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.

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

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