Special agent Dana Scully would never pick up a copy of “We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere.” Indeed, it seems surprising that Gillian Anderson, who played Scully on “The X-Files,” would write this quasi self-help book aimed at guiding women “on a path of self-discovery and spiritual awakening.” But despite specializing in strong, complicated women on stage and screen, the 48-year-old mother of three says she has felt fragile at times.
“There were maybe two or three points in my life where I have felt like the decisions that I was making weren’t good,” she said in a phone interview from London. “In a way, I was my own worst enemy.”
Whether it was the pressure of the intense production schedule for “The X Files,” self-doubt about her appearance during a photo shoot or the worries of motherhood, Anderson said she suffered — and still suffers — from episodes she calls “light” depression. At these times, she said, “I thought, there’s got to be another way of doing things.”
“We: A Manifesto” offers another way. In fact, it offers several. The book lays out about a dozen principles and practices that women should follow — such as being grateful for what they have rather than focusing on the negative — to live happier, more productive lives.
Anderson and her co-author, British journalist Jennifer Nadel, spoke about how the book came to be and why it’s especially important now.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: Why did you decide to write this book now?
Anderson: I started paying attention to articles talking about the statistics of self-harm and depression in women, and women talking about societal pressures to behave in certain ways and the impact that was having on their lives. I started thinking of a book that might address that. Jennifer and I have known each other for about a decade, and she said she was thinking about the same things.
Q: Were you thinking of your own daughter when you were writing this book?
Anderson: I’m sure I was, but I also feel like I was as much talking to my younger self. Not that I don’t need to hear everything that is in this book now. This book hopefully will be resonant for women of all ages. And we don’t consider ourselves to be experts on any of this. I’m still struggling on a daily basis on decisions I make and the way I react to things and the choices that I make. I make mistakes all the time and have to reassess and apologize, so it’s not us standing on a soapbox. It’s just saying: These principles are out there, they’re universal, and we can start to do things differently.
Q: The word “manifesto” makes this an ambitious title.
Nadel: “Manifesto” is a word that we are seeking to reclaim. It’s often thought of in a very masculine way. This is not just a self-help book. It’s also a book about how we’re all living today, so the word “manifesto” is unashamedly there. Two years ago, people were very unsure about the word, and we had a lot of long conversations with publishers about it. It was Gillian who completely stuck to her guns and said, “That’s what the book’s called.” And then Brexit happened in England, and Trump was elected in the States. No one’s saying, “Why do we need a manifesto?” anymore.
Q: Politics isn’t usually discussed in this kind of book.
Nadel: We’re living in a “me” culture, but spirituality for me isn’t just about trying to make my life better and gaining my own inner peace. It’s about trying to bring those same qualities into the world. One of the lies that we’re all fed is that what each of us do individually in our lives doesn’t have an impact on anyone else. But we are connected, and what we do on one side of the world has an impact on women in another.
Anderson: There are various charities I do work for, and it’s very easy in taking a platform and speaking out to feel that I have an answer. Part of this work is about acknowledging that one doesn’t always know what’s best for other people, even though it may feel courageous when there’s a bit of righteous indignation in there.
Q: Why address this book just to women?
Nadel: Men could gain from these principles, no question. But it’s women who are most adversely affected by the current way we do things. Globally, women do 75 percent of the work, receive 10 percent of the pay and earn 1 percent of the property. I think women are a good place to start.
Q: Gillian, I know you’ve been a strong advocate for equal pay for women in Hollywood.
Anderson: Yes. I started to become vocal about it because of my own experience working in the industry and being offered less than 50 percent of what a co-worker was, first in the original “X Files” series, then in the reboot. I decided to speak out.
Q: Do you see the acting roles you choose linked to your feminism?
Anderson: I recognize that I have a tendency toward certain types of characters. A good handful of the characters I have played are quite damaged. I don’t necessarily know if all of those would be considered to be feminists. I do recognize that there is part of me that is attracted to very complex real and recognizable and sometimes powerful female characters.
Q: Do you like the idea of the “Scully Effect,” which credits the character with prompting more young women to go into the sciences or law enforcement?
Anderson: Yes! Absolutely. It’s an extraordinary thing. But much of that has to do with the character that was created by Chris Carter. It’s wonderful to be associated with, but it’s much more to do with the character that was written than necessarily anything I did.
Q: Are “The X-Files” gone forever?
Anderson: Probably not.
Q: News stories in the U.K., where some feel it’s high time that Dr. Who is a woman, say that woman could be you.
Anderson: That is not correct. It may need to be a woman, but it’s not going be to this woman, I’m afraid.
Q: Do you have anything in the works?
Anderson: Not to be discussed here. But thanks for asking.
Carole Burns is the author of “The Missing Woman and Other Stories,” which won the John C. Zacharis Award from the journal “Ploughshares.”
By Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel
Atria. 384 pp. $25