In 'The Crown,' Gillian Anderson Explores Thatcher's 'Powerplay' With The Queen | Connecticut Public Radio
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In 'The Crown,' Gillian Anderson Explores Thatcher's 'Powerplay' With The Queen

Nov 16, 2020
Originally published on November 16, 2020 6:46 pm

Actor Gillian Anderson says lying about her age helped her land the role that first made her famous. Anderson was just 24 — but claimed to be 27 — on her initial audition for the role of Dana Scully, a doctor investigating paranormal phenomena on The X-Files.

"I had no experience whatsoever. I had only ever done a couple of plays and scenes in college," Anderson says. "If [Scully] comes across as being a little bit cocky and at the same time green, it's all real. It's me trying to pretend like I know that I am the person that I say I am."

Anderson played Scully for the show's entire 11-season run, which spanned from 1993 until 2018. Now she's taking on a very different role as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on the Netflix series, The Crown.

This time, if there is an awkwardness to the character, it's more intentional. Anderson notes that Thatcher, who grew up working class, tended to be "nervous and obsequious" around Queen Elizabeth II.

"There was a rigidity to the way that [Thatcher] behaved," Anderson says. "You kind of see all of that in the depth of her curtsy, which was infamously very, very, very deep ... almost as if she's trying too hard."


Interview Highlights

On Thatcher's relationship with Queen Elizabeth II

We see during different seasons of The Crown the prime minister being educated about how to behave, how to enter, how you don't turn your back on the queen, you don't speak first, you wait to be spoken to, you don't ask questions. All of that is very different from how the rest of us live. And so what we mostly see is her initial awkwardness and trying to figure out how the best way to sit is and how to read each other and get a sense of what their similarities are, because there are a huge amount of differences, but there are also some very stark similarities — their Christianity and their age and the fact that they're mothers and their work ethic. So it's a very interesting — sometimes copacetic, sometimes combative — powerplay that happens between these two women during the course of the series.

On capturing Thatcher, both physically and vocally

In thinking about Thatcher's silhouette, [there] is both her particular girth, coupled with the outline of ... that bouffant ... and then her particular walk, which she kind of pumped her left arm as she held her right arm crooked with a handbag over it, and she would pump that arm and walk in quite small steps even ahead of Reagan, ahead of Gorbachev, ahead of whoever she was walking with in their own country.

But it was really getting comfortable enough in her vocal qualities, which ... is very measured. She was also known for her pitch sometimes, especially in party conferences or when she was talking to large crowds. ... There's a lot more fluctuation in her public voice than we necessarily see in The Crown in so many of these indoor scenes.

On Thatcher being a pioneer for women but not a feminist

The fact that she was in office normalized female success, and I think the girls who grew up when she was running the country were suddenly able to imagine leadership as a female quality. But at the same time, she wasn't a feminist. She didn't have interest in social equality. She didn't really know anything about female solidarity. She had a lack of interest in childcare provision and positive action, so she wasn't really a feminist icon, and yet she allowed young women to imagine that women could be suited to power. Her presence there was a real dichotomy: The fact that she only brought [in] one woman cabinet member in the 11 years that she was in office ... is remarkable, astounding. And at the same time felt she could control, stand up to, be on the same level, same footing, as all the conservative men that were surrounding her. It wasn't just incredibly male-dominated, it was entirely male-dominated.

On playing sex therapist Jean in the series Sex Education, and how she talks about sex with her own teenagers

Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson play a mother and son on the Netflix series Sex Education.
Sam Taylor / Netflix

I have three children and two of them are teenagers, 12 and 14, boys. ... One of the things that I was afraid of [when taking the role], they were just starting at a new school, and I was worried that it would affect them negatively to have a mom who was on a show that was so explicitly about things related to sex. ... But I think, because the show has so much heart and because the show is so diverse, it's so freeing, it's allowing a freedom of conversation that has not been seen before in television, and has been embraced so passionately by all different ages, from parents and children alike. It actually went a long way towards, I think, bringing my children closer to me, in a sense, a feeling that it was something that it was cool, for the first time, that I was involved in.

