11 Surprising Facts About Gillian Anderson

Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images
Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images

Gillian Anderson was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 9, 1968. In the 50 years since, she has lived quite the life—moving with her family from Chicago to Puerto Rico to London to Grand Rapids, Michigan, before returning to Chicago to attend DePaul University. Though she’s best known for playing Dana Scully on The X-Files, Anderson has portrayed a bevy of interesting and bold characters, including Stella Gibson on The Fall, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier on Hannibal, and Blanche DuBois in Broadway and London theater productions of A Streetcar Named Desire. Here are 11 facts about the Emmy-winning Anderson, in honor of her birthday.

1. HER FIRST THEATER JOB LAUNCHED HER CAREER.

After graduating from DePaul University, Gillian Anderson moved to New York City in 1990. She auditioned for the role of Evelyn in Absent Friends, which Mary-Louise Parker was originally cast to play but left to star in Grand Canyon. Anderson read twice for the part, and director Lynne Meadow decided to give the early-twentysomething—and inexperienced—Anderson a chance.

“When Lynne had my resume in her hand and said, ‘Is this all you've done?’ I didn’t know what she meant,” Anderson told The New York Times in 1991, in her first-ever interview. “I thought I had done a lot. But once I was hired, a big fear of mine was letting Lynne down. She was taking a big risk, and I didn't want her to find out she’d made a mistake.”

2. HER HIGH SCHOOL CLASSMATES VOTED HER BOTH “MOST BIZARRE” AND “MOST LIKELY TO BE ARRESTED.”

In 2012, Gillian told Out Magazine how her sense of style and relationship status upset people when she was a teenager. While attending high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, she said she dated a woman and also somebody who was a lot older than her. “Everything that that kind of anarchistic attitude brings—the inappropriate behavior it leads to—was how I chose to be in the world at that time, which was, you know, not what people did,” she said.

3. SHE’S BIDIALECTAL.

As Stella on The Fall, Anderson probably surprised some fans in speaking in her native British accent. Anderson told The Guardian it’s easier for her to speak with an American accent in the U.S. and then speak with her British lilt when she’s in the UK. “I was in Los Angeles recently with a couple of Brits and I thought, I’m going to see what it’s like to talk among Americans with a British accent, and I felt so uncomfortable,” she said. “It felt so disingenuous, and I kept thinking they must think I’m a complete tw*t. But when I’m here, it’s nearly impossible for me to maintain an American accent.”

4. SHE “STRUGGLED” TO FIND DANA SCULLY AGAIN.

After an eight-year break from playing her most iconic character—The X-Files movie was released in 2008—Anderson returned to the role of Dana Scully in the 2016 show revival. “I struggled in the first week,” she told Net-A-Porter. “I was trying to find the Scully of the past, rather than accepting time had passed. She and Mulder aren’t together and she’s carved out a world for herself, in medicine, working with a particular disease, with children, assisting surgeons. You get the sense that she goes to work, she goes to her apartment, and that’s her life. There is something missing and, of course, the thing that’s missing is Mulder.”

5. ANDERSON AND JAMIE DORNAN DIDN’T GET TO SPEND A LOT OF TIME TOGETHER ON THE FALL.

The cat-and-mouse relationship between Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson and serial killer Paul Spector climaxed when the two finally shared a long scene together in the final episode of The Fall's second season, in 2015. “After the first series people would come up to me and say, ‘I love The Fall ... what’s Gillian Anderson like to work with?’” Dornan told The Independent. “And I’d say, ‘I’ve no idea.’” Going forward, the actors got to act in more scenes together. Offscreen, though, they didn’t spend much time together, because of scheduling conflicts.

“I saw her three times during the first series: the read-through, one moment we had in the corridor of the police station, and then one day in the make-up trailer when she was working in the morning and I was working in the afternoon," Dornan explained. "Generally it was either a ‘Jamie day’ or a ‘Gillian day,' and Gillian has a young family as do I, so any time off I wasn’t in Belfast, I was back with my family. We didn’t see each other at all until we did all this press together and getting to know each other in the joint interviews.”

