Gillian Anderson is no stranger to television. The British-American actress and Sex Education star has tussled with aliens, serial killers, and gods while searching for “the truth” and making a name for herself in genre television and beyond. Anderson’s many iconic roles both on stage and screen have led to countless nominations (and wins!) for Emmy awards, BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and SAG awards, among others. Here are Gillian Anderson’s top five best roles.
1. Dana Scully, The X-Files (1993-2002, 2016-2018)
Anderson may forever be known as Special Agent Dana Scully, a chronically skeptical scientist and FBI agent. For 11 seasons and two movies, Scully’s belief in the supernatural and extraterrestrial was consistently tested, thanks in part to her assignment on the X-Files and the respect she gained for her partner, Fox Mulder. The duo investigated cases that fell outside of normal, cases the FBI otherwise would’ve looked the other way on. But Scully’s belief in her partner led her to supernatural phenomena that science just couldn’t explain. Despite her science background and commitment to Catholicism, Scully became the believer once David Duchovny’s Mulder took some time off from the show.
Scully was exactly what was needed on television in the early ’90s. She wasn’t just a cookie-cutter female counterpart to a dominant male lead; rather, she was educated, complex, and flawed. More importantly, she was resolute in her beliefs and her morals, which made her a great agent and a worthy television icon young women could look up to. Anderson’s deadpan delivery made her the perfect complement to Duchovny’s emotional and flighty Mulder, and the two became one of the greatest TV duos in history.
2. Stella Gibson, The Fall (2013-2016)
In The Fall, a crime drama set in Northern Ireland, Metropolitan Police Superintendent Stella Gibson finds herself in a taut cat-and-mouse game after being sent to review an outstanding murder investigation. After it becomes obvious that a serial killer is on the loose, Gibson works with local detectives to track and find Paul Spector, a local father and every-man whose sick obsession with young professional women has turned the city of Belfast upside down. Stella works tirelessly to bring him down over the course of three seasons. While Spector always seems to be a couple steps ahead of her, Gibson’s determination, focus, and fortitude keep her hot on his tail.
Anderson’s performance is nuanced and strong. While Stella is a sympathetic character, it’s her empathy that drives her—she’s triggered and oddly motivated by the many ways men abuse women. Plus, she’s no stranger to navigating a world dominated by the patriarchy. Yet, Gibson has no time or patience for such misogyny. She’s got a killer to catch.
3. Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, Hannibal (2013-2015)
Look up any list of critically acclaimed shows cancelled too soon and Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal is almost always in the mix. It’s gruesome, but gratifying, thanks in part to its amazing cast. Anderson played Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, Hannibal Lecter’s psychotherapist who was once attacked by one of Lecter’s former patients. Recurring in Seasons 1 and 2 before joining as a regular in the third season, Anderson imbued competence and cunning in her character alongside a mysterious vulnerability. For a show filled with questionable characters and enigmatic personalities, Anderson’s stone-faced Du Maurier held her own.
4. Media, American Gods (2017)
Anderson stepped into another Fuller production starring as Media in Season 1 of American Gods, a fantasy drama based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name. Media served as the public face of the New Gods, a personification of mass media and entertainment who often appears as famous personalities like Marilyn Monroe, Lucy Ricardo, Judy Garland, and David Bowie. She lives and thrives off the worship people give to their device screens. For an actress who does so much with understated roles, Anderson knocks it out of the park with the bright, stylish, and otherworldly Media.
5. Lady Dedlock, Bleak House (2005)
As part of the BBC’s 15-part adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, Anderson took on the sly and secretive Lady Dedlock. Although this wasn’t her only role in a Dickens retelling (see also: 2011’s Great Expectations miniseries), it’s her most memorable.
“One of the only things that I have regrets about in my life is my experience of school and education. I wish I had known how important it was to pay attention…My first foray into a lot of the classics has been through my work. It’s only after falling in love with the screenplay or adaptation that I’ve then gone on to read the novels themselves,” the actress told The Daily Beast. Despite its overly legal premise, Bleak House is Anderson’s best period piece work.