The Scully Effect: How “X-Files” Helped Mainstream Women In STEM Careers

Published January 31, 2015
Updated November 23, 2016

Scully Effect

Gillian Anderson was a twenty-four year old ingenue from Chicago when she auditioned for the part of Dana Scully. Even though Anderson told the producers of the show — titled The X-Files — that she was twenty-seven in order to fit the aesthetic of the FBI agent’s character, she was still the farthest thing from what they were looking for.

This was 1993. The show’s producers had already selected the comely, young David Duchovny for the role of the male protagonist, Special Agent Fox Mulder, and the co-starring role of Dana Scully was meant to be a tall blonde with big boobs, who would be a sexy sidekick for Duchovny.

Given the success of hyper-sexualized shows like Baywatch and the inherently less sexy dynamics of a sci-fi drama series, X-Files producers didn’t feel confident that they could succeed without a sexual touchstone in the series’ main cast. Cultural interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) that exists in many of today’s TV dramas had yet to dominate, so X-Files‘ creators really didn’t know if the show would succeed.

Scully Effect Badge

Source: Tumblr

When Anderson showed up to audition, she was almost laughably the opposite of a bombshell: she’s 5’3’’ in shoes, had mousy hair (that would eventually be dyed red, making the character of Dana Scully one of the most famous red-heads of all time) and wasn’t Pamela Anderson beautiful by any stretch of the imagination. She was dressed in a suit that was ill-fitting, one she’d borrowed from a friend, and had cheap shoes. She was the antithesis of sexy.

But something amazing happened when Anderson began to read alongside Duchovny. The immediate chemistry between the two actors completely revolutionized the character of Dana Scully, and suddenly no one in the room could see any other actress bringing her to life on the small screen. Anderson landed the part, which would make her a household name by the end of the decade.

The character of Special Agent Dana Scully, M.D. was presented in the pilot episode of X-Files as a necessary buffer for the brooding, conspiracy theorizing Mulder, whose incessant need to find “the truth” (a concept that encompassed the disappearance of his younger sister as well as a slew of government cover-ups for the existence of extraterrestrials) had begun to grind against his colleagues at the FBI. His superior at the bureau, Assistant Director Walter Skinner, assigns Agent Scully to calm Mulder’s enthusiasm with her monotone, hyper-rational verbiage.

Abby Norman
Abby Norman is a writer based in New England, currently writing a memoir for Nation Books. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Independent, Cosmopolitan, Medium, Seventeen, Romper, Bustle, and Quartz.
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