appeared on "The Late Show With David Letterman" three times; Anderson's first slated appearance on the program last November was postponed until February.
"Maybe that [postponement] was actually a good thing because I'm actually nervous about doing 'Letterman,' " a philosophical Anderson observes during a late-morning interview at a Sunset Strip restaurant. "But there must be a [cosmic] reason why I [haven't received the widespread recognition]. I have to believe there's a reason why it's worked out this way, whether it's not supposed to happen to me yet or maybe it's not supposed to happen [at all]. Maybe I was meant to have a longer period of privacy."
Anderson is no stranger to facing and overcoming adversity. When she first auditioned for "The X-Files" in 1993, the redheaded actress seemed a longshot for the role of FBI agent and medical doctor Dana Scully. Fox was looking for a more leggy, bombshell-type than the petite Anderson. But the show's creator and executive producer, Chris Carter, insisted on hiring her.
It proved to be a sage bit of casting. Anderson has brought an acute intelligence and intensity to the usually unflappable Scully. Still, the stage actress entered the project with virtually no experience in front of a film or TV camera.
Initially, she felt so unsure of her work in "The X-Files" that whenever the director and the producers huddled together on the show's set, she feared she was about to be fired.
"When we shot the pilot I was terrified," reveals Anderson, who studied acting at the National Theatre of Great Britain, Cornell University and the Goodman Theater School at DePaul University. "I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know what hitting the mark was. I didn't know those [television and film] structures. I learned, slowly."
Both Anderson and Duchovny have four additional seasons remaining on their contracts with "The X-Files." But Anderson has serious reservations about the show's ability to stay vibrant for more than two or three more seasons.
"I'm praying to God that it won't go [four additional years]," Anderson says with a laugh. "You have to wonder how much longer they can pull off these original scripts. After a while they are going to have to start pulling from old ideas and everyone's going to be comparing this one to that one. I hope they have the sense to pull out before the show gets stale."
Making the Scully character as multifaceted as possible within the show's often emotionally cold climate has been a challenge for Anderson. "The X-Files" deals almost exclusively with the work lives of Scully and Duchovny's Fox Mulder. For Anderson, keeping Scully fresh and authentic has been made particularly tough by her character's difficult function as the skeptical, scientific voice amid a barrage of bizarre, paranormal happenings. Mulder is the show's true believer and is more often cast as its heroic figure.
"If there's one thing that's frustrating, it's being skeptical all of the time," complains Anderson, who in real life is actually more open to the existence of paranormal events than Duchovny.
"Sometimes I get into ruts where I say, 'I can't say this anymore.' But Chris Carter has a very specific formula that works. For Scully to all of a sudden become a believer just like Mulder would ruin the dynamic of the show."
Though she's known to "X-Files' " fans as the strait-laced Scully and as a mother and wife, Anderson sees herself as a nonconformist. Born in Chicago but also raised in London and Grand Rapids, Mich., she spent her teen years as a rebel who found solace and identity in punk fashion and bands like Dead Kennedys and the Circle Jerks.
"I was angry and it was my way of keeping people at a distance," she remembers.
Anderson still describes herself as an outsider who has limited patience for the pretense and superficiality that she finds in some aspects of the entertainment industry.
"David can slip into any situation and be absolutely charming about it," she says. "I'm not like that. If I walk into a party that's too filled with agents and producers and I feel uncomfortable, I'll leave. I'm not going to walk around and schmooze."
Anderson has managed, however, to whip up the necessary courage to attend her first "X-Files" convention this Sunday at the Burbank Airport Hilton. "I'm nervous about the whole thing," she acknowledges. "But it would be silly not to experience one. It will be my one and only convention experience."
Anderson seems particularly excited about the prospect of acting in feature films. She was in Los Angeles recently, away from the show's Toronto home, to discuss several movie possibilities. Still, her choices are somewhat limited by "The X-Files' " exhausting 9 1/2-month shooting schedule and her desire to spend more time with her family.
"It's like a death sentence, really," Anderson says of her demanding role in "The X-Files." "But you get all the mineral baths, good catered food, flowers and all that stuff. So it's a good death sentence."
* "The X-Files" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on Fox (Channel 11). "The X-Files" convention takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Burbank Airport Hilton, 2500 Hollywood Way, Burbank, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Information: (818) 409-0960.