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Gillian Anderson almost said no to 'Scoop'. Why she changed her mind

The actor opens up about her latest role as a BBC journalist and her history of playing women who "do not tow the party line."

In another life, Gillian Anderson probably wouldn’t be a journalist, despite playing one in the new film “Scoop.”

“I don’t think that my brain really works best in high stress circumstances, so I have a huge amount of respect for journalists,” Anderson tells in a sit-down interview.

“I like having lines and having an opportunity to work on those lines over and over again. I think journalists need to stay a lot more spontaneous and can roll with the punches in a way I’m not sure that I can,” she explains.

It’s likely Anderson has one particular journalist in mind and that’s Emily Maitlis, the BBC reporter whose 2019 conversation with Prince Andrew over the Jeffrey Epstein scandal is one for the history books and the character Anderson plays in movie “Scoop.”

“She’s an incredibly formidable journalist and woman who is in our midst all the time,” Anderson says of Maitlis while talking to Savannah Guthrie during a recent appearance on TODAY.

Gillian Anderson in "Scoop."
Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis in "Scoop."Peter Mountain / Netflix

Premiering on Netflix April 5, the new film chronicles the backstory of how the legendary interview was landed, which, in large part, was due to the legwork of a former BBC producer named Sam McAlister (played by Billie Piper), as well as the subsequent hour-long Q&A that would ultimately result in the Duke of York stepping down from his royal duties.

According to Anderson, she initially didn’t want to take on the role of Maitlis, explaining to Savannah that she was intimidated by the idea of portraying such a well-known British luminary.

“The idea of playing somebody that was so familiar and so alive felt incredibly daunting,” says Anderson.

Despite her initial hesitation, however, Anderson eventually accepted took the role and says that while filming “Scoop,” she had a chance meetup with Maitlis at a charity event.

“I’d literally come in from the country being in the mud with my kids for a week and didn’t prepare at all, didn’t have makeup with me, and then showed up,” Anderson explains during her TODAY segment. “And (Maitlis) is glam.”

Though Anderson says she didn’t ask the journalist for tips on playing her in “Scoop,” she does say that had anyone been asked which one of them was the actor, “It wouldn’t have been me,” she laughs.

'I like a challenge'

Maitlis is just one of many complex characters Anderson has played throughout her 30-year career.

Other notable women the actor has portrayed include Margaret Thatcher in “The Crown,” Stella Gibson in “The Fall,” Jean Milburn in “Sex Education” and, of course, Dana Scully in “The X-Files,” the role that made Anderson a household name back in 1993.

Gillian Anderson in "The Crown."

Even though she’s taken on a variety of roles through the years, Anderson tells that she doesn’t choose them necessarily based on their complexity.

“My first response to scripts is a more intuitive one and less heady than that,” she explains, saying she tends to pick roles that she connects with.

“It comes off the page as being something that is one that either I identify with or I think immediately, ‘I know how to play this,’ this makes sense to me,” she says.

That said, Anderson says that she also enjoys a challenge and portraying characters like Margaret Thatcher or Stella Gibson provides it.

“Even though I originally said ‘no’ to playing Emily Maitlis, I do like a challenge and generally it’s the more difficult, complex women that I am drawn to, in general,” says “The Fall” actor.

Going beyond the status quo

For many actors, remaining in the spotlight for more than three decades can prove difficult. But Anderson has pivoted from TV, film and stage, as well as authoring multiple books, including the Earthend trilogy, a sci-fi series co-written with Jeff Rovin.

The actor is wrapping up a new book called “Want,” which is a collection of sexual fantasies from women around the world and will be released in the fall.

“They are what (women) think about when they fantasize about sex,” says Anderson, who penned the introductions for each chapter. “It’s an interesting study on what women think about when they’re in their deepest thoughts around that subject.”

It also plays off the 1973 book “My Secret Garden: Women's Sexual Fantasies” by Nancy Friday. In part, Anderson says “Want” is a way to gauge how much has changed since Friday’s book came out more than 50 years ago and how far society has progressed in terms of talking publicly about sex since then.

“I was interested in how things might have changed and whether there is still the same degrees of shame and guilt and fear.”

Gillian Anderson in season 10 of "The X-Files."
Gillian Anderson in season 10 of "The X-Files."FOX Image Collection / Getty Imaes

In the meantime, Anderson says she’s focused on entrepreneurship, which includes her line of natural soft drinks called “G Spot,” along with better understanding the women she chooses to portray and their potential impact.

“I’ve had an incredible career playing characters like Dana Scully, Stella Gibson or Jean Milburn. And there are different attributes, but they are all women who are very much themselves and are complex and they do not tow the party line,” says Anderson.

“They defy expectation and push beyond the status quo ... all of them do. And I think it seems that women are interested in that, and my experience, in that, whether it’s my own actions or through the characters I play.”