Hothouse Flower

Gillian Anderson Blooms in Edith Wharton’s Tragedy of Manners

Both director and actress at least concur on the power of the extraordinary concluding tableau mort, which they nailed on only the second take. Says Davies, "All I told her for that scene was a quote from Keats: 'To cease upon the midnight with no pain.' " "It was one of those extraordinary moments where everything was suspended in time," says Anderson. "I was very aware of where the camera was, and the camera felt like a piece of me, and we were in this dance together, and everything, moment by moment, was working, down to the smallest details. Afterwards in the background, Terence was up and screaming. It was very exciting."

Anderson's portrayal augurs a successful small-to-big-screen crossover, but for now, she has signed on to stay with The X-Filesuntil 2002, if a ninth season gets under way next year. With David Duchovny sidelined and newcomer Robert Patrick in a strictly subordinate capacity, Anderson has graduated to sole lead. "Things have naturally shifted to where they need to be," she says with a nervous laugh. What pleases her most, she hastens to point out, is a more manageable work schedule, which has this year allowed her to spend more time with her six-year-old daughter, and a greater sense of ease about her character (like Duchovny, she's tried her hand at writing and directing). "When I first started out, I was so naive and so much in a place of survival—just in terms of dealing with being employed—that I wasn't much of a participant in Scully's path. I was just showing up and doing what everybody told me to do. I've settled into her, and more of my personality has gone into Scully over time."

Anderson's rabid fan base should ensure larger-than-arthouse crowds for The House of Mirth—New York Film Festival screenings sold out in record time as X-Philes joined the Film Society of Lincoln Center in droves to secure advance tickets. This comes as news to her, as does the unofficial, oft-repeated statistic that she has more fan Web sites than any other actor ("What do you mean? I do? Oh my god!").

"What's so fascinating to me about Lily is that she's not an innocent in all of this."
photo: Chris Schrameck
"What's so fascinating to me about Lily is that she's not an innocent in all of this."

Anderson has picked up a British Independent Film Award for her performance, but she seems somewhat less confident about the reception that awaits The House of Mirth in the U.S. "I'm not sure how it's going to play here—a period piece, no sex and violence, or at least not the kind people are used to." Davies advanced a theory in a British interview a few months ago that Anderson might harbor mixed feelings about the movie. "I have no idea what she thinks of the film because she's not said," he confirms, a little huffily. "It's surprised and hurt me." When Davies's remarks are put to her, Anderson politely but firmly refuses comment: "It's not something I want to address publicly." What she will say is that she "worked desperately hard on this character. I'm so hypersensitive when playing another role to not do anything Scully-like." Which might explain why she's somewhat taken aback by the suggestion that the frustrated ache between Lily and Selden finds an ironic parallel in the long-standing Scully and Mulder slowburn: "I'd never thought of that. Hmm, Scully and Mulder have, I think, made a conscious, silent choice to not be together. With Lily and Selden, it's just not that way; it's their own fault that they're not together. It's almost like a lazy mistake."

Anderson is at her liveliest when discussing options for her post-X-Filescareer—she wants to write and direct, maybe make a documentary, perhaps even become politically active ("I think if we got Hillary Clinton to watch The Contenderand run in 2004, we'd have ourselves the best president we've had in decades"). As for acting ambitions, she reels off a list: "I'd love to do some theater, maybe in London. I'd love to do comedy; I think Christopher Guest and Garry Shandling are hilarious. I've done so little, there's so much. . . . I'd play anything, everything—a Southern belle, a vixen, a drug addict." She laughs at her sudden burst of enthusiasm: "All of it, bring it on."


Plus: Jessica Winter's interview with The House of Mirth's director Terence Davies.

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