Experienced young movie actress Annabeth Gish answered students' questions Monday evening about her career in Hollywood, including her decision to leave the movie business briefly to attend the University.

The actress, who spoke in Branson Theater, currently stars in Double Jeopardy with Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd. She has also been in such movies as Shag, Wyatt Earp, Beautiful Girls and Nixon.

Gish, Trinity '93, began her career at age eight in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where she performed in local theater.

She got her first film role at age 13, after beating out 700 other girls for a part in Robert Redford's Desert Bloom. At yesterday's talk, Gish remarked on her fast climb to the top: "It was fluky. It was rare and weird, and it was also a blessing."

Gish said she decided to leave the film world temporarily and attend Duke because she was not ready for the fame of such a high-profile career. "I wasn't ready personally to go out there," she said. "I didn't have the toolbox, and I've never regretted it for a second."

After co-starring with Julia Roberts and Lili Taylor in the film Mystic Pizza, Gish came to the University.

Responding to a question about her choice of Duke over a drama institute, Gish said, "I really struggled with that because I knew I wanted to be an actress, but I'm so glad I came to Duke. I think it's so great to go to a liberal arts school because you get such a base of knowledge to begin and depart from," she said.

Gish emphasized the importance of her education to her career and life in general. "I'm really, really grateful for what I began to learn here. College was a time where I learned to ask questions," she said. "It's like all these little seeds were planted in college, and I've been able to water some of them."

An English major at Duke, Gish said she continues to do a lot of creative writing, both outside of work and to help with her film career. Gish said she often explores a role by writing in a journal as that character. "

"In the film world there's such lag time, even on the set, that writing has been a wonderful outlet for me, and it may even turn into something professional," she said.

For now, Gish said her next career move is into the production field; she is co-producing a film that she described as "My Dinner With Andre meets The Big Chill."

She added that she would eventually like to direct, but for now she is satisfied with her career.

Gish also spoke on the changing role of the actor in Hollywood. "It's a different generation of film actors out and about today," she said. "It's unfortunate because there's not a lot of training among the youth in Hollywood today.... I know of a lot of actors who are so good at being themselves that they play that. They're just a personality instead of playing a character."

Gish said she has a desire to follow a growing number of Hollywood actors who are returning to the live stage: "I've been doing TV and film for 15 years, so at this point [trying stage work] is a necessity."

In response to an audience member's request for advice on how to pursue acting, Gish said that if she had to do it all over again, she would probably never choose the same career.

"It takes so much fortitude because skill doesn't guarantee success at all," she said. "But if you have something inside of you that is so determined to get there, that's how you're going to get there."
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