Proud, aristocratic and icy cool. Behind the studied poise, Lady Dedlock hides a secret which could ruin her.
After years in The X-Files, Gillian Anderson told her agent to turn down any television roles so that she could concentrate on her film and theatre career.
It was going to have to be a very special project to lure her back onto television – but Bleak House met the criteria.
"The fact that it was being made by the BBC and the more I heard about the people who were putting Bleak House together, the more convinced I was that this wasn't going to an ordinary TV experience," says Gillian.
She took the job – playing aristocratic Lady Dedlock – and it proved to be the right decision.
"It was a fantastic experience," she smiles. "I'm so happy that I did it."
Gillian hopes people will get hooked.
"Appointment television, something that people make sure they never miss, that they consider to be their show, has become very popular over the last ten years," she says.
"Even though it is not set in a contemporary setting, there is something contemporary about the way it is shot - it's filmed in HD and it's in a half hour format and there are a lot of actors in it who people will recognise.
"And the way that Andrew Davies has written each episode means each ends in a tantalising way and people will really want to know what happens next."
Gillian's character, Lady Dedlock, is a society beauty and on the surface appears icy cool. But she has a skeleton in the cupboard that, if revealed, could destroy her.
"It's the holding of the secrets and the grief around them which contributes to her iciness. It's something that has built up over many years.
"It's all about not following one's heart, it's all about settling for the socially acceptable way of handling a situation, which is an empty unfulfilling way."
In some ways Lady Dedlock is well-off. She has a devoted husband, Sir Leicester (Timothy West) and material wealth - two homes, the finest clothes and the freedom to travel.
"Her life is centred on going to the opera, playing cards, travelling to Paris or staying at one of their houses," Gillian explains.
"She has nothing much else to fill her time. But she feels this real emptiness which has started to creep into her soul and, year after year, it is the sort of thing that can wear somebody down.
"As the years go by, the sadness is heavier, the grief is heavier and her coldness comes as a result of that. And to keep those feelings hidden she has to put on a front to protect herself from breaking down.
"We don't get to see who she really is on the inside until later in the story. Then she becomes more and more vulnerable and her guard gets let down."
Her husband, who is 20 years her senior, dotes on her. "She married Sir Leicester when she was at a particularly low point in her life and she has grown to love him," says Gillian.
"She has a great fondness for him and a great appreciation for his tolerance of her. He absolutely adores her and to him she can do no wrong, however rude or trying she may be.
"He is incredibly patient with her and she knows this. She is appreciative of it but also feels tremendous guilt around it because of the secrets she holds.
"She is aware how much he loves her and she doesn't love him in that same way in return and she knows that her secrets could ruin him and the lineage of his family for eternity."
Gillian had no problems at all switching into Lady Dedlock's cut-glass English accent – and in fact, her normal speaking voice sounds remarkably English.
"I'm sure some people will be surprised, but even more surprised to hear me talking in everyday interviews with an English accent," she says.
"I do notice when I'm sitting with someone who is Scottish, Australian or Irish or whatever it is, then I really have to watch myself from just going into, not a proper accent but their rhythms and intonations."
"I feel very at home in London," she says. "I love the city; it feels very familiar and comfortable. I also love the architecture, the buildings and the mellowness of the people."
And she can be more anonymous in the UK than she can in America – which she thinks is partly down to having left her Dana Scully trademark red hair behind when she finished on The X-Files.
"Having blonde hair rather than red hair makes a huge difference," she smiles. "Nobody ever stops me on the street here but they do in the States - especially when I've got red hair."
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