FROM the moment she stopped working on Fox's sci-fi hit "The X-Files" in 2002, Gillian Anderson knew she didn't want to be on a TV or movie set. She was burned out. The 37-year-old actress had spent nine seasons on the award-winning series as FBI agent Dana Scully, who, with her eccentric partner Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), investigated the strange and unexplained.
So she moved to London, where she had spent her childhood, did a few plays, got married, traveled and did charity work. "It took a long time before I was ready to start working in front of the camera," she says.
But Anderson, who won an Emmy and a Golden Globe as Scully, has been working almost nonstop in the last few years. And several of her projects are finally arriving stateside.
Premiering tonight on PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre" is the eight-hour adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Bleak House." Anderson plays the tragic Lady Honoria Dedlock, who harbors a dark secret about an illicit love affair and a child born out of wedlock. The drama features a strong supporting cast, including Charles Dance as the unscrupulous attorney who learns of her past, and Timothy West as Dedlock's elderly husband.
Anderson plays herself in Michael Winterbottom's new movie-within-a-movie comedy, "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story," which opens Feb. 10. Arriving in theaters later in the year is "The Last King of Scotland," a drama about Idi Amin.
Do you feel more at home in England?
I do. I don't know if it is because my early years were spent there. I was 2 to 11, and it was my first language, so to speak. I grew up with a British accent. Even though my parents were American, I felt like a Brit, and that has always been inside my bones. I love Europe. I love the pace of Europe, and I love the history. I feel comfortable there.
So did the BBC approach you about playing Lady Dedlock?
The producer came to me. My immediate reaction, which is the same to all television which comes my way, is "No. I have done television." The films I had made I knew wouldn't be released until after this had aired [in England], so just strategically, I didn't want it to look like, "Oh, she's doing television again." So I did question it a lot. But once I read the script and talked to fellow actors in England and understood it's quite different over there for actors.... It is much easier for them in their career to go back and forth between doing television and stage and film and even radio.
Had you ever read the Dickens novel?
I hadn't read it. Once I agreed to do the project, I read it for the first time. It was never part of my college repertoire.
Why is it that Dickens seems so relevant for contemporary audiences?
I think it is because of the human condition, and the emotions and the experiences are universal to human beings. The sorrow that we feel today is the same sorrow that was felt [back then], as well as the pain and the loss and the joy and the compassion and the love. He makes his characters so rich and so individual. They are all completely different human beings.
In "Tristram Shandy" you play yourself as well as the character in the movie-within-a-movie. Were you having as much fun as you appear to on screen?
It was fun. I basically just went in for three or four days. I had wanted to work with Michael Winterbottom for a long time. I thought it would just be a blast. It was wild. He works in a very different way than a lot of directors.
On set -- at least with this -- he just likes to have himself, the cameraman and the boom operator. So there is no hair or makeup around. Everybody else is far, far away. He just constantly is kind of tweaking and changing something at the last minute. All of a sudden, at the spur of the moment, he decides he wants it this way. It is much more spontaneous and chaotic but in a measured kind of way. He keeps trying things and tries them as long as it takes until he gets it.
Do you feel that your post-"X-Files" career would have played out differently had you not moved to London?
I don't know what would have happened if I would have stayed here. I am sure my career would have gone in some direction or another. I am not sure when this happened. I don't know if it was with "House of Mirth" [the 2000 film based on Edith Wharton's novel], but for whatever reason, I am perceived differently [in England]. I am perceived as an actor and over here I feel like I am perceived as a TV celebrity who was in a series that has been off the air for three years. People don't know quite what to do with me. Over there I get offers for films or series like this. For some reason, they are willing to take a risk with me.
After "The X-Files" went off the air in 2002, there was talk of an "X-Files" movie. Is that still going to happen?
Oh, we have had many, many conversations about it. We have contracts. It depends on when it's written. I am asked about it all the time, so there is interest, but how long will there be interest? If we don't shoot it until 2007, and that looks like that would be the earliest, it won't be coming out until 2008. And in 2008, will people really care?
-- Susan King