Gillian Anderson was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 9, 1968. In the 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 actor.
1. Gillian Anderson's 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. Gillian Anderson's 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. Gillian Anderson is 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. Gillian Anderson "struggled" to find Dana Scully again when The X-Files came back in 2016.
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. Gillian 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. Gillian Anderson thinks her honesty is what draws female fans.
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. Gillian Anderson 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. Gillian Anderson 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. Gillian Anderson doesn't think Dana Scully is "particularly complex."
“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. Gillian Anderson 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. Gillian Anderson 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.
A version of this story ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2021.