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The X-smiles: Gillian Anderson shows her lighter side

Since her breakthrough part, Gillian Anderson has played a series of dark roles, most recently in The Fall. With her latest film showing off her lighter side, she would love to act in a comedy, she tells Alison King

Cast as Special Agent Scully at 24, it is unsurprising that Gillian Anderson left for London at the end of the decade long X-Files series. In the 10 years that followed, Anderson shunned Hollywood and reinvented her career in the UK with low-key roles in film and television costume dramas such as Bleak House, The House of Mirth, The Crimson Petal and the White and Great Expectations.

"Every time somebody asks me if I'm interested in doing an iconic literature character, it's really hard to ignore," Anderson explains. Establishing a roster of women as far from Scully as possible – Henrik Ibsen's Nora, Edith Wharton's Lily, Charles Dickens's Miss Havisham, their appeal was obvious: "Dickens holds up in the modern world and it's the same subject matter that we're still contending with today, whether it's a separation of the classes or greed, it continues to be identifiable."

It is Anderson's most recent role as DCI Stella Gibson, however, that had audiences gripped watching The Fall. A woman that could give DCI Jane Tennison run for her money, Gibson is icily self-assured and highlighted the idea of stereotyping women in crime as either victims or vamps.

"Alan Cubitt's writing is so complex and multilayered on a more psychological, subconscious level. It's pleasure to work with that kind of material. It was clear from very early on that the world he was creating was with these multi-layered female characters and that's where his talent lies: In his huge respect for women and his opinions about how they should be treated in the world today."

DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) in The Fall

The show's tone has been described as "Post-Scandinavian" (Time Out) and indebted to those other dark, slow paced, psychological dramas such as The Bridge or The Killing.

"That darkness started with The X-Files. It was the very first TV show that turned the lights off and kept you in the dark. So the stuff that has been coming out in Denmark and Sweden feels quite unique to people and feels like a modern trend but it's not like it hasn't been done before, I just think that we're in the mood for it again."

Anderson's voice flits from an American drawl to prep school English due to her itinerant past. Born in Chicago and raised in London from ages 2 to 11, she attended high school and college in the US where she started her acting career only to return to London at the age of 35. Does Anderson feel British or American? "Ultimately, I probably feel American but I also feel like a foreigner in America. It's a tricky one but it doesn't bother me. I chose to live in the UK because London feels like home; it's the home of my childhood and it's where I feel I identify with the most."

By the end of The X-Files series, Anderson had been married twice. First to X-Files assistant art director Clyde Klotz, with whom she had a daughter, Piper, and then to documentary filmmaker Julian Ozanne. She then had two children, Oscar (four) and Felix (six) with British businessman Mark Griffiths. During the production, Anderson's gruelling schedule meant returning to the set only 10 days after giving birth to Piper. Her mid-twenties were swamped by 16-hour days with rare downtime spent with her child.

"I had no control back then and I think making these choices and continuing to work after having that experience makes it paramount that everyone understands what my priorities are."

That sentiment has continued to inform her choice of roles into the new decade. She tackles another serial killer in Hannibal as Dr Bedelia du Maurier, the psychiatrist to the Hannibal Lector (Mads Mikkelsen). It is her first role in an American television series since 2002 and describes her psychological sparring partner, Mikkelsen as "a master of understatement".

"It's the complexity of those characters and the things going on under the surface that make it so interesting to me as an actor. Conflict creates great drama," she says.

Actress Gillian Anderson attends the 'Les Miserables' World Premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square on December 5, 2012 in London, England.

Signing up for the second series of Hannibal, Anderson is now busy filming NBC's action thriller, Crisis. "My role is more in the thriller bit than the action bit. It's very high-paced and intense because you're dealing with the government and FBI, and kids have been kidnapped so it's quite dramatic." It sounds like familiar, dark territory. "It just so happens that anything that crosses my lap tends to be darker in nature; it's not that I go looking for it. It's no mistake that I end up playing 'MI7 boss' or 'MI5 boss', and I can do that, but what people don't often see me in and what I don't get to do very much of is comedy because I also am very slapsticky and I love that."

Would Anderson consider signing up to an Edgar Wright comedy? "Yes, I'd love that, absolutely," she says.

While Anderson's two youngest children cannot yet watch the majority of her TV and film roles, her latest film from Studio Ghibli is of a lighter fare. Lending her voice to From Up on Poppy Hill, it is a deft coming-of-age tale set in 1963 Yokohama, "I did a voiceover with Miyazaki before on Princess Mononoke and I've been a big fan of his animation for a very long time so any time they approach me, I jump at the opportunity because I just think he's so talented."

Would Anderson make more movies for her children? "Yes and no. If the right thing came up I'd consider it, but all they're into is Lego Star Wars," she laughs. Would you consider a role in the new Star Wars movie? "Yeah maybe," she says, "More likely Star Trek; I'd do Star Trek."

Perhaps that would be a good way of exercising her sci-fi credentials whilst reaffirming her status as a hero of a different kind to her young family. "Maybe, but only if I was made out of Lego."

'From Up on Poppy Hill' is on general release