SOUL SEARCHER (March 2002)
X-Files agent Annabeth Gish seeks what truths lurk in the shadows & what lies dwell in the light.
In 1993, Annabeth Gish was a student at Duke University when an intriguing new TV show called The X-Files made its debut on Fox. "It was quickly a big thing on campus," she remembers.
After Gish graduated with a degree in English, she resumed her acting career -- which she had scaled back while attending school. She promptly landed roles in several TV movies and feature films, including Wyatt Earp (1994), Nixon (1995) and Beautiful Girls (1996). Meanwhile, The X-Files' fan base grew steadily and its ratings climbed. With Chris Carter at the helm and David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson sparkling on screen, the show became an indisputable hit for the Fox Network.
Nine years later, Carter is still in charge and The X-Files continues to entertain viewers with tales of the fantastic and the grotesque. But the show's audience is shrinking. A spate of beloved baddies received their comeuppance, Duchovny left last season and Anderson is headed out the door after this one. Has The X-Files magic run its course? Not for Gish, whose professional path first crossed with the series during its eighth season.
After four guest appearances last year, Gish is now a regular on The X-Files, starring as Special Agent Monica Reyes. The stage is set for Gish to replace Anderson if the series should be renewed for a tenth season, just as Robert Patrick stepped in to fill the void created by Duchovny's departure.
"When I first signed on, it was just for a four-episode arc," explains Gish. Those four episodes -- "This Is Not Happening," "Empedocles," "Essence," and "Existence" -- introduced Agent Reyes as a loyal friend of Doggett's, and presented her as a women with certain spiritual notions, with an expertise in satanic cults. "It was certainly a trial period, and I was nervous. I just wanted to do the best job possible, in hopes that I could join the cast." A few weeks after Season Eight ended, Gish got the phone call she had been waiting for. "They invited me back [as a regular]," she smiles, "and I was thrilled."
But joining a long-running, successful TV series at a time of transition, amid speculation that the end may be near, has not come without challenges. "On a day-to-day basis, the crew and cast have been warm and welcoming to me," says Gish. "This is truly one of the best work experiences I've ever had. But it is difficult to enter something that has such a loyal fan base and such high standards. In that sense, this job has been a bit nerve-wracking. I try not to think about those things. I have to do my job the best I can and hopefully, whatever is meant to happen, will."
If that sounds suspiciously like something Reyes would say, that's because Gish and her character are much alike in their attitudes and outlook on life. The actress first auditioned in front of Carter and executive producer Frank Spotnitz toward the end of 2000, and "there was an instant attraction," Gish recalls. "I've always respected the work they do on the series. It's a quality show. And from what they told me about the character, it seemed like a really good match for me. On a emotional level, there are things about me that are very similar to Monica."
Carter, she says, wanted the character to bring some new qualities to his show. "Chris kept using the words 'sunny' and 'light' and 'levity,' " she comments. "And Monica is definitely a believer; she's very open-minded. I would like to think those qualities can be attached to me as well.
"She is definitely a seeker, a soul searcher," Gish adds. "She is not content to see the surface of things. She has a deep spiritual connection to the world. Her past, as we come to find out in subsequent episodes, includes the fact that she grew up in Mexico. So she has a broad cultural awareness of spirit, and she mixes that with the science of her detective work in the FBI. She melds those two facets together, or at least she tries to."
It's a characterization that has obvious parallels to Mulder, while Doggett -- who is practical, analytical, skeptical -- actually fills the role of the "old," unbelieving Scully. Even Reyes' wardrobe, which follows a younger, trendier style, provides an immediate contrast to Scully, who favors more conservative attire. "Right," Gish affirms. "They want Monica to be broader-minded and a little more freaky -- in a good way."
Reyes' FBI work, on the other hand, is totally foreign to Gish. "The weapons training and the courage and the fearlessness she had, that's all performance," she admits. "I am not typically known as a bad-ass, but Monica is. She's really fearless and willing to fire guns. Those are different qualities for me, qualities that I've had to kind of fake.
"The technical terms and jargon, the language of the show, is also a stretch for me," she laughs. "They don't just roll off my tongue as casually as they do for Monica. But in the 11 episodes I've shot so far, my vocabulary and physical prowess have increased greatly. The longer I do it, the easier it will be. The experience of running by an exploding ship and holding a gun at the ready...it's really quite empowering."
As the ninth season progresses with fresh and exciting experiences for Gish, it's all winding down for Anderson, who has helped her new co-star adjust to the rigors of life on The X-Files. "Gillian has been a mentor to me," Gish notes. "Think of all she has accomplished in these years on this show. I marvel at how she and David did this alone for seven years. It's amazing! Gillian's stamina and endurance are an example for me. And the parallel between what is art and what is life has been interesting. As Gillian and I have progressed in getting to know each other and in working together, so has the professional relationship [developed] between Monica and Scully. Obviously, when Monica delivered Scully's baby [in "Existence"], that formed a huge bond between them, and I think they will cultivate that friendship throughout the rest of the season."
As for Patrick, Gish says, "He has so much energy. He's very rugged, tough, masculine. He infused a new vibe into the series and just re-energized it. Robert is like drink 10 cups of coffee."
