Gillian Anderson in Great Expectations

After her BAFTA-nominated performance as Lady Dedlock in the BBC’s Bleak House, Hollywood star Gillian Anderson returns to Dickens as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations on BBC1. TV Choice caught up with her on location…

Miss Havisham is such an iconic role — did you always want to play her?
As much as I’m familiar with the book it’s not in my mind as one of my favourites as it is for a lot of people. But this was a time when I was as excited by the adaptation, if not more so, than the book. I felt I might have a way in to the character and I fell in love with the script. Miss Havisham had a real historical impact.

Gillian AndersonIn what way?
There are various things that have come to my attention in terms of the Miss Havisham effect. Not just the potential addiction to loss and the pain of loss but there’s potentially a chemical release that takes place upon the pain of loss that soothes you. She’s been influential over time and just recently a friend emailed me saying, ‘I’ve always thought of myself as Miss Havisham, it’s wonderful that you’re getting to play her.’ Everybody has some kind of a story, an experience, or something that relates to her.

How do you view her relationship with Estella?Great Expectations
In the book it says she originally wanted a child, a daughter, to come and be with her. After a period of loneliness it was as much about having something to love and company as anything else and that was her initial intention, not to do the psychological stuff that she ended up doing on Estella. I think as Estella starts to grow and Miss Havisham experiences her beauty, she thinks back to her own beauty and all that happened, what was lost. She starts to feel that somehow she will be able to seek revenge through Estella and somehow she will be redeemed. That somebody will pay for her pain.

She’s such a famous character, everyone will have their own idea of her.
I know and that’s the trouble of getting involved in adaptations of books that people love. I know that from doing The Crimson Petal And The White and Any Human Heart. People get so passionate. A book I liked recently has been made into a movie and I keep seeing the trailer and I have such a negative feeling about it just based on the trailer, you can’t help it. I just had to jump into this with both feet and hope for the best, hope people like it.

What was it like filming the scenes where Miss Havisham catches fire?
I did the beginning bit before she’s set alight and then the stuntwoman came in. The fire caught quicker than they anticipated and at one point the veil rose up like the paper of those Italian Amaretti biscuits!

Have you seen the classic David Lean film of Great Expectations?
No and I want to very much. I’m going away for six weeks so I’ll take it with me.

You’ve had a varied career both in America and England.
It would be nice to shake it up a bit, it would be nice to do a broader comedy in the States. But I’m certainly enjoying myself.

Mary Comerford