At this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny joined X-Files creator Chris Carter for a 20th anniversary panel discussion of the show that launched the pair as FBI agents Scully and Mulder. During the panel, one man prefaced his question to Anderson by telling her he found her “delicious” (albeit in one of her latest roles, on Hannibal); another woman fought through tears (“I’m being fucking pathetic!”) as she told the panel of the huge impact the show had on her life.
Leaning into the crowd and talking excitedly about the show’s nerdy Lone Gunmen and comic-book spinoffs and whether she’d do another X-Files movie, Anderson was clearly relishing her estimable place in the American pop-culture canon. “It’s touching, moving and flattering,” she says, when we ask her a month later about all that fanatical admiration. “There’s not many other opportunities where you are really face-to-face with people who are buying tickets to films and watching TV shows you’ve worked so hard on.” Does it ever get too much? “It’s all positive – it’s not like people are throwing tomatoes at us.”
Even after a string of successes on the British stage and small screen over the past decade – she made an excellent Mrs Haversham in the BBC’s Great Expectations in 2011 and won acclaim for her turn in Bleak House – Anderson has remained firmly ‘Dana Scully’ in the minds of people who spent the ’90s watching The X-Files and asking, “Will they or won’t they?” and, a lot of the time, “What the fuck was that!?” But with her latest project, BBC2’s The Fall, the Chicago-born, London-dwelling actress has found a role as defining as Scully, and one that’s winning her a new set of avid fans.
“It was one of those pieces I couldn’t say no to: the writing was too damn good,” says Anderson of her decision to go back to the world of the TV serial. In The Fall – which was picked up for a second season after some of BBC2’s highest ever ratings – she plays Detective Stella Gibson, sent from London to Belfast to review the case of a young woman’s murder. Gibson soon becomes involved in the hunt for a serial killer, but there’s a neat narrative twist: screentime is split almost 50-50 between Gibson and the killer, a young family man who does his stalking at night. We see him at work, at home, talking to his daughter… it’s like The X-Files meets Dexter, without the aliens or the sunshine.
It’s terrifying, too. But it’s not the nerve-fraying tension nor the narrative conceit that really grips you: it’s Anderson’s Gibson, a creature like we’ve rarely seen on TV – a fiercely devoted detective and feminist who hates journalists, loves wine and, in episode one, approaches a good looking cop she’s never met just to tell him the hotel she’s staying at. “There are so many things about her that I could say that are true,” says Anderson. “But there are other things that are almost unnameable. There’s something really enigmatic about her. When I started doing press, people would say she’s like this character in The Bridge [an American series set on the Texas-Mexico border], or she’s like this other character… I haven’t seen those things,” says Anderson, who does not watch any TV whatsoever, “but to me she’s not like any other character. There’s something unique about her that I have never seen before – and I appreciate it.”
While Anderson says she eased her way back into serial television (The Fall is only five episodes per season), the pace has picked up quickly: she guest-starred for five episodes on the US series Hannibal this year and will star in the upcoming NBC action-drama Crisis, alongside Dermot Mulroney. It looks a little 24: a busload of students from an elite high school – including the president’s son – is kidnapped and taken hostage. All that and, yes, she would do another X-Files movie if the band got back together.
So much for easing into things. “Yeah,” she says with a laugh. “Then there’s theatre and other films. It looks a little bit insane until 2016 at this point.”
The Fall airs Saturdays 8.30pm on UKTV from Sat Oct 19.