EXCLUSIVE: Gillian Anderson reveals why she fled Hollywood and the pressures of playing The Crown’s Margaret Thatcher

''I knew the chances of getting it wrong were so great.''

By Jenny Cooney Carrillo
In 1993, Gillian Anderson made her TV debut as no-nonsense FBI agent Dana Scully in the iconic sci-fi series The X-Files.
She won an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a multitude of die-hard fans around the world. Her success robbed her of her anonymity almost overnight.
But when the show finally wrapped its nine-season run in 2002 (it would return for two feature films and two shortened seasons in 2016 and 2018), the 52-year-old actress decided to move to the United Kingdom.
"A lot of people didn't understand when I moved to London after the success of The X-Files and asked why I would disappear from Hollywood," Gillian tells TV WEEK on a Zoom call.
She's promoting her new role as former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the upcoming fourth season of drama series The Crown.
Gillian is transformed in The Crown's latest season. (Netflix)
She's in her living room in the London home she shares with her partner, The Crown's creator Peter Morgan, and her two children: Oscar, 14, and Felix, 12, from her previous relationship with English businessman Mark Griffiths.
But what many did not know was that Gillian had grown up in the UK up until age 11, when her parents moved her back to America.
"I always missed the UK and always knew I was going to end up back here," she explains.
"But back then, part of that decision was also that I had a complicated relationship with becoming so famous so young and seeing the worst part of what the industry can be. I really hated it and wanted to get away.
"Now I'm older, I can put it all in perspective. The rewards that I've been blessed with for following my instincts are many, and I never got to the point of even considering moving back to America."

Gillian is now digging deeper into her British roots in The Crown as Margaret Thatcher. She describes the iconic role as one of the most challenging of her career.
"Of course I was terrified!" she admits. "People love to hate her and hate to love her. I think I knew the chances of getting it wrong were so great.
"So I started very early and intensely, watching a new documentary [the BBC's five-part Thatcher: A Very British Revolution], reading everything I could, studying her, listening to her voice and working with a movement and voice coach."
The fourth season of The Crown spans the 11 years in which Thatcher was Britain's first female prime minister, from 1979 to 1990. The episodes also cover other royal storylines, including the courtship and marriage of Prince Charles and Diana and their Australian tour with their infant son William.
But the ongoing "audience" Thatcher has with the Queen (Olivia Colman) also reveals the complicated personal relationship between the two women, touching on their disagreements about everything from the Falklands conflict to their parenting styles. Gillian says it took months of camera tests to get the look and sound of the leader.
"It was a long process, with lots of wig, make-up and wardrobe meetings, plus camera tests," she adds, estimating it took an average of two hours in the make-up chair each day to transform into the world leader.
"I wear a fat suit, and Thatcher has a very particular way of walking, so all that comes into it as well.We worked hard, because we knew we had to get it right."
Gillian was terrified to take on the role. (Netflix)
While the two leaders occasionally clashed, Gillian said behind the scenes the atmosphere was very different.
"Olivia is so generous and has such a great sense of humour," she continues. "The minute 'cut' was called, we'd be roaring with laughter or talking about something completely irrelevant from the scene we'd just been doing.
"She's a great actress, but she made me feel safe too, like I could fail in front of her and it would be OK."
Despite residing in the UK, Gillian is one of Hollywood's biggest stars. (Getty)
Gillian continues to do things her own way. She's starring in the Irish Netflix drama The Fall, the Netflix comedy series Sex Education, and is appearing on the West End as Margot Channing in All About Eve and both the West End and Broadway in a new production of A Streetcar Named Desire.
The latter co-stars The Crown's former Princess Margaret, Vanessa Kirby.

Vanessa was the friend who set up Gillian and Peter when they returned from the New York run of their play. The actress was already dating the award-winning English writer of The Queen and The Crown when his casting director suggested Gillian could be right for the Thatcher role.
Gillian says the couple went out of their way to avoid talking about work when they were at home.
"We made a pact that we weren't going to talk about it at all," she reveals. "I wasn't allowed to talk with him or express opinions about the scripts, and he wasn't allowed to express opinions about my performance.
"Somehow we managed to stick to it, which is unbelievable, because neither of us can keep from expressing our opinions the rest of the time!"

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