They've swore to me they haven't seen it and I'm pretending I believe them. I think that I'm not Jean. I think that I'm surely not. I definitely have better boundaries than Jean. But I think I'm surely not as awkward and as intrusive and as blatantly embarrassing. And yet I find myself trying to have conversations with them or asking questions about under armpit hair that I haven't yet seen, and can I see it at the dinner table? It comes out of your mouth before you realize what you're doing. So I think we all struggle with that, even if we think we're cool parents. All parents are cringe-worthy.

On fighting for better pay on The X-Files

It made sense at the very beginning [to earn less], because I had come from nothing and [co-star David Duchovny] had just done a big feature film with Brad Pitt. But once we were into the third season and we were doing the same amount of work, the same amount of hours, it was essentially a two-handed series, it no longer made sense there was such a discrepancy in our paychecks. And then had to fight again when we did a feature [film] and had to fight again years later when we did more series. It was an ongoing thing.

Heidi Saman and Kayla Lattimore produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Gillian Anderson, can now be seen in two very popular and very different Netflix series. Yesterday the fourth season of "The Crown" was released, introducing Anderson into the cast as Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and contrasting her with another powerful woman, Queen Elizabeth II. Anderson also co-stars in the Netflix comedy series "Sex Education" as a sexy yet uptight sex therapist who's constantly embarrassing her 16-year-old son, who's having sexual problems of his own.

Gillian Anderson first became known for her role in the TV series "The X-Files." She was just 24 when she started playing Dana Scully, the doctor who's assigned to work with David Duchovny's character Fox Mulder, an FBI agent investigating paranormal phenomena and government conspiracies. Scully is the skeptic, believing in science, not aliens. The series lasted for 11 seasons and spun off two movies.

Let's start by talking about "The Crown," featuring Anderson as Margaret Thatcher, the leader of the Conservative Party who became Britain's first woman prime minister in 1979 and served for 11 1/2 years. Her administration upended British society, emphasising deregulation, privatization, weakening of trade unions and deep spending cuts that frayed the country's social service net.

In this scene, Thatcher arrives for her weekly audience with the queen, holding up a copy of the Sunday Times. Thatcher is angry, correctly assuming that the queen has leaked to the press that she's displeased at Thatcher's cuts to the social safety net and her resistance to imposing economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa. This goes against the Queen's tradition of never publicly expressing her political opinions or speaking against her government. The queen, played by Olivia Colman, is trying to deny having engineered the leak. Thatcher speaks first.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CROWN")

GILLIAN ANDERSON: (As Margaret Thatcher) I think we have enough respect for one another personally to ask ourselves some of the bigger questions woman to woman. We are the same age, after all.

OLIVIA COLMAN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Really?

ANDERSON: (As Margaret Thatcher) Just six months between us.

COLMAN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Oh. And who is the senior?

ANDERSON: (As Margaret Thatcher) I am. Now, uncaring, confrontational and socially divisive - that's how these sources so close to the queen describe me.

COLMAN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Prime minister...

ANDERSON: (As Margaret Thatcher) That I lack compassion and that my government has done irretrievable damage to the country's social fabric. My responsibility, for the time I have in office, is to put sentimentality to one side and look after this country's interests with the perspective of a cold balance sheet. And while I greatly admire your sense of fairness and compassion for those less fortunate than us...

COLMAN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Do you really?

ANDERSON: (As Margaret Thatcher) ...Let us not forget that of the two of us, I am the one from a small street in an irrelevant town with a father who could not bequeath me a title or a commonwealth but only grit, good sense and determination. And I don't want people's pity or charity or compassion. Nothing would insult me more. My goal is to change this country from being dependent to self-reliant, and I think in that, I am succeeding.

COLMAN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) I have had to learn many difficult lessons as sovereign.

ANDERSON: (As Margaret Thatcher) Britons are learning to look after No. 1, to get ahead and, only then, if they choose, to look after their neighbor.

COLMAN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Of those...

ANDERSON: (As Margaret Thatcher) No one would remember the good Samaritan if he only had good intentions. You see; he had money as well.

