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.

21 Fun Facts About Elf

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Everyone knows the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear! But the second best way is to enjoy Elf. Revel in the giddy glow of this modern holiday classic with a slew of secrets from behind the scenes.

1. Jim Carrey was initially eyed to play Buddy the elf.

When David Berenbaum's spec script first emerged in 1993, Carrey was pre-Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and attached to front the Christmas film. However, it took another 10 years to get the project in motion, at which time Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell was signed to star. Carrey would go on to headline his own Christmas offerings—the live-action How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the CGI animated A Christmas Carol.

2. Will Ferrell worked as a mall Santa.


Warner Bros.

And his A Night at the Roxbury co-star Chris Kattan was his elf. This was back when the pair were pre-Saturday Night Live, and part of the comedy troupe The Groundlings. Ferrell recollected to Spliced Wire, "I have some experience playing Santa Claus … Chris Kattan was my elf at this outdoor mall in Pasadena for five weeks, passing out candy canes. It was hilarious because little kids could care less about the elf. They just come right to Santa Claus. So by the second weekend, Kattan had dropped the whole affectation he was doing and was like (Ferrell makes a face of bitter boredom), 'Santa's over there, kid.'"

3. Director Jon Favreau favored practical effects.

Inspired by the Christmas specials he grew up with, Favreau explained in the film's commentary track that he employed “old techniques” instead of CGI whenever possible. This included stop-motion animation, and using forced perspective to make Buddy look like a giant among his elf peers. For North Pole scenes, two sets were built—one larger scale for the actors playing elves, the other smaller to make Buddy and Santa look big. These elements where then carefully overlaid in camera, using lighting to blend the seams.

4. Snow was often computer-generated.


Warner Home Video

Some effects just couldn't be practical. These included the snowflakes that drift over the opening credits, and many of the snowballs in Buddy's pivotal fight scene. It's probably not much of a shocker that much of these were added in post, considering Buddy's perfect aim. But to further underscore the drama that is a snowball fight in frosty New York, Favreau asked composer John Debney to give this section a Western vibe that would recall The Magnificent Seven.

5. Elf's production design was heavily influenced by Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The classic stop-motion Christmas special from 1964 gave a memorable presentation of Santa's winter wonderland to which Favreau wanted to pay tribute. The elves' costumes in Elf were inspired by those worn by Hermey and his peers in the animated film. And Elf's workshops were modeled after the Rankin/Bass designs, as were the stop-motion animals of the area. The production did secure permission for these allusions, and was even granted the privilege of using the company's signature snowman.

6. There's a Christmas Story cameo.

Peter Billingsley, who memorably played the Red Ryder-wanting Ralphie in the 1983 holiday classic, popped in to play Ming the elf. It's an uncredited role, but between the glasses and those bright baby blue eyes, Billingsley stands out as an A Christmas Story Easter egg. This marks just one of many Billingsley and Favreau's collaborations. Billingsley has been a producer on several of Favreau's film and television projects.

7. Jon Favreau played multiple parts in Elf.

Jon Favreau directs Will Ferrell in 'Elf' (2003)
Alan Markfield, New Line Productions

As a writer/director/actor, Favreau has often appeared in his own films. He fronted Made with friend Vince Vaughn, and later found a sweet supporting role for himself in Iron Man. You may have picked him out as the doctor in Elf, but on the DVD commentary, Favreau revealed he also tapped in to his inner narwhal and provided the voices for some of the stop-animation critters who see Buddy off from the North Pole. He also voiced the rabid raccoon Buddy encounters.

8. Baby buddy was fired.

To play the bubbly baby version of the titular elf, Favreau had initially cast twin boys whose blonde curly hair made them great little doubles for the mop-topped Ferrell. However, the production ran into a problem when the boys couldn't perform. Instead of smiling and crawling as needed, they cried relentlessly. To replace them, brunette triplet girls were brought in, who were far perkier and more playful, and thereby ready for their close-ups.

9. Buddy was bullied in an early version.

In first drafts of Berenbaum's Elf script, Buddy's decision to seek out his dad was in part because he was being hassled by the actual elves for being different. Favreau pushed to take out this element. He preferred to keep the North Pole characters warm, even when Buddy bugs them. In the DVD commentary, Favreau offers, “It explained why Buddy was doing all these good things in New York if he grew up in a world where everybody was so sweet even when he’s obviously screwing everything up and doesn’t fit in at all.”

10. Elf hockey hit the cutting room floor.

Poor Buddy accidentally wreaks all kinds of havoc on his elf community because of his ungainly size. One such scene of his well-meaning mayhem featured Buddy playing hockey on a frozen pond. The friendly game becomes unintentionally violent when the too-big Buddy takes to the ice. Though it was shot, it ended up being chopped from the finished film.

