‘MAYBE it’s third time lucky — dare I say it?’ laughs Gillian Anderson, 50, of her nomination for the Olivier award for Best Actress for her performance as Margo Channing in All About Eve at London’s Noel Coward Theatre. The result will be announced at the awards ceremony on Sunday ahead of All About Eve’s national live cinema screening on Thursday.
Gillian was previously nominated for A Doll’s House in 2010 and A Streetcar Named Desire in 2015 and she delivers another critically acclaimed performance in All About Eve — in which she plays a stage legend who befriends a starstruck fan who isn’t all she seems.
‘I could tell it would be fun to be in Margo’s shoes from the film,’ says Gillian, referring to the classic 1950 movie starring Bette Davis. ‘I knew she’d be a blast to play and I was intrigued by Ivo as a director.’
Ivo van Hove is renowned for incorporating multimedia elements in his stage work and does the same here — using video screens to show close-ups of action occurring at the back of the stage.
‘The play takes place in the world of acting, theatre and scripts and there is a sense that Hollywood is looming,’ says Gillian. ‘So the video element feels quite appropriate.’
Gillian moved to the US aged 11, after spending her childhood in Harringay in north London, although the English accent she has sounds posher.
She was inspired to pursue an acting career by Meryl Streep. ‘Out Of Africa really took my breath away and made me think, ‘‘I want to do that.’’ Seeing her play such a strong-willed woman in such a romantic film with the sweeping beauty of the African continent. That was the first time I properly paid attention to her.’
Although when they met, at an awards show, Gillian managed to contain her fandom, unlike Eve in the play. ‘It didn’t feel like the right moment to let
rip with the personal impact that she’d had on my life,’ she laughs.
The play focuses on wannabe Eve’s ruthless ambition while demonstrating the fickle nature of stardom. Is acting a paranoia-inducing profession?
‘I’m sure, yes. Absolutely,’ says Gillian. ‘I don’t have that experience in my career, but even when I first started out in TV I remember waiting in the hallway with all the other actresses who are going up for the same role and seeing everyone going into the room and coming out and trying to decide from the expression on their face if they did a good job. You base your idea of what your chances are on the reactions of the other girls coming out of the room. All that stuff.
‘I’m around people who are involved with casting and I see how much people give their auditions and how much is riding on being cast. Being cast in something big changes your life.’
Gillian speaks from experience. She became world famous in the 1990s as FBI special agent Dana Scully when paranormal mystery show The X-Files became a global hit. Some helpful advice from a university friend helped put her on the path to success. ‘We were both auditioning for agents. She said, ‘‘Go in dressed, and with the confidence, as if you already have the job.’’ That was a really good piece of advice. I don’t know necessarily if I ever followed through with it but it definitely helped with those auditions.
‘I was going to wear a borrowed suit that was too big for me. She loaned me an outfit — a silk burgundy shirt and dress trousers. I looked more like a professional actress than the usual scruffy waif I’d have looked like if I’d dressed myself — and I got an agent out of it. I don’t know if it was the outfit or my monologue,’ she laughs.
After the play finishes Gillian heads back to Wales to film the second series of surprise Netflix comedy hit Sex Education — in which she plays a sex therapist who leaves her teenage son perpetually mortified.
‘It’s fun to be doing a comedy for a change. The young actors are fabulous. Given the hit it’s become, it will be interesting to see how their lives have changed.
‘Hopefully their heads will fit through the door — but they’re all lovely young adults. They were all very grounded, grateful to be there, ready to show up and do the work and be professional. And I’ll give them a good seeing to if they’re not that way next season,’ she laughs.
In All About Eve, watching the antics of a manipulative, ruthlessly ambitious, wolf-in-sheep’s clothing may not seem like the most uplifting theatrical experience but Gillian insists otherwise.
‘Ultimately, I just want people to be entertained by the play,’ she says. ‘That’s what we all want at this particular time when you turn on the news, or open a paper, and what you see is so unbelievably disheartening and depressing. This is a good two hours of pure entertainment — it’s funny, uplifting and we often have standing ovations. If that’s what you’re interested in then give yourself over to it for a couple of hours and have some fun.’
Battling it out
Gillian is nominated for Best Actress at the prestigious Olivier Awards on Sunday. Here are the other nominees:
The veteran actress, who has won three previous Oliviers, is nominated for Florian Zeller’s The Height Of The Storm.
Patsy, who is the youngest in the group has wowed with her role in Tennessee Williams’ Summer And Smoke.
Sophie won a Tony for A Raisin In The Sun, and is nominated for the National Theatre’s Antony & Cleopatra.
Katherine, who scooped a Bafta for the comedy The IT Crowd, is nominated for Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling.
■ All About Eve is screened live in cinemas on Thursday, ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk