When The X-Files ended its first run in 2002, Gillian Anderson was over it. “I needed to dig a deep ditch for anything X-Files-related to go into,” she says with a big laugh. “It took a while before I could talk about the show with a sense of appreciation and wistfulness.”
She was 33 at the time of the original series finale and had spent the majority of her adult life playing FBI Special Agent Dr. Dana Scully, the impassive, skeptical voice of reason in the fantastical world of her onscreen foil, Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny). Throughout nine seasons, including two after Duchovny left, Anderson faced off with campy Monsters of the Week and, in “mythology” episodes, the dreaded Smoking Man and his apocalypse-engineering Illuminati cronies. Ultimately, the experience left Anderson in a creative identity crisis. “I remember looking at the back of an in-flight magazine at some point and seeing an ad for the X-Files box set,” she says. “I had such a weird relationship with it, I thought, ‘Don’t I know that from somewhere?’ But at the same time I thought, ‘That’s me. Why am I on a box set?'” She laughs.
Anderson is now age 47, lives in London and feels at peace with Dana Scully. In the years since the show ended, she appeared in several TV series, notably Hannibal and The Fall, as well as in movies and onstage. Today, she’s in Belfast, where she’s co-writing a book, WE: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere, with broadcast journalist Jennifer Nadel. Its title is befitting of her X-Files character and her so-called “Scully Effect,” the notion that the character inspired young women to pursue jobs in science, medicine and law enforcement.
This year, Anderson returned fully to the world of Agent Dana Scully in a six-episode run of The X-Files, which found Mulder and Scully at odds with villains old and new. The finale, which aired last night, found Scully in the position of reshaping the world, and it harkened back to the show’s edge-of-your-seat heyday. Its opening credits sequence promised “This Is the End,” but as is the way of series creator Chris Carter, who wrote and directed the episode, the installment left many questions. To find out just how much of the truth is still out there, Rolling Stone spoke with Gillian Anderson about why she wanted to return to The X-Files and how it left off.
David Duchovny once told me that after he left The X-Files, he felt he had to prove to the world that he could play someone other than Fox Mulder. Did you feel that way, too?
Yes. I needed prove that both to myself and to the outside world. But pretty soon after I moved to the U.K., I was offered a role on the TV series Bleak House, based on Charles Dickens’ book. I was shocked that they were offering it to me. People in the U.K. look at acting differently than they do in the U.S.; Helen Mirren and Judi Dench have been flitting back and forth between TV, film and stage for years. There’s no differentiation. They approached me, “Well, we’ve seen [your work] and we think you can do this.” And I assumed they would be in the American mindset of, “Well, surely you can only do Scully.”