GROSS: Gillian Anderson, welcome to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on your performance in "The Crown."

ANDERSON: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Some actors really like putting on the clothing of a character and feel like the clothing helps them get into the character. And, you know, with Margaret Thatcher, you're wearing this, like, really, like, straight-laced clothing. She seems - she always seemed to be such, like, a rigid, starched person, and her hair literally looks starched. She'd have this, like, 1950s, early 1960s kind of hairdo, very, like, bouffant. And it looked like it was, like, glued together. And yeah, I mean, she just seemed, like, physically rigid. Can you talk about what you wore and also the voice that you assumed to play her? - because as we could hear in your portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, she had a very measured, strong, precise, slow, powerful way of speaking.

ANDERSON: Well, Cate Hall, who is our hair and makeup guru on "The Crown," talks about the silhouette of all the characters. But in thinking about Thatcher's silhouette, that is both - you know, both her particular girth coupled with the outline of, as you say, that bouffant/helmet of sorts.

GROSS: (Laughter) Yes.

ANDERSON: And then her particular walk, which - she, you know, kind of pumped her left arm as she held her right arm crooked with a handbag over it. And she would pump that arm and walk in quite small steps, even, you know, ahead of Reagan, ahead of Gorbachev, ahead of whoever she was walking with in their own country.

But it was really, I think, getting comfortable enough in her vocal qualities, which, you know, as you say, is very measured and et cetera. But she was also known for her pitch sometimes. And especially in party conferences or, you know, when she was talking to large crowds and performing, as she knew that she was good at doing, she did raise the temperature and her pitch and the energy going into it. And so there's a lot more fluctuation in her public voice than we necessarily see in "The Crown" in so many of these indoor scenes.

GROSS: Could you demonstrate what you mean by the fluctuations of her pitch?

ANDERSON: (Imitating Margaret Thatcher) She would talk like this, and she would very much breathe outwards when she was speaking. And she would take a breath in so that if you were going to interrupt her, she would breathe over and talk over you. But then sometimes, if she was talking to an audience and there was a great many people who were speaking, she could really kind of bring the voice up here and speak to the larger crowd. And, you know, she would - you know?

GROSS: (Laughter) That's great.

ANDERSON: She - yeah.

GROSS: You portray Thatcher with a slight hoarseness to your voice. How did you do that without hurting your voice?

ANDERSON: There's so much breath in her voice that it was easy enough to to be able to ground it in, you know, lower down in the diaphragm and not go too throaty.

GROSS: How do you get more air in your voice, more breath in your voice?

ANDERSON: It's kind of sighing, sighing at the same time. Try it. Try it, Terry Gross.

GROSS: Like, sighing, sighing...

ANDERSON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...At the same time...

ANDERSON: Yes.

GROSS: ...Like this.

ANDERSON: Very good.

GROSS: Do I sound as authoritative as Margaret Thatcher? I don't think so. I sound foolish.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: But I see your point.

ANDERSON: I hope I don't sound foolish in the process.

GROSS: I think I could work it up.

ANDERSON: Yeah.

GROSS: Just give me time.

ANDERSON: OK.

GROSS: I'll get back to you.

ANDERSON: Yes. It takes practice. It takes practice.

GROSS: I find Thatcher a very interesting figure in part because, like, she really is a pioneer in the world of women in politics. She's the first British prime minister in England. It took us until, like, a couple of weeks ago - oh, less than that - to elect a woman as vice president in the U.S. And she knows she's up against a very, like, male-oriented government. And yet she doesn't seem to generalize to other women and to become a supporter of feminism and of women's rights.

ANDERSON: Well, I think the fact that she was in office normalized female success. And I think that, you know, the girls who grew up when she was running the country were suddenly able to imagine leadership as a female quality. But at the same time, she wasn't a feminist. She didn't have interest in social equality. She didn't really know anything about female solidarity. She had a lack of interest in childcare provision and positive action.

And so she wasn't really a feminist icon. And yet she allowed young women to imagine that women could be suited to power. Her presence there was a real dichotomy. The fact that she only brought one woman cabinet member in the 11 years that she was in office into the cabinet is, you know, remarkable, astounding - and at the same time, felt that she could control, stand up to, be on the same level, same footing as all the conservative men that were surrounding her. It's an incredibly - you know, it wasn't just incredibly male-dominated, it was entirely male-dominated.

GROSS: (Laughter) Yes. Yes. "The Crown" is focusing in part on Margaret Thatcher's relationship with Queen Elizabeth II, two very powerful women. In order to portray Thatcher, you had to learn about some of the customs that you follow when you're in the presence of the queen. What are some of those customs that you found, like, most interesting or most baffling or confusing?

ANDERSON: You know, Thatcher grew up as a monarchist. And she had almost a mystical reverence for the monarchy. But at the same time, she was anxious. She was nervous and obsequious. And there was a rigidity to the way that she behaved. And you kind of see all of that in the depth of her curtsy, which was infamously very, very, very deep. And so on the one hand, it's - it points to the degree of her reverence. And on the other hand, there's an element of kind of awkward silliness and not quite understanding what, you know, the right way to curtsy is, almost as if she's trying too hard. So that's interesting.

We see during different seasons of "The Crown" the prime minister's being educated about how to behave, how to enter, how you don't turn your back on the queen. You don't speak first. You wait to be spoken to. You don't ask questions. You wait - you know, all of that is, you know, very different from how the rest of us live (laughter).

And so what we mostly see is her initial awkwardness and, you know, trying to figure out the best way to sit is and how to read each other and get a sense of what the similarities are, because there are huge amount of differences. But there are also some very stark similarities - their Christianity and their age and the fact that they're mothers and their work ethic. And so it's a very interesting, sometimes copasetic, sometimes combative power play that happens between these two women during the course of the series.

GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Gillian Anderson. She's in two Netflix series now. She plays Margaret Thatcher in the new season, which is Season 4, of "The Crown." And in the series "Sex Education," which is a comedy series on Netflix, she plays a sex therapist. We'll talk more after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEORGE FENTON'S "IN CARE")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Gillian Anderson. She first became famous for starring in "The X-Files." Now she's in two Netflix series. She plays Margaret Thatcher in the new season of "The Crown," which just started streaming. And in the series "Sex Education," which is a comedy series, she plays a sex therapist who has a 16-year-old son and has his own sexual problems as a teenager.

In "Sex Education," your character is very open about sex but is actually becoming very intrusive in her son's sex life - not that he has one (laughter). He wishes that he did. And I just wanted to say a little bit about the series. He's been feeling kind of like a freak because, you know, he doesn't have a relationship. He's never had sex. And, in fact, he hasn't even figured out, at the beginning of the series, how to pleasure himself. But after he gets the knack of that...

ANDERSON: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...He can't stop doing it. And there's a scene where he's - actually, it's daytime. He's in a parked car. And he's doing it there, you know, in public view, in a public place in this car. And his mother sees. And I want to play the conversation she has with him after that. So here's my guest Gillian Anderson, as the sex therapist and mother, and Asa Butterfield, as her son.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEX EDUCATION")

ANDERSON: (As Jean) I am so proud that you are at this stage of your pubescent development.

ASA BUTTERFIELD: (As Otis) OK. Great. Can we please not talk about it?

ANDERSON: (As Jean) However, there is a time and a place for such a private...

BUTTERFIELD: (As Otis) Mom.

ANDERSON: (As Jean) ...Activity. And I'm not sure the car, it being a shared space, is the most appropriate choice for such an event to occur.

BUTTERFIELD: (As Otis) Understood.

ANDERSON: (As Jean) Revealing one's genitalia in public is also a criminal offence.

BUTTERFIELD: (As Otis) I will not do it again. I promise.

ANDERSON: (As Jean) Also, I've noticed you've been taking very long showers lately. Now, I know that the bathroom is a safe environment in which to enjoy oneself. But I live here, too. And I also need hot water. So if you could please keep that in mind.

BUTTERFIELD: (As Otis) Will do.

ANDERSON: (As Jean) Isn't it wonderful how we've been talking so much more openly and honestly lately?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

BUTTERFIELD: (As Otis) I have got to go.

