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Desert Island Discs

Gillian Anderson

John Stoddart/Popperfoto/Getty Images

The actress Gillian Anderson, 53, won an Emmy this week for her performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Crown, but she only got into television by chance, she told Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs in 2003. Anderson was 24 and completely unknown when she auditioned for The X-Files. The directors were after someone “smart, slick-suited, sensible-shoed”. Instead, “I showed up in jeans and long, scraggly, almost dreadlocked hair.” Still, they saw something in her. “They said we want you to come back again for another audition and when you come next time could you please brush your hair.” She obliged and got the main part. 

Clothes were always a defence mechanism for her. Anderson grew up in Crouch End but moved to a small “straight-laced, right-wing” town in Michigan when she was 11. To make matters worse, after years as an only child, her parents had two more children when she was 13. “All of a sudden these two new little slugs were taking up all the attention.” So she pierced her nose, shaved the sides of her head, found a boyfriend with a “3ft mohawk” and went fully punk. After a year of sex, drugs and rebellion Anderson went into therapy. Did it work, asks Lawley. “Well,” says Anderson. “I’m still here.” 

🎵 You Can’t Always Get What You Want, the Rolling Stones 

🎵 Save Me, Joan Armatrading 

🎵 Exit Music (For a Film), Radiohead 

🎵 Strange Fruit, Nina Simone 

🎵 String Quartet No 14 in D minor (Death and the Maiden), Franz Schubert 

🎵 Love Is Everything, Jane Siberry 

🎵 Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye, Roberta Flack 

🎵 Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley 

🎁 Recordings of her daughter and “her love” reading self-written stories and poetry 

📕 The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle 

Listen to the full episode here