For the second in my series of Defining Roles posts, after starting with Benedict Cumberbatch, I wanted the next post to focus on an actress who I’ve admired for most of my life and who continues to do brilliant and varied work and that’s Gillian Anderson. So…here are my ten defining roles of her career so far.
It’s the role she is most recognised for and a character that I so admired as a teenager, so Special Agent Dana Scully still sits at the top of Gillian’s roles for me. Not the studio’s desired choice for Scully, but championed by Chris Carter, this was her first mainstream television role. Taking on the role at 24, who’d have imagined it would still be so iconic 20 years later! We were able to see Gillian grow as an actress over the course of The X-Files, in a role that allowed her to play so many emotions, from the sceptical scientist, to the more open minded Scully of later seasons. She was such a strong female character and I certainly grew up admiring her intelligence and determination and that’s all down to Gillian. I’ve selected my favourite episodes here.
I was very excited to see this on its release and thankfully my local art house cinema was showing it. It is a rather tragic story, as we see Lily go from the high levels of society to losing everything she knows. However what still impresses me years later is Gillian’s performance. She is fantastic as Lily, playing her naivety and vulnerability perfectly and I admit I shed a tear by the end.
3. Blanche DuBois – A Streetcar Named Desire (Young Vic Theatre, 2014)
This production of Tennessee Williams’s play is one of my highlights of the theatre year (read my full review here) and Gillian deserves all the praise and awards she is already receiving for her role as Blanche. We see Blanche slowly spiral out of control over the course of the play and as her character gets more and more desperate, Gillian gives absolutely everything to achieve an incredibly moving performance. If you are able to see an encore cinema screening or the upcoming Broadway run, then you shouldn’t hesitate.
Outside The X-Files, this is possibly the role in the UK that brought Gillian wider respect and recognition as an actress. I certainly had family and friends who never watched her as Scully but were impressed by her performance as Lady Dedlock in this Dickens adaptation. Her history is somewhat a mystery throughout, slowly being revealed piece by piece and her desperation and heartbreak are very believable. I must rewatch this drama again soon.
Series one of The Fall was a highlight of 2013 television, despite being pretty damn scary. I admit to fast forwarding through some of the scarier moments, but I certainly had to keep watching for the fantastic Stella Gibson. She is quite a mystery and unlike many female characters in drama at the moment. I loved her strong, independent attitude and although nervous about catching up on series two, wouldn’t miss learning more about her.
Another Dickens classic adapted for the BBC saw Gillian taking on one of his most famous characters, that of Miss Havisham. Although a younger version than I’ve seen before, Gillian brilliantly captures her madness and despair. This was also where she met Vanessa Kirby (who plays Estella) and it was wonderful to see the pair reunited to play sisters in Streetcar this year.
I’d been longing to get a chance to see Gillian on stage and finally had my first opportunity in 2010 when she was cast in this Ibsen play. With a great cast including Toby Stephens and Christopher Eccleston and in such an intimate venue (only 251 seats), Gillian brings Nora to life superbly. She is both childlike and playful, but also secretive and eventually far stronger than you think her capable of being. Not as impressive a performance as Streetcar, but it clearly highlighted Gillian’s growing confidence on stage.
I’ve still yet to watch series 2, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first year of Hannibal and was thrilled when Gillian joined the cast as Dr. Lector’s own psychiatrist. She plays the part so well, never giving too much about herself and her past away, while still giving you a sense of her history with Hannibal. I’m looking forward to catching up on what happens to her in advance of series three starting next year.
9. Loretta Lee – The Mighty (1998)
I still have a soft spot for this indie film, which was one of Gillian’s first roles after The X-Files made her a more well known name. It’s only a small role, but Loretta is certainly memorable and as the film was relatively well received, gave her more credibility in these earlier years of her career.
10. Dana Scully (The Simpsons: The Springfield Files – 1997)
For my final choice, I had to include this Simpsons cameo by David and Gillian as Mulder and Scully. It demonstrated at the time just how popular The X-Files had become and it’s a fantastically funny episode, which allows Gillian to show another side of her acting talents, with some comedic and deadpan voiceover work.
So that’s my list. Is there anything you would have included in yours?
Coming next – another actor whose career I have followed for a long time now – David Tennant.