ANNABETH GISH (November 1999)

Actress Annabeth Gish came to Duke having already starred in Mystic Pizza. Since then, she's been in 30 film/television projects, including the recent hit Double Jeopardy. During her first visit to Duke since graduating, she chatted with Recess editor.

Question: What's your full name ?
Annabeth: Birth certificate style, it's Anne Elizabeth Gish. And actually, as I was reminded today by the alumni women, it's that way on my transcript. But I was always named that so I would be called Annabeth.

Question: How old were you when you got your first acting job ?
Annabeth: My first professional film job was when I was 13. That was Desert Bloom, a film with Jon Voight and Ellen Barkin.

Question: What was that like, as a 13-year-old ?
Annabeth: It was quite an awakening. It was a wonderful way to enter the film world, because it was a Sundance film and it was small, at the time when independent movies were just becoming a thing. It was funny because I think I'd always known that I wanted to be an actress, although I really didn't have a concept of what being an actress was, which is ironic because, well, how did I know. But I did, and to sort of have that world opened to me at a young age was incredibly awakening.

Question: Now when you came to Duke, you had already starred in Mystic Pizza. What was that like, coming to Duke already sort of being known ?
Annabeth: It was interesting because, I'll never forget my first week here and, walking along the Bryan Center walkway, it's shocking enough your freshman year, but I remember having someone come up to me and ask about it. They were showing Mystic Pizza that night as part of the student film thing, and it was just such a disjointed reality. I was like, wait a second, that's just too weird, I'm here as a freshman and as a student. Everyone was really cool about it, I mean, obviously when you come to Duke or any university environment where everyone has come from somewhere and done something.... And it might have been a little unusual, but it wasn't extra-special. Everybody was really cool about just kind of playing it down and letting me be a normal student and, you know, after they pretty much learned that I was not some sort of diva movie star, that it was clear that I was just like everybody else.

Question: Did you go to the screening ?
Annabeth: I didn't. No, I didn't. It would have been just too weird.

Question: To shift gears away from Duke a little bit, who would you say encouraged your acting career the most when you were growing up ?
Annabeth: Everybody thought I was... weird. You know, that I wanted to pursue this career. And it certainly wouldn't be Lilian Gish, the famous actress, because when I was twelve I wrote to her and said that I wanted to become an actress and what was her advice and just sort of by proxy of us having the same last name even though we're not related. So I'll give you a negative answer to your question. She was the one who did not encourage me, because she said there's too much talent and not enough work. Stay where people love you... the film industry is a gypsy lifestyle. And everything she said is absolutely true. But, if it appeals to you and it's in your blood and you get into it, it's a great life. And I think that along the way the actors that I worked with, you know, Jon Voight when I was 13, or Julian Lilly in Mystic Pizza, just along the way you meet so many fantastic, intriguing people, and so each one kind of inspired me to continue.

Question: There's a burgeoning group of young actors and actresses right now. Who of those do you think is doing the best work right now ?
Annabeth: Edward Norton. Absolutely. Without a doubt. I mean, I think he is a real talent. I like his work and his choices and... I think he's really one of the best of what's being put out there right now.

Question: Have you seen Fight Club, and if so, what did you think of it ?
Annabeth: Yeah. I have a lot of conflicting opinions about it, it raises a lot of issues for me because I think... stylistically and the camera work and everything was great, but I found that it sort of raised some contradictory issues about male power and male anger, and even male sexuality, which was never really addressed. But, ultimately, I commended [Edward Norton and Brad Pitt] for taking such risks on film....

Question: I almost liked how unsettled many viewers are when they left the theater.
Annabeth: Yeah, actually that's such a great thing. A film can be boring when it's just 'thumbs up,' you know, reviewed. When it starts a discourse and a dialogue, I think that's exactly what film should do, as a vehicle for conversation and personal evaluation, not necessarily as a political force, but as an impetus for conversation.

Question: What does it feel like to read a negative review of something you've done ? Does it get to you at all ?
Annabeth: Yeah, it absolutely does. I can't generalize, but I definitely take those to heart. But it's an interesting thing, sometimes it's better to be criticized.... It's better to hear something negative stated fully, rather than just something saying, "Oh, it's fine," or "nice." Those are the two worst words, "fine performance" or "nice performance," those are boring and bland, so it's much better if you have something to react to and change, if it need be.

Question: You can't turn on the television nowadays without 'star culture' intervening. What's your opinion of 'star culture' and its pervasiveness ?
Annabeth: I think it's sad. I really do. And I think it has, actually, a really dysfunctional effect on society and people, because everyone needs heroes, through timelessness, whether its a Greek god or a movie star. But, what's happening today I think is really dangerous because it's taking stars and putting them in our living rooms as some sort of demi-god kind of status, and not allowing us to really figure out whether or not we even respect them as role models.... I hate reading when, you know, you're reading an article and someone says, "Oh, what color lipstick do you use, Cindy?" or something. Why does that matter? I think that without a critical mind, which a lot of America doesn't have, the masses, you don't have any filter, and that's dangerous, I think. It's something I struggle with a lot, because I think the 'star culture' is at its worst right now.
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