6. SHE THINKS HER HONESTY IS WHAT DRAWS FEMALE FANS.

Gillian Anderson in 'The Spy Who Dumped Me' (2018)
Hopper Stone, Lionsgate Entertainment

When discussing why so many women seem to "fangirl" her, Anderson told Net-A-Porter she thinks it's because she champions women. “I tell people when they are beautiful, I tell other actresses when I think their work is amazing ... So I think women feel relatively comfortable in my presence,” she said. “Also, because I’m not perfect, you know? I’ve got flabby thighs, I’m aging and I’m 5-feet-3-inches. I talk about my failing in contemporary society in terms of gyms or food or whatever. I think there’s a polite appreciation that I’m honest.”

As far as her male fans go, she thinks it's because she played a sex symbol on The Fall. “For the photo op [at Comic-Con] there was a line out the door of men, which has never been my experience before," she said. "With women, it feels more like it’s the mix of the human being and the characters that I choose, whereas, on that day anyway, the men were hooking into a specific character and a specific aspect, which was sex appeal.”

7. SHE CO-AUTHORED A BOOK ON WOMEN.

In 2017, Atria Books—a part of Simon & Schuster—published We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere, co-written by Jennifer Nadel. “It’s a book about facing oneself,” Anderson told The Guardian. “It’s about working through things in one’s own life in order to be of better service out in the world. And it’s about the community of women, too: the fact that there is so much competition and judgment and negativity out there, especially on social media, when we should be turning to each other, helping each other to find our voices.”

8. SHE THRIVES ON TENSION IN A ROLE.

“Somebody at one point said something about the fact that I’ve ended up with, or have chosen, these roles where it’s me . . .  not necessarily against, but rivaling these [male] characters: the triptych of Mulder, Hannibal, and Spector,” she told The Telegraph. “That I find myself in those situations, those roles. I mean, Mulder’s not really a predator, we’re not in that dance, but there’s tension. Various forms of both intellectual and sexual tension.”

9. SHE DOESN'T THINK DANA SCULLY IS "PARTICULARLY COMPLEX."


Frank Ockenfels, FOX

“I don’t yearn to play Scully in the same way I do Stella or Blanche [DuBois]," Anderson told Net-A-Porter. "Part of that is because she is not particularly complex. People appreciate that fact and that there are other complexities in the show, but as an actor, I don’t have the same passion [to play the role].” However, she does know that Scully is a “great character,” and that “there is a formula and a flavor to [The X-Files] that hasn’t been recreated in anything else.”

10. SHE HAS BEEN VOCAL ABOUT THE UNFAIR PRESSURE PUT ON WOMEN AS THEY AGE.

In early 2016, the Daily Mail reported that Anderson had undergone some plastic surgery to her face. Anderson quickly took to Facebook to shoot down the rumors. “If it weren’t so sad, this bollocks would have made my day,” she wrote.

“I’m not necessarily anti-surgery; I’m anti the shame that is attached to women who make that choice, rightly or wrongly, in their own mind," she told The Telegraph in September of that same year. "I think it’s unfortunate that there is so much pressure on women, and yet they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. That is heinous. But I must say very honestly that I am lucky. In a few years there may be something I find intolerable, and I’m not going to say I wouldn’t buckle. I hope that I would be comfortable enough with myself not to, but I have to allow for the fact that I am an actor, and there is vanity in me.”

11. SHE TURNED DAVID DUCHOVNY’S HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME CEREMONY INTO A MOCK FUNERAL.

In January 2016, David Duchovny received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Anderson didn’t attend the ceremony but sent a morbid message, pretending his day was actually a funeral. “He was a nice man,” she wrote. “A kind man. Quite smart. He liked avocado and pilates. Actor, writer, friend. He will always be my shining star. May his soul be forgiven and rest in peace.”

“I mean, it’s such a weird thing, anyway, that whole idea of a star on Hollywood Boulevard,” she told The Telegraph. “It is akin to a gravestone!” Two years later, in January 2018, she finally got her own star.

13 Great Rockumentaries Every Music (and Movie) Fan Should See

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

More people are watching documentaries these days, which likely means that more people are rocking their faces off with nonfiction. Far from Ken Burns’s soothing tones, these music-filled films demand amplification and an unseemly amount of perspiration.

