Gillian Anderson On 'The Fall' And Getting Arrested In High School

Dec 7, 2013
Originally published on December 7, 2013 9:39 am

There's been a string of unsolved murders in Belfast, Northern Ireland, so they have to bring in the heat from London. Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson appears to be the embodiment of what people in Belfast often don't like about London: She seems cool, correct, fiercely intelligent, but icy.

The London detective is the central character of The Fall, a British series that was a huge critical and commercial hit there this year and is now available in the U.S. on DVD. Gibson is portrayed by Gillian Anderson, the American-born actor who, until maybe now, was best known as Dana Scully from the X-Files.

Anderson tells NPR's Scott Simon about The Fall's European flavor and the time she was voted most likely to get arrested in high school.


Interview Highlights

On what drew her to the character of Gibson

[As with] most jobs that come my way, it came first in the form of a script. And there's something about [creator] Alan Cubitt's writing that kind of gets under your skin. So from the moment I turned the first page, I couldn't put it down for his writing. But I also was very intrigued by this character of Gibson and didn't feel like I'd really read a character like her before, encountered a character quite like her before. And she continues to remain an enigma for me.

On how much she and the show were influenced by the British police procedural Prime Suspect, which starred Helen Mirren

I'm a huge fan of Helen Mirren, that goes without saying. I think it was always something that I held in the back of my mind as something to aim for. And [The Fall] could have gone a few ways in the way that it was shot, and it certainly could have been shot differently and felt more Americanized. And I felt very strongly, because of Prime Suspect, that it [have] a grittiness to it. It ... has a European flavor and it comes off the page.

On moving to London after The X-Files ended

I grew up in London. ... We moved to Michigan when I was 11 and our intention was always to move back. That never happened. But in my mind, that was home. ... London was always going to continue to be in my life as an adult and I knew that.

And so when I was filming The X-Files, pretty much every summer I would go to London and rent a place for a period of time and be there. When the series was going to conclude, I was determined that I was going to do theater and that I was going to do it in London rather than on Broadway.

On being voted most likely to get arrested in high school

When we moved to Michigan ... my folks still had a flat in London that we would go to in the summertime. And through one of those trips I had started to become interested in the punk scene and started to dress differently than a lot of the kids in Grand Rapids, Mich., were dressing. And I got my nose pierced and I started to shave my head and dye my hair and wear a lot of black. And so I looked like somebody that might be arrested. ... I was a bit of a class clown, usually the one that people would get to do the things that they were afraid to get in trouble for. So the mixture of those two things contributed, no doubt, to that vote.

And, in fact, on graduation night, I was arrested. ... I had a boyfriend at the time who was a couple centuries older than I was and I'd convinced him that we should go and glue the locks of the school so that people couldn't get in in the morning. And lo and behold, they had a security guard because it was graduation night and they were concerned that idiots like me might try and do something like that.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's been a string of unsolved murders in Belfast, so they have to bring in the heat from London - Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, who may appear to be the embodiment of what some people in Belfast often don't like about London. She seems cool, correct, fiercely intelligent but icy, even with a cop at a crime scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "THE FALL")

GILLIAN ANDERSON: (As Stella Gibson) Tell Me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Suspected homicide.

ANDERSON: (As Stella Gibson) White professional female in her 30s?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Yes, ma'am.

ANDERSON: (As Stella Gibson) Strangulation marks?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) I think so.

ANDERSON: (As Stella Gibson) Where is her body located?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) In the upstairs top bedroom.

ANDERSON: (As Stella Gibson) Where in the bedroom?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) On the bed.

ANDERSON: (As Stella Gibson) Covered or uncovered?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Partly covered, I think.

ANDERSON: (As Stella Gibson) Thank you.

SIMON: "The Fall" is a British series that was a huge critical and commercial hit there this year, and is now available on DVD from Acorn Media. It was created by Allan Cubitt, and stars a lot of great Belfast actors including Jamie Dornan. And the silken, so-sharp-she-draws-blood London detective is portrayed by Gillian Anderson, the American-born actor who, until maybe now, was best-known as Scully from the "X-Files."

Gillian Anderson joins us from the studios of Chicago Public Radio. Thanks so much for being with us.

ANDERSON: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What drew you to play Stella Gibson?