However unlikely it seems, Gish remarks that James Pickens Jr. -- who plays Reyes' and Doggett's boss, the tough, terse FBI Deputy Director Alvin Kersh -- shares her love of salsa dancing. "I can't wait to get out on the salsa floor with him," comments Gish, who starred last August in a salsa film called The Way She Moves on VH1. "Maybe that should be in The X-Files -- Kersh and Reyes doing salsa. Every time I work with James, I'm impressed by the weight and distinction of his performance. I fell I'm in the presence of a great actor. The chemistry among all of us is great. We all have distinctly different personalities, and it's nice that the show mixes them up."
Indeed, there should be plenty of mixing in future episodes as the love triangle heats up between Reyes, Doggett and Scully. "It's actually a 'love square,' " Gish clarifies, pointing out that Assistant Director Brad Follmer (Cary Elwes) will continue to pursue Reyes, who harbors a secret flame for Doggett, who holds a torch for Scully. "That's going top be great fun to play out."
Although she's reluctant to provide details concerning upcoming stories and ongoing plot developments, Gish does confirm that despite the fact that Mulder is gone, he's not forgotten. "Even though David isn't on the show anymore, his legacy pervades much of our work," she offers. "We'll be looking for Mulder quite a big. And Scully's baby, William, will figure in the stories. One of the interesting things about doing a TV series is that, as an actor, you don't know what's going to happen next. You have to wait and see the scripts they give you. I'm curious to learn more about Monica's past, but I also love the cases that we investigate which have spiritual bent. I can tell you that we're doing quite a few stand-alone episodes which are primarily focused on Doggett and Reyes, as they try to establish a new relationship on the show."
As this point in the series, it's easier for Gish to look back at her completed work than to conjecture about forthcoming developments. "This Is Not Happening," in which Mulder turns up dead and then is re-abducted by aliens before Scully can pursue a resurrection attempt, was Gish's debut episode. Her memories of that first day on the set are still sharp. "I had to report to work at about 3 a.m.," she says. "We were at a location about an hour-and-a-half away from the studio, and I was working with a crew that was totally new to me. I couldn't even see them in the dark. I had to run down a hill saying, 'Stop! I'm a federal agent!' I was petrified that I would trip and fall. It was quite an introduction to my new job."
Next was "Empedocles," where Doggett and Reyes deal with an evil force that jumps from body to body. In that episode, Reyes also helps Doggett come to terms with his son's disappearance. "That was very dark," admits Gish. "I remember working with the little boy who played Doggett's son. He had to lay down on the grass for a sequence of shots, and it was hard to [remove myself from the fiction]. You don't want this little boy to be hurt. It's just storytelling, but it's hard to step away from that sometimes."
"Essence" and "Existence" served as Year Eight's two-part finale. In that pair of episodes, Reyes takes Scully out to an abandoned place, where she gives birth to her possibly alien-hybrid baby. "That was fun, because the stakes were so high," Gish relates. "I had never delivered a baby before, either in real life or on film, so I had to research that. At one point, they said, 'Just pull it out, pretend it's a football.' They had to use some cosmetic substances for the special effects, too. It was pretty trippy."
Season Nine opened with the two-part "Nothing Important Happened Today," which has Reyes and Doggett take on Deputy Director Kersh over his complicity with conspirators -- and possibly aliens. A.D. Follmer is also introduced as Reyes' old flame. "That was great, because I finally got to explore Monica's sexuality," says Gish. "That was an aspect of the character that Chris and Frank wanted to be clear -- Monica is a passionate, sexual women. It was great to go there with Cary Elwes."
In "Daemonicus," Reyes and Doggett investigate a series of satanic ritual murders, their first "regular" X-Files case together. But, unfortunately, that episode will be forever linked to the catastrophic events of September 11 for all the cast and crew, as they were working on "Daemonicus" that day. "It was very difficult to concentrate while we were shooting that one," Gish says. "It was hard to go to work and tell that story, even though it was about evil. We had to try to tap into that, but it was hard to focus and do our work as if nothing had happened."
"4D" offers an intriguing look at the idea of a parallel reality, a place where everyone has a double. When Doggett is seriously injured by a killer who can move between dimensions, Reyes makes the difficult decision to cut off her partner's life-support systems -- which allows his double from the alternate reality to join her in this world. "That was perhaps the greatest experience I've had on The X-Files," Gish opines. "The piece was so well-written for my character. As an actress, it contained the entire spectrum of emotions for me to play. I spent myself entirely on that show. That's what any actor aspires to, where you really get to dig in deep. Plus, I thought the whole premise of the show, about an alternate parallel world that we can enter into and out of, was very cool."
Gish insists she doesn't know whether The X-Files will be back for a tenth year, but if it is, she agrees that Doggett and Reyes will be the new Mulder and Scully. "I believe that's the plan," she says. "I don't know for sure what direction Chris is taking the show, but obviously, he brought in a new male and female."
And, if by some chance, The X-Files were to stick around for several more years, Gish would be more than happy to play Reyes for as long as it lasts. "The quality of the writing is so high. Doing this show is a bit like boot camp training, but I figure as long as I do it, I can do anything when it's over.
I've been acting since I was 13," Annabeth Gish notes. "And I've grown immensely since then. Eventually, I would like to try to write and direct, but only after I feel equipped to do so. That time has not come yet. In the meantime, there are plenty of X-Files adventures ahead."