Rock documentaries are tricky beasts. Though they often have the built-in advantage of following around famous people, they aren’t immune to boredom and eye-rolling faux depth. Keeping it simple by showcasing the music can be good, but it’s no way to be great. The best of the best manage to deliver a stellar soundscape, offer a backstage pass to the real humans who make it, and hold our ears even if we aren’t already devoted fans. If a little history gets made in the process, even better.

Grab a seat next to Penny Lane on the bus. Here are 13 of the best documentaries that every music—and film—fan should add to their Must Watch list.

1. WHAT’S HAPPENING! THE BEATLES IN THE U.S.A. (1964)

A singular piece of filmmaking where nonfiction talent met transcendent musical genius on the threshold of gargantuan stardom, this is the best Beatles documentary ever produced. Directed by legendary documentarians Albert and David Maysles, the film captures the band’s first frivolous jaunt through America, where they raised the screaming decibel level in The Ed Sullivan Show theater and goofed off in hotel rooms. It’s an explosion of youth before they changed music forever.

2. DON’T LOOK BACK (1967)

Another marriage of style, skill, and subject, Don't Look Back helped shape how the rockumentary genre could provide insights into the people who shape our popular culture. That so many iconic moments emerged from D.A. Pennebaker’s watershed work, which strolled with Bob Dylan through England in 1965, is a testament to the legendary musician's infinite magnetism. The cue cards, singing with Joan Baez in a hotel room on the edge of breaking up, the Mississippi voter registration rally, and on and on. Since it portrayed fame’s effect on the artist, the art, and the audience, most every other rock doc has been chasing its brilliance.

3. GIMME SHELTER (1970)

The rockumentary has evolved to be as diverse as the sonic landscape itself, which is why Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping can send up the current scene just like This Is Spinal Tap! did in the 1980s. Still, 1970 feels like the year that defined the rockumentary. Another Maysles joint, this profound doc captured The Rolling Stones touring at a time when they were one of the biggest bands in the world and only getting bigger. The music is powerful and immediate, and the film closes with their appearance at the Altamont Free Concert, which turned deadly when—after a day of skirmishes between concertgoers and the Hell’s Angels acting as security—a fan with a gun was stabbed to death when he tried to get on stage during “Under My Thumb.”

4. WOODSTOCK (1970)

The other 1970 film that helped define the genre allowed thousands to claim they’d been to the biggest concert event of the generation without actually going. If rock ‘n’ roll emerged from unruly teenage years into conflicted young adulthood in the 1960s, nothing stamped that image in henna ink better than Woodstock and the documentary that accompanied it. The bands that appear are legendary: Crosby, Stills & Nash; The Who; Joe Cocker singing The Beatles; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and many more. It’s a fly-by of the three days of peace and music that you could play on repeat with summery ease.

5. ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1973)

Rock doc royalty D.A. Pennebaker captured David Bowie’s final performance in his red-domed sci-fi persona at London's Hammersmith Odeon with a flair that captures the frenetic energy of the room. The crowd is as much a part of the moment as the band is, as the camera places you in the middle of a transitional moment in music history. To see Bowie that close up now is a wonder. And, naturally, the music is out of this world.

6. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981)

Instead of following the famous, Penelope Spheeris’s debut dug its nails deep into the Los Angeles punk scene at the turn of the decade. Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and other bands your parents have never heard of perform mosh pit-sparking anthems and show off their living conditions like a grungy proto-version of MTV Cribs. There’s a purity here missing from most music docs—a chronicle of people whose passion far, far outweighs their paychecks, and a screening that led the LAPD to request that the movie never be shown in LA again.

7. SIGN "☮" THE TIMES (1987)

Having Prince at the center of your concert doc is a shortcut to ensuring it’s one of the best of all time. There’s the music, of course. Hits like “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look,” and Sheila E. beating the hell out of her drum kit. There’s also The Purple One's inexhaustible energy and stage presence. As a bonus, the film jumps between concert footage and (instead of candid hotel conversations) a sci-fi narrative where we get to go to Prince Planet. It’s a rocky, disorienting experience that could have only been held so tightly together by a master showman.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (1991)

It might be hard to explain to a younger audience just how dominant Madonna was as an artist coming out of the 1980s or the kind of landmark event this film represented because of her status. The travelogue of her Blonde Ambition Tour was like peeking into the insane world of the ultra-famous—not least because Madonna was dating Warren Beatty at the time and part of the film involves her hanging out with Al Pacino, Lionel Richie, and more. There are threats that the Canadian police will arrest her for simulating masturbation in her show, the Pope trying to get the tour canceled in Italy, and a slightly awkward return home to see family. All par for the course for someone whose personal life was carved up for public consumption.