ANDERSON: (As Jean) Bye, darling. Love you.

GROSS: You know, in the clip that we heard, it's very funny. But it also gets to something real, which is that, you know, parents want to be able to speak openly with their teenage children about sexuality, about what to expect with it and, you know, to kind of guide them in some way. At the same time, a lot of people today came from more repressive environments where you didn't talk about sex and parents were like - wanted to be more open about it. But there is that line between being open and being intrusive, between being open and just, like, totally, you know, embarrassing your teenage child. And I know you have children. I don't think they're teenagers yet. But is this something you've found yourself thinking about a lot?

ANDERSON: I have three children, and two of them are teenagers - 12 and 14, boys. And I did consider it very, very carefully before taking on this part. And one of the things that I was afraid of was that - you know, they were just starting in a new school. And I was worried that it would affect them negatively to have a mom who was on a show that was so explicitly about things related to sex - and actually, particularly at that time, if it didn't do well, you know, if it didn't turn out as I was hoping it would turn out.

But, I think, because the show has so much heart and because it's - the show is so diverse, it's so freeing. It's allowing a freedom of conversation that has not been seen before in television and has been embraced so passionately by all different ages from parents and children alike. It actually went a long way towards, I think, bringing my children closer to me, in a sense, a feeling that it was something that they could - that it was cool, for the first time, that I was involved in. And they've swore to me that they haven't seen it. And I'm pretending that I believe them.

GROSS: (Laughter).

ANDERSON: I think that I'm not Jean. I think that I'm surely not - I definitely have better boundaries than Jean. But I think I'm surely not as awkward and as intrusive and as blatantly embarrassing. And yet I find myself, you know, trying to have conversations with them or asking questions about, you know, under armpit hair that I haven't yet seen. And can I see it at the dinner table? It comes out of your mouth before you - you know, you've realized what you're doing.

GROSS: Yeah.

ANDERSON: And, of course - yeah. And so I think we all struggle with that. Even if we think that, you know, we're cool parents. All parents are cringeworthy.

GROSS: I read that when you were doing publicity for the series in Poland, you were told by some journalists there that Poland didn't have sex education classes. So they were relying on the series to serve that function. How did you interpret that?

ANDERSON: Well we were actually in the U.K. And it was a Polish journalist who was sitting in front of Asa and I in the first season talking about the series for the first time. And we couldn't quite tell yet from the journalist whether people were liking it or not. We couldn't tell yet whether it was a hit or whether they were being kind or - you know?

And then this woman came in. And she shared with us that they just don't have sex education classes in school and what a miraculous thing the series was and what a responsibility we had, therefore, that (laughter) we were, essentially, the education of - you know, sex education in Poland. And Asa and I looked at each other like, this cannot be. Is this really - that's such a huge responsibility. And who knew? Who knew that there - I mean, certainly, I didn't know that there are certain countries where it's just ignored and everybody fends for themselves or hopes that it's covered, you know, on the homefront.

GROSS: Let's take a break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Gillian Anderson. She's in "The Crown," the new season, which just started, portraying Margaret Thatcher. And she plays a sex therapist in the series - comedy series "Sex Education." We'll be back after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF KRONOS QUARTET'S "OFF MINOR / EPISTROPHY")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Gillian Anderson. She's starring in two Netflix series. In the new season of "The Crown," which just started streaming on Sunday, she plays Margaret Thatcher. And there's a lot of scenes contrasting Margaret Thatcher, a very strong, conservative British prime minister with Queen Elizabeth II. She's also starring in the Netflix series "Sex Education," a comedy series in which she plays a sex therapist and the mother of a 16-year-old son who is going through sexual problems of his own.

Do you remember how you learned about sex and also, you know, how babies are made?

ANDERSON: I don't remember at all. I have no memory. I do remember talking to my boys about it when they were very young because my sister is gay and she was getting married. And one of my sons, my youngest son, had asked, where does the fish come from in that case, if they're going to have a baby? And I was like, what is he talking about? (Laughter) I don't understand what - what fish?

