"Why Repeat Yourself?" Gillian Anderson on Making Change and Speaking Out

Gillian Anderson, of stage, screen and X-Files fame, is known for her tricky temperament during press interviews—and today is no different.

The 48-year-old actress (and mom to Oscar, 10, Felix, 8, Piper, 2) is warm and talkative when speaking of her favorite topics—like her new upcoming release, Viceroy’s House, Gurinder Chadha’s lavish period drama detailing the last days of the British Indian empire and the birth of Indian independence and partition.

But veer off topic and the mood dips slightly.

Which is not to say she clams up. Instead, Anderson’s expertise in self-editing—perhaps the result of nearly 25 years in the spotlight—immediately become apparent.

Hence, we begin by talking about her new project. 

Viceroy’s House is a story that resonates so strongly with today’s tough political times. What attracted you to it?

I was completely drawn in and enthralled by this story. I’m in love with India. I think it’s one of the beautiful, interesting, affecting places on Earth. I cannot believe I knew absolutely nothing about the partition and carving up of this land, which resulted in the displacement of millions of people and erupted into the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever seen, overnight.

I knew India had achieved independence in the 1940s and knew the bare minimum regarding partition, but I knew very little of the “how’s, what’s and where’s.”

I cannot help but compare what’s happening now with what was happening then. 

Of course. It was a time where there is a so much discussion and debate and talk of borders and partition and walls and separateness—and 70 years later, very little has changed. We’re still talking about the same topics and we’re still ruled by fear and hate and anger. Its continued prevalence is sad and regrettable. Shall we always live this way? Can humanity not exist any other way?

I think the current White House administration should watch this film and realize the ramifications of blanket intolerance—and what is ahead of us if certain attitudes and opinions aren’t reversed for the greater good. As we can see from Viceroy’s House, the effects are catastrophic for so many.

Each new role you take appears to be a departure from the last. When you left X-Files, in 2002, was it important to test yourself with something new?

Why repeat yourself? Wouldn’t life become rather dull if we did the same thing repeatedly? The beauty of acting is reinvention. When X-Files finished, it had taken up such a large chunk of my life. I decided I wanted to do a play in London, which I had attempted to do during hiatuses, but there was never enough time.

I knew I wanted to do something completely different. Then Bleak House came into my life, which was something very different—and since then, the bar for change has been raised. I think we should all think like that as much as possible in what we do. What is life if it isn’t an opportunity to try new things? 

You were vocal in your support of Hillary Clinton. How do you view the current political climate?

I view it as the reality we are living right now. Unfortunately, history repeats itself again and again and will continue to do so.

But with hatred and aggression and division always comes revolution and a rising up. We’re seeing that. We’re seeing people take to the streets to fight for equality, to fight for unity. People are becoming politicized and we’re becoming passionate again. I hope this film motivates people and provokes their fire and their desire for change.

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Trump’s first couple of months has been troubling, to say the least. Do you think he’s capable of any lasting good?

I’m not sure, but all we can be is optimistic. He hasn’t convinced me otherwise, unfortunately. It’s going to be a long four years [laughs].

You have been outspoken on issues regarding women's rights, violence against women and other human rights issues. What drives you?

What I would like to hope is that things that I've talked about would somehow encourage other people to take an active role in their world. It's important to try to make a difference and lead to positive change in one's community or the world if possible.

How great would it be if we could all be at some point in our lives and give a voice to people who doesn't have a voice and can't make themselves heard or find a forum to be heard?

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And yet, celebrities have come under fire recently for being too vocal.

I think there is a fine line and delicate balance. I think this occupation can afford you a certain platform to speak out, which is a great gift. Those that do, and do it well, I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for their courage.

But there’s also knowing when to hold back and allow the experts to address. So for that reason, if I feel I have an informed decision to offer, I tend to choose my moments wisely.

You've been very candid about your personal evolution and how you've evolved. What important lessons have you learned?

As the years have gone by, I've been able to let go of a lot of my fears and anxieties. Sometimes you just need to let life take its course and leave behind a lot of stuff that you've accumulated from the past. I'm much more able to live day by day, step by step—whether it's personal or professional issues.

Above all, I've learned how to fight fear, when those moments can take hold of you and change the way you relate to others or to your work. I'll do just about anything to avoid falling into that trap.