Gillian Anderson: “Playing Eleanor Roosevelt has changed me as a human being”

The First Lady-Gillian Anderson_Showtime
Gillian Anderson plays Eleanor Roosevelt in Showtime’s ‘The First Lady’.

By María Estévez, MWN

For the past two years, Gillian Anderson has played a handful of the most influential female figures to ever live on our planet. For example, she appeared as Margaret Thatcher in the Emmy-winning Netflix series ‘The Crown’, and now she stars as Eleanor Roosevelt in the Showtime limited series ‘The First Lady’. The actress, who began her career playing the mythical Dana Scully in ‘The X-Files’, has solidified her reputation by creating great feminist figures for fiction, impersonating characters that break social barriers. 

Why did you decide to play another historical character?

Her personality caught my attention. I didn’t feel like I’ve played someone like her in the past, and that’s something I always keep in mind. Eleanor Roosevelt was unpredictable because she grew up between England and America, she liked to use words that would not be used if she had not grown up in the UK.

You’ve gone from playing Margaret Thatcher in ‘The Crown’, to Catherine the Great’s mother in ‘The Great’, and now you’re impersonating Eleanor Roosevelt in ‘The First Lady’. Which character has been the most difficult?

Joanna is a role written by McNamara’s brilliant pen while both Thatcher and Eleanor are two brilliant women. For me, the most difficult to create has been Eleanor Roosevelt because of my ignorance of the character and the time, and because in the series you can see a complete perspective of who this woman was during several decades of her life. 

What was it like embodying her and making those discoveries with the help of the Roosevelt family?

Eleanor was an extraordinary and powerful woman. I must admit that I learned a lot studying her, I realized that there were many things about her that I did not know. There is a great deal of information about this couple and the extent to which she and Franklin impacted the citizens of the United States, and not just them, but people all over the world. His work was amazing, his dedication, the books he wrote, the causes he joined… From start to finish, she was a tireless worker. Her work was extraordinary, and as incredible as it sounds, playing her has changed me as a human being. 

Do you like to study history before getting into the skin of a recognized woman?

I took off my Thatcher blue to put on Joanna’s corset in ‘The Great’ and then Eleanor’s dentures. They are three very different women. If Thatcher and Eleanor thought of the common good, Joana only thought of her because she was a very vain woman who encapsulates the frivolity of the court.

Did you know the character before playing her?

I am not an expert in history. When I was offered the part, I read the scripts. At that moment, my curiosity about this woman arouse. I was captivated by the character, the structure of the series, and the story. 

How do you feel when someone recognizes you from ‘The X-Files’?

That character lives with me. It took me a long time to embrace the image of Scully, I think it took me ten years, and yet today I appreciate the opportunity I had and I feel honored and lucky to have been able to play an iconic and representative role.

New episodes of ‘The First Lady’ air Sunday nights on Showtime.