And then I remembered that in order to explain how women become impregnated naturally by men, if that's the way you're doing it, is that a man puts a fish inside a woman with his penis (laughter). And so - and he'd remembered that years later, and so he was very cleverly asking where the fish would come from. And so that was my attempt. I don't think that my mother passed down the fish analogy to me, but I'm not sure if I'd recommend it as...

GROSS: Yeah, I was wondering.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: Yeah.

GROSS: So did you grow up in a family where you could have conversations about sexuality?

ANDERSON: I mean, my mother grew up in a very Catholic family. And her family, I think, would be considered quite square, but she was a hippie, and so was my dad. And on the one hand, you would think that that meant that it was more open for discussion and that anything, potentially, could be brought up naturally at the table, but I'm not sure if I felt that as a child, that I could broach any topic. And I don't actually recall talking about sex with my parents at all.

GROSS: So when you say your parents were hippies, like, what do you mean?

ANDERSON: That they were - you know, they wore bellbottoms and velour. And my dad, you know, had a motorcycle and long hair and glasses and a mustache. And they hung out with people, and they smoked pot and that they, you know, were very casual with their raising of me and people who were in the house. And people stayed over a lot and crashed on the sofas. And it wasn't a rigid upbringing. It was quite laid back.

GROSS: You know, I always wonder, like, if you grew up with parents who were hippies and you're rebellious, like, how do you rebel against parents who had already rebelled themselves?

ANDERSON: (Laughter) Good question. You know, I grew up in London, and then we moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., which was quite a Republican town. And when I came back - aged 14, I think - from London with my nose pierced and started to dye my hair red and wear funky clothes, it felt like I was one of the only people in Grand Rapids, Mich., who wasn't wearing an IZOD shirt.

And I think the reaction that I was getting from that led me to a group of people who felt that they wanted to express themselves more through the way they dressed and their attitude. And so I - you know, I started hanging out with the - what was quite a small community of punk rockers in Grand Rapids, Mich. But there was something about the angst and the counterculture attitude that felt appropriate to how I was feeling, you know, living at that time in a condominium in what was the ghetto of Grand Rapids, Mich.

GROSS: You first became famous when you were in your 20s, around 24, when you starred with David Duchovny in "The X-Files." You had, like, no experience (laughter), more or less, when you got the job. You were probably younger than any - you played a doctor who becomes his partner in investigating the paranormal. You were probably younger than any doctor could actually be. You know, doctors have years of...

ANDERSON: (Laughter) I know.

GROSS: (Laughter) - of education after graduating college. So how did you end up getting the job?

ANDERSON: Well, I lied.

GROSS: What'd you lie about?

ANDERSON: I lied about my age on the first audition. So I said that I was 27. So that's how you get that job.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: But I was sent in on an audition, like any other audition, and then kept getting called back and, eventually, you know, went to network with all the other girls who were also trying out for the role, going to network and getting to read with David Duchovny, who they had by that point chosen as Mulder. But they weren't convinced - Chris Carter, who created the series, was convinced that I was his Scully, but the network wasn't.

And so all of a sudden, they started to fly in all these other actresses from the theater community in New York. And I'd been living in LA for a little while when I did this audition and had been living in New York beforehand, auditioning with all these young women in the theater community. And all of a sudden, they were being flown in because I wasn't good enough for "The X-Files" (laughter). And so I was auditioning, suddenly, with Jill Hennessy and Cynthia Nixon and all these women.

GROSS: Whoa. Really? Wow.

ANDERSON: Yeah. And, anyway, I ended up getting the job.

GROSS: OK. Let's hear a scene from the very first episode. This is the - like, the pilot episode (laughter) of "The X-Files," when you're 24. And so in the opening scene - you know, you're a doctor who's just been assigned to an FBI unit investigating paranormal phenomena, including some mysterious deaths with no rational explanation. And the partner you've been assigned to is played by David Duchovny. He's deep into theories of, like, the paranormal, aliens from outer space, government conspiracies. You're very skeptical of all of this. You're more scientific.