9. RHYME & REASON (1997)

An unparalleled look into the lyricism and lifestyle of rap musicians from the genre’s rise through its global domination of the 1990s, the concert and party footage is fantastic, and the number of interviews is staggering. Peter Spirer spoke with more than 80 rap and hip-hop artists to craft a snapshot of what life was like for a group of musicians who discovered their voices could echo across the world as well as those who followed after to even greater success. Instead of going deep on one person behind the music, it’s a historical document of the culture itself as seen through the eyes of those at its very center.

10. THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (2005)

For those who don’t know Daniel Johnston’s music, this doc is a crash course not only in its stripped-down, anti-folk vibes but the head it all comes spilling out of. Instead of romanticizing or ignoring his bipolar disorder, Jeff Feuerzeig’s movie engages with it directly, drawing beautiful gems from a troubled mind. An absolute masterpiece, it’s less a vision of a musician giving glimpses into his real life than it is a vision of a human being who makes music.

11. AWESOME; I F*CKIN’ SHOT THAT! (2006)

Rockumentaries follow two major formats: the raw concert doc that’s like a ticket to a show you couldn’t attend, and the profile where artists drop quotables in between performances. They’re safe and familiar, which is probably why the Beastie Boys gave both styles the middle finger in favor of a grand experiment. A year before YouTube launched, the rap trio gave 50 fans in their Madison Square Garden audience camcorders to capture the concert. The result is a genuine, fans’-eye-view of the experience, and a chaotic mashup of perspectives.

12. THE PUNK SINGER (2013)

It’s astonishing how much time and ground Sini Anderson’s portrait of Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna covers. It’s so much that labeling her Bikini Kill’s leader is woefully reductive. Artist, pioneer, feminist, activist, and a dozen other titles swirl around Hanna’s sweat-covered brow as we get to know her both as an artist and as a person. It’s also a punk fever dream of riot grrrl greatness, featuring incendiary archival footage and excellent talks with members of Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, and Julie Ruin, as well as Carrie Brownstein and the Beastie Boys’s Adam Horovitz (who is also Hanna’s husband).

13. JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (2015)

A fairly recent addition to the pantheon, Amy J. Berg’s doc is a stirring tour of archival footage of the gravel-throated songstress. Narrated by musician Cat Power, instead of losing perspective to the fog of history, a blend of modern conversations and ghosts from the past offer fresh eyes and ears to create a heartsick celebration of one of music history's most beloved artists, whose career was cut woefully short.

20 Memorable Elvis Presley Quotes

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

More than 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley remains a rock ‘n' roll icon and has yet to be ousted from his position as “The King.” Yet the Tupelo, Mississippi-born, Memphis, Tennessee-raised superstar never took his fame for granted, nor did he forget his roots. Here are 20 memorable quotes about Elvis’s life and legacy.

ON AMBITION

“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”

ON MAINTAINING YOUR VALUES

“It's not how much you have that makes people look up to you, it's who you are.”

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do.”

ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

“I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend.”

“I've never written a song in my life. It's all a big hoax.”

“I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to.”

ON THE ARMY

“After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake.”

“The army teaches boys to think like men.”

ON TRUTH

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.”

ON THOSE LEGENDARY DANCE MOVES

“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I can't help it.”

“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do 'em all together, I guess.”

ON KEEPING POSITIVE

“When things go wrong, don't go with them.”

ON STARDOM

“If you let your head get too big, it'll break your neck.”

“I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.”

“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It's very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.”

“The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year.”

ON LOVE

“Sad thing is, you can still love someone and be wrong for them.”

ON THE PITFALLS OF HOLLYWOOD

“I sure lost my musical direction in Hollywood. My songs were the same conveyer belt mass production, just like most of my movies were.”

ON GETTING OLDER

“Every time I think that I'm getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.”

ON LEAVING A LEGACY

“Do something worth remembering.”

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