IN STEP WITH ANNABETH GISH (August 1999)
Annabeth Gish has it all: a degree from Duke, a role in the big new film Double Jeopardy and a "wonderful" letter from a silent screen legend who shares her last name.
Personal: Born March 13, 1971, in Albuquerque, N.M.
Films: Include Desert Bloom, 1986; Hiding Out, 1987; Mystic Pizza, 1988; Shag, 1989; Coupe de Ville, 1990; Silent Cries, 1993; Wyatt Earp, 1994; Nixon, 1995; Beautiful Girls, 1996; The Last Supper, 1996; Steel, 1997; S.L.C. Punk!, 1999; Double Jeopardy, 1999.
Television: Includes Hero in the Family, 1986; When He's Not a Stranger, 1989; The Last To Go, 1991; Lady Against the Odds, 1992; Silent Cries, 1993; Scarlett, 1994; Courthouse, 1995; What Love Sees, 1996; Don't Look Back, 1996; Sealed With a Kiss, 1999; Different, 1999; God's New Plan, 1999.*
We all hear about the young women who drop out of school to be discovered by Hollywood. Meet Annabeth Gish, who left a successful Hollywood career to go to Duke University, where she concentrated on English, drama and women's studies.
Since both of her parents were teachers themselves, had they pressured their young actress-daughter to get a degree ?
"My parents left the decision to me - Hollywood or college," Annabeth said. "I knew I wanted those four years of seclusion, and now I'm a fuller, more rounded person. I loved Duke."
Annabeth's latest film, Double Jeopardy, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd, is due out next month. It's about a man who fakes his own death to collect the insurance. "It's a bit film noir, combined with a more contemporary action-adventure," Ms. Gish told me. "Tommy adds a terrific integrity to the work and Bruce Beresford [Driving Miss Daisy] is one of our finest directors. He and I had tried to work together on another project that didn't work out. So when this came along, Bruce thought of me, and I didn't have to go through all the folderol to get the role."
"It takes place in New Orleans and Minnesota," Annabeth added. "Except for the exteriors, we shot it all in Vancouver. In the past year, I made four movies - one in Vancouver and three in Toronto. I may be taking out Canadian citizenship next." Or going to hockey games, I suggested. "I saw my first hockey game this year," said Annabeth, but she's more interested in another sport: "Ashley [Judd] went to the University of Kentucky. There's a huge rivalry in basketball between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Duke Blue Devils."
Despite her name, Annabeth is not related to the Gish sisters, Dorothy and Lillian, stars of the silent screen. "But when I was 12, I wrote Lillian Gish," she said. "I told her that my grandmother's name was also Lillian Gish and that I was going to become an actress. And she wrote back - a wonderful letter."
Of course Annabeth did become an actress, and at age 15 she was hailed by the critic Roger Ebert for the "stunning power" of her performance in Desert Bloom. And before interrupting her career to enroll at Duke, she made the film Mystic Pizza with a young Julia Roberts. It's become a cult video," Annabeth said. "And it was the beginning of Julia's ascent."
Annabeth Gish plays "a really funky girl" who was jilted by her lover in the CBS-TV movie Sealed With a Kiss, set to air Sept. 19.
"It's a comedy - a change of roles for me," she said. "Usually I'm in tears or have an affliction or both." Such as? "I've been blind, a paraplegic, a schizophrenic ...."
In the Kevin Costner flop Wyatt Earp, she played Earp's first wife. "That movie was disappointing only in that it wasn't a big success," she said. "A movie is ruined, or not, by what people say or write about it."
Following Wyatt Earp she filmed a CBS Gone With the Wind sequel in which she played Mrs. Rhett Butler to Timothy Dalton's Rhett. And she was Julie Nixon Eisenhower in Oliver Stone's Nixon.
"I really wanted to meet Julie," she said. "But the family maintained its distance from the film, so I didn't."
Did Stone live up to his wild man reputation ? "He's a consummate filmmaker," Ms. Gish replied. "Everything was tame on that set. Partly because of Anthony Hopkins [as Nixon]. What a gentleman. I'd seen him on stage in Antony and Cleopatra. Now here I was, playing his daughter."