Gillian Anderson stars in 'Great Expectations'
Television • For the "X-Files" star, playing Miss Havisham is the role of a lifetime.
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The role of Miss Havisham in "Great Expectations" sort of grew on Gillian Anderson.

"Once I agree to do something, it just starts to materialize," Anderson said. "It's not so much of an active thing. It's like a fungus."

This two-part, three-hour production is a faithful adaptation the Charles Dickens novel. It's the story of young Pip (Oscar Kennedy as a boy; Douglas Booth as a young man), a poor orphan who is taken in by the wealthy Miss Havisham and learns that what appears to be a great opportunity quickly turns sour.

Anderson was intrigued by Miss Havisham, a character who has been unhinged since she was jilted at the altar years earlier.

"I've heard Miss Havisham referred to over and over and over again through the years in various ways," Anderson said. "But my first introduction to her was in this adaptation."

Miss Havisham has been wearing her wedding dress for years, living in a decaying mansion surrounded by the remains of the uneaten wedding feast. She takes in young Pip, who becomes a target of her venom.

"She's in a lot of pain," said Anderson, adding that Miss Havisham gets "pleasure out of other people's pain."

It's a long way from her most famous role — Dana Scully on "The X-Files." But Miss Havisham is more what she envisioned when she began her career.

"What made sense to me when I was younger was period theater and art-house films," Anderson said. "It was the TV that was the departure."

That's hard for some "X-Files" fans to accept. "I recently did an interview with the British press," Anderson said, "and the guy said, 'You were on the cover of every magazine in the world. Why would you do "Great Expectations?" ' And I was like, 'Are you [expletive] serious? Surely that's not the question!' "

Anderson turns in a masterful performance on "Masterpiece." "The performance of a lifetime," gushed executive producer Rebecca Eaton.

Her performance began with the voice, which Anderson said came to her as she was reading the script. "That's what I hear first in my head and then it kind of moves from there," she said.

Anderson acknowledged that her process is a bit odd, because she doesn't speak the voice she hears in her head until she's in front of the camera. "It occurs to me that that could be a really big mistake and that in this case, the director, Brian [Kirk], could have said, 'What are you doing?' And 'That's not how I saw her.' So I'm not sure whether I'll do that again."

She's also not sure if she'll ever do another TV series, although she's at least beginning to entertain the thought.

"Over the last couple of years, I've gotten to the point where I'm able to have that conversation," Anderson said. "To be able to say, 'OK, send me stuff. And if there's something that works in all 250 areas that I need it to work, then OK.' And maybe in the next couple of years something like that will come up. But there's a lot of criteria that need to be addressed."

No. 1 on the list is "not 22-24 episodes a season," she said with a laugh. "I've got two little kids and I've got a very full life."

spierce@sltrib.com —

"Masterpiece Classic"

Part 1 of the two-part adaptation of "Great Expectations" airs Sunday, April 1, from 8-9 p.m. on PBS/Channel 7. The two-hour conclusion airs Sunday, April 8, from 8-10 p.m.