ANDERSON: This script stood out from much of what I read in a long while. And there's something about Allan Cubitt's writing that is - kind of gets under your skin. From the moment I turned the first page, I couldn't put it down for his writing. But I also was very intrigued by this character of Gibson, and didn't feel like I'd really read a character like her before, encountered a character quite like her before. And she continues to remain an enigma for me.

SIMON: We mentioned that Stella Gibson might strike a Belfastian as the - kind of an image of London snootiness. I wonder, how do you get inside that without making a caricature of your character?

ANDERSON: Well, she's not snooty at all. I mean, when I - and I have experience of British snootiness; that's not what Stella Gibson is. But she is - I could see where she might come in and rattle some feathers. But I also know that she's coming into a very complicated situation; and she's stepping into it not wanting to ruffle feathers and at the same time, saying this is the way it has to be done if I'm going to be running this thing.

SIMON: There's - again, I'm going to tread carefully 'cause I don't want to give anything away - but just really, a stunning exchange between you and Jamie Dornan, who is the killer. It goes back and forth in which he suggests that there's a reason why Stella Gibson is so good at inhabiting the mind of a killer.

ANDERSON: That is one of the aspects of Stella that is - so to speak - the jury is still out on in terms of, to what degree. And to what degree are they same person?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "THE FALL")

JAMIE DORNAN: (As Paul Spector) I've been watching you with interest.

ANDERSON: (As Stella Gibson) Have you?

DORNAN: (As Paul Spector) We're very alike, you and me.

ANDERSON: (As Stella Gibson) Oh, I don't think so.

DORNAN: (As Paul Spector) Both driven by will to power, a desire to control everything and everyone; obsessive, ruthless, living and breathing moral relativism. It's just you're bound by conventional emotions of what's right and wrong, and I'm free.

ANDERSON: (As Stella Gibson) How are you free? You're a slave to your desires. You have no control at all. You're weak.

I think that it's only in Season 2 that you're going to start to see what he might have meant by those comments. And also, you know, it could be somewhat wishful thinking on his part but to which degree is truth, and which degree is part of his game.

SIMON: There may be some Americans who haven't quite kept up with your story after "X-Files." You moved to London. You became one of the most celebrated stage and TV actors there. Why make that move, and not Hollywood?

ANDERSON: Well, I grew up in London and knew from a very early age after leaving - then we moved to Michigan, when I was 11, and our intention was always to move back. That never happened. And so when I was filming "The X-Files," pretty much every summer I would go to London and rent a place for a period of time, and be there. And when the series was going to conclude, I was determined that I was going to do theater, and that I was going to do it in London rather than on Broadway. I don't know how much of that was about removing myself as much as possible, physically, from just the world of American drama, acting, sets, etc., etc., and kind of a bit of an escape; or whether there was something comforting about going home, so to speak.

SIMON: Do I have this right? - you were high school, I guess, in Grand Rapids, Mich.; right across the lake there, from Chicago - you were voted Most Likely To Get Arrested?

ANDERSON: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Is there a story there or...

ANDERSON: When we moved to Michigan when I was 11, my folks still had a flat in London that we would go to in the summertime. And through one of those trips, I had started to become interested in the punk scene, and started to dress differently than a lot of the kids in Grand Rapids, Mich., were dressing. And I got my nose pierced, and I started to shave my head and dye my hair, and wear a lot of black. And so I looked like somebody that might be arrested. I was also a bit of a class clown and usually, the one that people would get to do the things that they were afraid to get in trouble for. So the mixture of those two things contributed, no doubt, to that vote. And in fact, on Graduation Night, I was arrested.

SIMON: May I ask, for something...

ANDERSON: Oh, I had a boyfriend at the time who was a couple centuries older than I was; and I'd convinced him that we should go and glue the locks of the school so that people couldn't get in, in the morning. And lo and behold, they had a security guard because it was Graduation Night, and they were concerned that idiots like me might try and do something like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC FOR TV SHOW, "X-FILES")

SIMON: Gillian Anderson - she plays Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, in "The Fall." The hit British series is now available on DVD in this country from Acorn Media. Thanks so much for being with us.

ANDERSON: Such a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC FOR TV SHOW, "X-FILES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.