And this is your first meeting with him. He is not enthusiastic about having you as a partner. You've introduced yourself. And he starts explaining to you about the case that he's currently working on. Several people have died with strange marks on their bodies but no other explanations for their death. And he turns on a slide projector to show you photos of their bodies and the lab results. And we'll kind of hear the noise from the slide projector underneath this scene. So here you are with David Duchovny in the pilot episode of "The X-Files."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE X-FILES")

DAVID DUCHOVNY: (As Fox Mulder) How's your chemistry? This is the substance found in the surrounding tissue.

ANDERSON: (As Dana Scully) It's organic. I don't know. Is it some kind of synthetic protein?

DUCHOVNY: (As Mulder) Beats me. I've never seen it before, either. But here it is again in Sturgis, S.D., and again in Shamrock, Texas.

ANDERSON: (As Scully) Do you have a theory?

DUCHOVNY: (As Mulder) I have plenty of theories. Maybe what you can explain to me is why it's bureau policy to label these cases as unexplained phenomenon and ignore them? Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?

ANDERSON: (As Scully) Logically, I would have to say no. Given the distances needed to travel from the far reaches of space, the energy requirements would exceed a spacecraft's capabilities.

DUCHOVNY: (As Mulder) Conventional wisdom. Do you know that this Oregon female, she's the fourth person in her graduating class to die under mysterious circumstances? Now, when convention and science offer us no answers, might we not finally turn to the fantastic as a plausibility?

ANDERSON: (As Scully) The girl obviously died of something. If it was natural causes, it's plausible that there was something missed in the postmortem. If she was murdered, it's plausible there was a sloppy investigation. What I find fantastic is any notion that there are answers beyond the realm of science. The answers are there; you just have to know where to look.

DUCHOVNY: (As Mulder) That's why they put the I in FBI. See you tomorrow morning, Scully.

GROSS: (Laughter) OK. That's my guest Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny in the pilot of "The X-Files." Watching that scene again, you both look and sound so young.

ANDERSON: (Laughter) I know. We look like we're 12. That's pretty funny.

GROSS: (Laughter) What do you think about listening back to that?

ANDERSON: It brings back a lot of feelings, actually, a lot of feelings. I mean, it was - you know, it was the beginning of such a huge part of my life. And I had no experience whatsoever. I'd only ever done, you know, a couple of plays and scenes in college. And so it was - you know, it was a big deal. And I didn't know anything about, you know, lighting and hitting your mark. And so I was - you know, if she comes across as being a little bit cocky and at the same time green, it's all, you know, real (laughter). It's me trying to pretend like I know that I am the person that I say that I am, as the forensic pathologist.

GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Gillian Anderson. She's now starring in two Netflix series. She's in "The Crown," the new season which just started, portraying Margaret Thatcher. And she plays a sex therapist in the series - comedy series "Sex Education." We'll be back after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Gillian Anderson. She first became famous for starring in "The X-Files." Now she's in two Netflix series. In the new season of "The Crown," which just started streaming on Sunday, she plays Margaret Thatcher.

You became famous at a very young age. Are there things you just didn't know how to navigate about fame?

ANDERSON: We were very lucky in being sent up to Vancouver to shoot the series. I think if we had been shooting that - to the degree that it became a hit so quickly and the amount of paparazzi that would follow us when we were in LA, the fact that we didn't have to contend with that on a daily basis up in Vancouver was a miracle and, I think, really helped to keep us a bit sane.

I also had a child. I got pregnant within the first year of the series, and that grounded me exponentially. And so I'm - you know, I was always very, very grateful for that. And so it was intense, you know - no time for ourselves. But I felt like I had a good support system and things that were keeping me real on a daily basis.

GROSS: Yeah, you had your first child just a couple of years into the show, and you've said that you felt like you were letting down the team when you had to spend time, you know, being a mother. Can you talk about that a little bit and what it was like then? What year are we talking about?

ANDERSON: My daughter Piper was born in '94. I think we started the series in '93. And so, you know, we - the show had just started to become this massive worldwide hit. And the - you know, the producers and the network were not happy. And I was very young. And there wasn't - you know, I've always been pro-choice, but there wasn't a chance at that juncture that I was not going to have her. And I was with the father of the baby. And so in my mind, we just needed to figure out how we were going to, you know, shoot it and shoot around it.

