Gillian Anderson photographed in the basement at 6 Fitzroy Square, London, 10 July 2012

Harry recalls the shoot: “One of my most enjoyable shoots in recent years took place when I photographed the movie, TV and stage actor Gillian Anderson. She is best known for being FBI agent Dana Scully in cult sci-fi series The X-Files. When I photographed her, in July 2012, I was aware of the series but had never watched it. This was a good thing, because it meant I wasn’t intimidated by her fame.

I was commissioned to shoot her portrait by The Sunday Times, which was running an interview with her to coincide with her role in the film Shadow Dancer. The newspaper had hired a location for the shoot: Six Fitzroy Square, an 18th century town house in London’s Fitzrovia. It had a lot of character and offered a range of interior backgrounds as well as an outside area. 

Sometimes when I’m photographing actors I direct them as if they are on a film set. I ask them to imagine they are in particular situations and then photograph their expressions. With Gillian, for example, I did things like asking her to look startled, or to imagine she was seeing God in the sky. She was brilliant and really got into the idea. This was when I took my favourite picture of the day, in which Gillian has her mouth open as if she’s doing a silent scream. The image was shot against a white wall in the basement. I used two flash heads to light Gillian. One was a raw flash head, without any modifiers, which I used to backlight her. I put it in an adjacent room and used the door frame to flag it off slightly. I used the other head with a softbox, positioned to the right of my camera. I was shooting with my Canon EOS 5D Mark II and a 50mm lens.

The picture did well in various competitions and was shortlisted in the The Royal Photographic Society International Print Exhibition 2013. It also generated much discussion on Twitter, particularly among women. They were saying they liked the picture because it wasn’t retouched and showed her as a woman in her mid-40s, rather than trying to make her look younger. Looking at it now, the light is quite hard but it’s still flattering. I like the simplicity of the picture and its enigmatic quality. She appears vulnerable, as if momentarily surprised, and it seems like you’re witnessing a moment. In reality, of course, the moment was created, but its ambiguous nature means that everyone can bring their own interpretation to it.”

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