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Gillian Anderson in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' is not so alien

Gillian Anderson in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' is not so alien
Gillian Anderson is Blanche DuBois in the National Theatre production of "A Streetcar Named Desire." (Johan Persson)

For her American fans, Gillian Anderson is most closely associated with her role as Agent Dana Scully from the Fox science fiction series "The X-Files," but in England, where the actress has lived for years, Anderson has repeatedly ditched the pantsuit in favor of period costumes. On the British stage and screen, she has played 19th and early 20th century characters, including Lily Bart in the movie "The House of Mirth," Wallis Simpson in the TV miniseries "Any Human Heart" and Nora in a 2009 London production of Ibsen's "A Doll's House." Her latest role is as Blanche DuBois in a London production of "A Streetcar Named Desire," opposite Ben Foster as Stanley Kowalski. The production, which began its run in July at the Young Vic, will be beamed to movie theaters around the world starting Sept. 16 as part of the National Theatre Live series. Anderson recently spoke by phone from London about "Streetcar" and the possibility of a Broadway run.

How did you come to play Blanche DuBois?

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I've wanted to do "Streetcar" for many years, and I'd been in conversation with the [Williams] estate about when and how, and whether the rights were available at a given time.... It's kind of the next thing I needed to do before I aged myself out of this role. I had a conversation with [director] Benedict Andrews, and he was interested. It was a matter of finding a theater.

This production is rather odd because it's done in the round, with the stage actually revolving.

It's not really peculiar. I always envisioned doing it in the round, and the fact that it revolves is a bonus. It is important at all times that one speaks one's monologues in all directions. But that isn't something an actor isn't normally thinking about.

A lot of famous actresses have played Blanche. Was that intimidating for you?

It wasn't really part of the equation ... it wasn't the thought that it was my "Hamlet." It was my identification with her in the small time I had with the text when I was younger. I don't feel like I began to understand her until I started her with rehearsals.

It's been a long time since you've done theater in the U.S. Any plans?

We're hoping to take this to New York. We're in negotiations for that.

How do British theater audiences differ from American audiences?

In London, there's a different level of respect for actors and the theater experience.... I've come to New York to see plays, and next to me are people who are talking out loud as if they're in their living rooms, and I've never had that experience in the U.K. I also think a wider range of people come to see theater in the U.K.

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NT Live

What: National Theatre broadcast of the Young Vic's production of "A Streetcar Named Desire," starring Gillian Anderson as Blanche, Ben Foster as Stanley and Vanessa Kirby as Stella.

When: Starts Sept. 16

Where: More than two dozen movie theaters in Southern California; go to ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk, find "Streetcar" page under the "What's On" menu, then enter your location in the screening locator.

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