And - but it was a big, you know, financial consideration and storyline consideration for the series, and it took them a while to figure out a way to make it work. And consequently and ironically, the fact of it, me being pregnant, steered the storylines in a direction that became part of the mythology that now exists for the series that might not have happened had they not had to figure out a way to make - you know, my character was abducted by aliens - had that - you know, and then there was a whole storyline that came off of that. So it did feel at the time - and I was made to feel - that I had done something bad.

GROSS: So your character was abducted by aliens so that you could spend less time on set when you were pregnant or after you gave birth?

ANDERSON: I think so that I could not be in an episode that they were hoping was when I would give birth. So - (laughter).

GROSS: Did you give birth on schedule?

ANDERSON: ...I had the window of an episode to give birth.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: And I was 10 days late. I think I still only missed one episode. And I was - or maybe I missed two. I can't remember. But I was back on set 10 days after a C-section.

GROSS: What was it like to be on set so quickly? A C-section, you got to recover from that.

ANDERSON: Yeah. I mean, I think they felt that because the first scenes that I was shooting, I was lying down, that that meant that it would be OK. But I've always been - you know, I've always - what they call over here a grafter (ph). You just - you know, you just - you pull your boots up, and you get on with it. And that was very much how I'd always been and how I kind of got through that.

I mean, there were consequences later, I think, emotionally, psychologically, with just, you know, the hours that one works on a series like that and having a newborn baby and, you know, all the press and - blah, blah, blah - all that. And so as much as I was trying to keep it together, I think that there were certainly cracks. But you do what you got to do.

GROSS: You also had to fight for something resembling equal pay when you realized David Duchovny was getting so much more than you were.

ANDERSON: It's funny that you say something resembling equal pay, (laughter) yes, because it never was quite equal pay. But, yes, I did. And it made sense at the very beginning because I had come from nothing. And he had just done a big feature film with Brad Pitt. But once we were into the third season and we were doing the same amount of work, the same amount of hours and it was essentially a two-handed series, it didn't - it no longer made sense that there was such a discrepancy between our paychecks, you know? - and then had to fight again when we did a feature, and then had to fight again years later when we did more series. It was an ongoing thing thanks to...

GROSS: This was before the movement for equal pay in the entertainment industry was as solidified as it is now.

ANDERSON: Yes. I mean, it was a couple years before Time's Up, certainly, and et cetera. But I think, you know, it wasn't - the last series that we did, I think, was only - it was in 2016. It's - I'm not talking about, you know, 10 years ago.

GROSS: Oh, I thought you were talking about when the TV series was on.

ANDERSON: Yeah. No, no, no. It just - recently, when we did a new season, I had to, once again, fight for equality.

GROSS: One more question for you, and that's about your voice. You grew up in England and the United States. So are you fluent in a British and in an American accent?

ANDERSON: Yeah.

GROSS: Do you have to decide what you're going to use? Like did you - before we did this interview, did you have to decide, am I going to speak American or speak British?

ANDERSON: I did have to decide. And I sometimes do need to decide - if there's an American on the line and I'm living in the U.K., it's really difficult for me not to fall into an American accent because of growing up there in my later years. And so it is a conscious decision in that regard. I have to be careful if there are two - if there's an American and a Brit that I'm doing an interview with because I end up sounding somewhere in between, in the middle, because my ears are picking up on different things. And I find that a bit harder than making a singular decision about it. But it is - it's tricky because, you know, when doing a big sweep of press for something, I think it would be confusing for listeners if they hear one interview with me speaking in an English accent, (laughter) another interview with me speaking in an American accent.

GROSS: Gillian Anderson it's been a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much. And congratulations on "The Crown."

ANDERSON: Thank you so much. It's been an honor. Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Gillian Anderson plays British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the new season of "The Crown," which just started streaming on Netflix. After we take a short break, rock critic Ken Tucker will review the new album by Cam, which has quickly become one of this year's biggest country hits. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSETTE EXPLOSION'S "DOUCE JOIE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.