Gillian Anderson may have shot to fame in the 1990s playing FBI special agent Dana Scully on The X-Files, but she’s become even more of a feminist icon since, renowned for playing smart, complicated women like Stella Gibson on The Fall and serving as a vocal champion of women in real life.
It’s fitting, then, that Anderson addressed members of the Wing, a women’s only social club in New York City, on Tuesday night in conversation with BuzzFeed culture writer Anne Helen Petersen. Anderson, who recently published We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere, held court on issues ranging from feminism to equal pay in Hollywood to the “Scully effect”—the phenomenon in which more women were inspired to go into science and law enforcement careers as a result of seeing her X-Files character on TV.
It took a while for Anderson to realize what a gift Scully was to so many women, she told the audience.
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“She’s always been so much squarer than I’ve ever been. I don’t really see much of a rebel inside Scully, so for a long time I didn’t necessarily feel like the attention for aspects of her was necessarily a positive thing,” said Anderson. “But I realized there was something people valued of her, and I started talking about her as a positive thing.”
Scully’s popularity helped turn The X-Files into a worldwide sensation. But that didn’t mean Anderson always felt valued by the network. During the original run of The X-Files, Anderson had to to fight to be paid as much as her co-star, David Duchovny, eventually reaching parity toward to the end of the series. But she was shocked, she said, when FOX offered her half as much money as Duchovny for the show’s six-episode revival in 2016.
“I wasn’t paid half—I was offered half, which is a big difference,” said Anderson, who will take on the role for another 10 episodes to air in 2018. This time, she says, she put her foot down.
She recognizes, though, that it’s not as easy for other women—whether in Hollywood or elsewhere—to do the same.
“Because they’re never going to make [The X-Files] without Scully, right? So it’s very different than somebody really risking their job and sitting in front of their boss and saying, ‘I deserve a raise,’” Anderson told the audience. “I admire actresses like Jessica Chastain, who speaks openly about rules and boundaries she sets for herself, finding out what the guy is getting before she agrees [to a role]. But it’s challenging for those who are not ‘A-list’ actresses to take that same stand, because it most likely means not getting the job. It’s a different ratio of risk.”
Anderson added that she has always been outspoken, however, about women’s rights. When asked about another interview in which she said she had “feminist bones,” she explained: “I realized, while doing that interview...I just came out of the womb ready to go. My mom will say that at age three you couldn’t tell me anything…I’ve just voiced my opinion my whole life, I don’t think I picked up on the cues on what was right and wrong [for women] because I’ve just always done whatever the f—- I wanted to.”