11. Elf was shot on location in New York when it counted.

Like many productions, this one took advantage of the financial benefits of filming in Canada, and much of Elf was shot in sound stages in Vancouver. However, when Buddy comes to New York, it was important to Favreau to shoot on location whenever possible. This includes all the Manhattan exteriors, as well as scenes shot at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and Central Park West, where Buddy's dad lives.

12. Some of Elf’s sets were built in a horror factory.

Okay, technically it was an abandoned mental hospital, where the production team constructed the interior sets for Walter's Central Park West apartment, Gimbels's lavish toy department, and that grim prison cell. The facility is called Riverview Hospital, and it has played host to a long list of film and television productions, including The X-Files, Final Destination 2, Jennifer's Body, and See No Evil 2.

13. Macy's stood in for Gimbels.

The sprawling department store that takes up a whole block in Manhattan was digitally altered to transform into Elf's Gimbels. A bit awkward: Gimbels was once a real department store, and a noted rival of Macy's. Though immortalized here and in the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street, the department store closed its doors in 1987, its 100th year of operation.

14. Will Ferrell broke James Caan.


Warner Home Video

The Academy Award-nominated star of The Godfather was hired to play Walter in part because Favreau wanted a stern persona to play against Ferrell's giddy Buddy, and Caan took the comedy of Elf seriously. He knew it was crucial for Walter to be annoyed—never amused—by his supposed son's antics. But when it came to the blood test scene where Buddy bellows when pricked by a needle, Caan cracked. Watch closely and you'll see he turns away from the camera so as not to ruin the take.

15. The studio didn't get a joke from the mailroom sequence.

This was the last set piece shot for Elf, and one that filmmakers were wavering on from its conception late in production. Grizzled Mark Acheson's casting as Buddy's drinking buddy concerned execs because of the line, "I'm 26 years old." The studio noted the actor does not look 26, to which Favreau—who had previously cast Acheson in a small role that had been cut before production—responded that this disconnect was part of the joke.

16. Will Ferrell went method with those jack-in-the-boxes.

In the scene where Buddy suffers as a toy tester, he's subjected to popping open an endless stream of menacing jack-in-the-boxes. The anxiety etched on Ferrell's face in these scenes is real. Rather than standard jack-in-the-boxes that would pop at the song's end, these were remote controlled by Favreau, who purposely manipulated their timing to toy with his star and get authentic reactions.

17. Will Ferrell frolicked all over New York City in character.

The final day of Elf's New York shooting was pared down from a massive crew to just three people: its star, its director, and one cameraman. Together, this trio traveled around the city, looking for mischief for Buddy to get into with random passersby turned background extras. This included him leapfrogging across a pedestrian walk, happily accepting flyers, and getting his shoes shined, all of which made it into the movie's cheerful montage.

18. That epic burp was real, but overdubbed.

Though uncredited, that lengthy belch came not from Ferrell, but from noted voice actor Maurice LaMarche, who might be best known for Brain of Pinky and the Brain. LaMarche shared his secret to such an impressive burp with The A.V. Club, saying, "I’ve always been able to do this weird effect, where I turn my tongue, not inside out, but almost. I create a huge echo chamber with my tongue and my cheeks, and by doing a deep, almost Tuvan rasp in my throat, and bouncing it around off this echo chamber, I create something that sounds very much like a sustained deep burp."

19. Elf made its star stick.

In the movie, Buddy is happy to gobble down an endless supply of sweets, including maple syrup-coated spaghetti and cotton balls made of cotton candy. But this sugary diet played havoc on Ferrell, who told About Entertainment, "That was tough. I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn't get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I'm there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will—if that's what the job calls for."

20. Will Ferrell refuses to make Elf 2.

Though the comedian reprised the role of Ron Burgundy for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and returned as Mugatu in Zoolander 2, he flat out rejected the possibility of bringing back Buddy, even after being offered a reported $29 million. In December of 2013, he told USA TODAY, "I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf."

21. Elf became a hit Broadway musical.

From November 2010 to January 2011, Elf the musical ran on Broadway, boasting songs like "World's Greatest Dad," "Nobody Cares About Santa," and "The Story of Buddy The Elf." This run was a huge success, taking in more than $1.4 million in one week, a record for the Al Hirschfield Theater where it debuted. Plus, The New York Times called it, "A splashy, peppy, sugar-sprinkled holiday entertainment." A revival hit in time for Christmas 2012, and national tours have been recurring.

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