JOHN YDSTIE, host:
Gillian Anderson stars in the new production of "Bleak House," Charles Dickens' story in installment about protracted lawsuits, loves, lust, paternity, probate, murder and greed in Victorian London's Courts of Chancery.
Andrew Davies has adapted the Dickens novel into a six-part series produced by the BBC and WGBH in Boston.
Gillian Anderson stars as Lady Dedlock. She is still seen widely around the world as Dana Scully from the "X-Files" television series, and in films that include "Playing by Heart" and the "House of Mirth."
Scott Simon spoke with Ms. Anderson earlier this week when his voice sounded better.
SCOTT SIMON, reporting:
You had vowed in a couple of interviews that you weren't going to do any television soon after the "X-Files." What changed your mind about "Bleak House?"
Ms. GILLIAN ANDERSON (Actress): Well, it has been a long time, and I actually keep forgetting how long it has been since we stopped shooting the series.
But I absolutely fell in love with the script, with Andrew Davies' adaptation. And I hadn't read "Bleak House" yet and actually agreed to do the project before reading the novel, and had the most wonderful time working putting together costumes and deciding the wig. And it was just an extraordinary experience.
SIMON: Help us set this story up, because "Bleak House" interestingly, I think it's safe to say is one of the most admired novels or stories, it was actually written initially in newspaper installments. But not the one that, at least on this side of the pond, a lot of Americans have read ...
Ms. ANDERSON: Hmm.
YDSTIE: ... as opposed to something like "Oliver Twist" or "A Tale of Two Cities."
Ms. ANDERSON: Sure. Well, there are a lot of different stories that are intermingling and interweaving within the body of the novel. And the main story is about a legal case involving the Jarndyce family. And ...
SIMON: Bleak House is their house.
Ms. ANDERSON: Bleak House is their house. And the character that I play is Lady Dedlock who has a stake in the case.
SIMON: We have a clip; Timothy West playing Lady Dedlock's husband having a conversation at the window.
(Soundbite of thunder and rain)
Mr. TIMOTHY WEST (Actor, as SIR LESTER DEDLOCK): Is it still raining, my love?
Ms. ANDERSON (as Lady Dedlock): Yes, my love.
Mr. WEST (as Lady Dedlock's husband): Remarkable.
Ms. ANDERSON (as Lady Dedlock): And I am bored to death with it.
Mr. WEST (as Lady Dedlock's husband): Well...
Ms. ANDERSON (as Lady Dedlock): Bored to death with this place, bored to death with my life, bored to death with myself.
Mr. WEST (as Lady Dedlock's husband): What was that, my love?
Ms. ANDERSON (as Lady Dedlock): Nothing of consequence.
SIMON: You sound really bored.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ANDERSON: You know, she's, Lady Dedlock is such a fascinating, tragic character. You get the sense in the novel and in the series, that she was quite frivolous as a young woman, and she falls in love with a young soldier and lays with him for one night and becomes pregnant.
After her recovery, she is proposed to by Sir Lester Dedlock, played by Timothy West, and despite the fact that she does not love him at the time, she agrees, but never reveals the fact that she did have a child and that she did have a love before they were married. So she carries that secret with her, and she has become cold, but she almost can't help herself. She's holding everything so tightly within herself and she almost appears like if she fell over she'd break into a thousand pieces.
SIMON: We want to play another clip. Charles Dance plays an attorney who suspects that Lady Dedlock has this secret.
Ms. ANDERSON (as Lady Dedlock): Who copied that? Whose handwriting is it?
Mr. CHARLES DANCE(Actor, as Mr. Tulkinghorn): I regret to say I have no idea, my lady.
Ms. ANDERSON (as Lady Dedlock): Is this what you call law-hand?
Mr. DANCE (as an attorney): Why do you ask?
SIMON: You faint, right?
Ms. ANDERSON: Yes.
Ms. ANDERSON: Yes. (Laughing)
SIMON: Victorian women were always fainting, weren't they?
Ms. ANDERSON: It was the corsets and ...
SIMON: How do you play a character who much of the outside world finds impenetrable, but you know, and the audience has to know, that what she's exhibiting is not boredom so much as kind of cauterized pain and feeling?
Ms. ANDERSON: What makes a good character is conflict. And one can reveal a lot simply by the way one holds oneself, the way one moves one's mouth, one's eyes, twitches one's nose in the slightest ways.
I have to imagine it also has to do with, you know, the rich world that Dickens sets up in his pages about particular characters and the way they stand, the way they dress, the way they hold their hand. So it is, it's almost like an immediate template for an actor to work with. And it all adds to this different world that is incredibly faithful to what Dickens was trying to express, I think, through his tabloid, serial writing.
SIMON: Ms. Anderson, thank you very much.
Ms. ANDERSON: Thank you.
YDSTIE: Gillian Anderson, speaking from KQED in San Francisco with Scott Simon earlier this week. "Bleak House" is airing in six parts beginning tomorrow night and running until February 26 on PBS.
For scheduling details or to read the entire novel online, come to our website, NPR.org.