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Anderson, Gillian (1968-)

Actor, Presenter

Main image of Anderson, Gillian (1968-)

Although forever associated with her iconic role as Special Agent Dana Scully in the cult TV series The X-Files (US, 1993-2002), Gillian Anderson has also put together an impressive repertoire of work on stage, television and screen. She was born on the 9th August 1968 in Chicago, but her family moved to London when she was 2, staying until she was 11. Returning to America, she studied at the Goodman Theater School of Drama in Chicago, and made an inauspicious screen debut in an obscure film called The Turning (US, 1992), which later became infamous for its brief semi-nude scene.

However, it was The X-Files that brought her global recognition. She was cast after a guest appearance in the university drama Class of 96 (US, 1993) brought her to the attention of producers at 20th Century Fox. An enormous hit that capitalised on general fascination with aliens and the supernatural, it was also a precursor to later popular TV series such as 24 (US, 2001-) and Lost (US, 2004-) in the way in which a complex conspiracy unfolded over an extended period. Anderson's Agent Scully was the sceptic who stood in for the audience when the wilder theories were explained. It spawned a spin-off feature film with the same title (US, 1998), and Anderson and co-star David Duchovny made tongue-in-cheek appearances in The Simpsons (US, 1997).

However, she soon showed that she was too talented and quirky an actress to be straitjacketed by one television show. She was good in small roles in sensitive ensemble dramas such as The Mighty (US, 1998) and Playing By Heart (UK/US, 1998), but was revelatory in the Edith Wharton adaptation The House of Mirth (UK/France/Germany/US, 2000) as the tragic, quixotic Lily Bart, demonstrating both a hitherto unsuspected range and a note-perfect English accent. Director Terence Davies knew nothing of her previous work; he was instead struck by her near-uncanny resemblance to women featured in John Singer Sargent paintings of the period. She won a British Independent Film award for the role.

With The X-Files concluded, Anderson again relocated to England, and chose similarly low-key roles, both on stage and screen. The Irish greyhound racing drama The Mighty Celt (Ireland, 2005) met with little attention, but she again demonstrated her remarkable dramatic range as Lady Dedlock in the TV adaptation of Bleak House (BBC, 2005). Arguably the pivotal role in the series, certainly the most tragic, she showed, as with Lily Bart, how she could perfectly capture both the appearance and the mannerisms of a privileged scion of a bygone age. She was also surprisingly funny in a dual role as herself and Widow Wadman in Michael Winterbottom's A Cock and Bull Story (2005), embracing the film's meta-cinematic games with gusto. Her next major project, an adaptation of Giles Foden's novel about Idi Amin, The Last King of Scotland (2006), promises to further her reputation as a consummate actress.

Alexander Larman

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Thumbnail image of Cock and Bull Story, A (2005)Cock and Bull Story, A (2005)

Surprisingly effective adaptation of a supposedly unfilmable novel

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