GISH FULFILLMENT (March 2002)
After an impressive debut as special Agent Monica Reyes in Season Eight, Annabeth Gish has continued to bring a fresh feel to The X-Files. The actress chats to Ian Spelling about her – and her character’s – progress.
From that deliriously odd decidedly personal X-Files called exception versus reality, Annabeth Gish observes the following so far as her character, Special Agent Monica Reyes, is concerned : "I thought that she might be more esoteric, more ethereal, based on the way that Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz presented her to me at the beginning, when we first talked about how Reyes would develop," the friendly and soft-spoken actress says. "But I think, actually, that might have been my own misconception, because she’s also an FBI agent and she has to have a lot of practical, tactical and logistical skills that she can perform. I don’t know that any agent could perform all those skills and be too esoteric and ethereal. So the performance aspect that’s been the most challenging is being a detective, as opposed to being a spiritual, open-minded woman. The way she is now, she’s a bit of both. She’s an FBI agent who has a bit of the ethereal in her. Chris and Frank are cultivating that more and more, but she has to deliver when it comes down to wielding a gun and doing her job. That’s been interesting for me."
Asked about her initial reaction to her character, Gish is full of enthusiasm. "I liked Reyes’ disposition right away," she says. "She had a willingness to believe without knowing much. She was open-minded and had this attraction to the other realm without pure, direct experience of it. I don’t think Monica had seen alien spacecraft before, but it was in her nature to have a sensitive, mystical thirst for whatever is out there. We’ve touched on that and I hope it’s an aspect that they’ll really pursue. There’s also a lot about her past that I don’t know yet. I’ve sort of collaborated on our idea about how she came to be here. They’re giving me some roots to feed on, but as with any series the characters evolve as the stories evolve. So I think that Chris and Frank are discovering who Monica is, just as I am. It’s happening simultaneously and I like what I’m seeing. What else would like to know about her? I’d like to know about her experience with her family, her mother and father. I think there’s some mystical aspect to her background, and I’d like to explore that or at least touch on that. I think that knowing what happened in the past will give you a better understanding of why she is now. I also want to know why she’s into the occult."
Gish arrived on The X-Files scene late in the eighth season, appearing first in "This Is Not Happening" and then returning a few episodes later for "Empedocles", "Essence" and "Existence". The character was quickly partnered with Special John Doggett (Robert Patrick) and thrown into the mix as Doggett and Scully (Gillian Anderson) dealt with the return of Mulder (David Duchovny) and the impending birth of Scully’s baby. The realm of series television was pretty new to Gish, who’d acted in the short-lived show Courthouse and a bunch of made-for-TV movies, including Scarlett, Don’t Look Back, God’s New Plan and, most recently The Way She Moves. However, Gish is best known for her work in such features as Desert Bloom, Mystic Pizza, Wyatt Earp, Nixon, Beautiful Girls, Steel, the box office hit Double Jeopardy, and the soon-to-be-released independent features Buying the Cow and Race to Space, the latter of which co-stars James Woods, Jake Lloyd of Star Wars : Episode I – The Phantom Menace fame, and X-Files veteran John O’Hurley.
Gish quickly discovered that The X-Files production team spends more days shooting an episode than just about any show on TV and that those days can easily run 12 or 14 hours or even longer. And, just as the rigors of weekly television were new to Gish, so too was much of The X-Files universe.
"I was a casual X-Files watcher, but you have to understand that I’ve never been a religious watcher of any television program," she says. "I’d definitely watched the first few season while I was in college. That was a big Friday night thing, watch The X-Files before you go out. As for the entries mythology… man, I tried to download some of it on the computer before I started with the show and it was so extensive and so deep and profound that I was kind of intimidated and daunted. The good thing was that Monica Reyes doesn’t have to know everything. She, like I was, was walking into the mythology kind of blind."
Bye the time Season Nine rolled around, Reyes was on hand as a fulltime presence, while Mulder vanished into the night, Scully spent much of the her time at her new job at Quantico, and Doggett tried to fill Mulder’s shoes, win Scully’s affections and trust, and solve cases – of both the standalone and mythology variety – with Reyes. Meanwhile, with each passing day and each passing case, Reyes seemed to grow fonder and fonder of Doggett. Where any of this is leading, Gish has no idea.
"The frustrating thing about series work is that you don’t know the entire story and you have to wait to know it," explains the actress, who was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and now lives in Los Angeles. "And even though you don’t know it you have to play it out every week, a little bit at a time. So there are pieces of the puzzle that don’t quite fit or don’t match up yet or that’s frustrating as an actress. I want to know what’s going on between Doggett and Reyes. There’s this unrequited love. They’ve set up that Scully loves Mulder, Doggett loves Scully, Reyes loves Doggett and Follmer, Cary Elwes’ Character, loves Reyes. So they’ve set that up and it’s all unrequited. I think there’s a lot of sexual tension going on. And I think they should explore that, dammit!"
The ongoing, teasing, will-they/won’t-they nature of the romantic situation between Reyes-Doggett forces Gish and Patrick to carefully calibrate their performances, both when the characters are together and when they’re apart. A longing glance here or there might suggest something to the audience that Carter and Spotnitz never intended to convey. No episode highlighted the point better than "4-D", the parallel universe show. Early on, Doggett brings his partner a housewarming gift of Polish sausage with mustard. The banter is sweet and when one character affectionately wipes some mustard off the face of the other, there’s no denying the sexual tension. Gish’s face registers comfort, warmth and familiarity, while Patrick’s betrays that plus a touch of conclusion : "Hmm, I think this woman is into me". Later, that scene gains relevance and impact when Doggett ends up paralyzed.
"It was awkward for Robert and me to film that [mustard-wiping sequence] because we haven’t gone there romantically as our characters", Gish notes. "But that scene was so good. And the word is 'calibrate.' That’s the perfect word. It’s frustrating, as I said, not to know where things are going, but it’s also great as an actress to always have an obstacle. My relationship with Doggett always has an obstacle in the way. Either he doesn’t want to love me or he’s in love with Scully. I don’t know if he even recognizes that Monica loves him. It’ll be very interesting to see how they play it out, but Chris and Frank haven’t told me anything."
While many of her scenes pair her with Patrick, Gish has found herself part of an ensemble cast. That’s been another new experience and one quite to her liking. "The amazing thing about Chris and Frank is that they have the ability to find actors who are interesting and as talented as hell," Gish enthuses. "They really do attract great actors, from the main parts to the recurring parts to even the smallest roles. David, Gillian and Robert, myself and Cary are completely different beings. I think we each have very different characteristics and qualities, and that’s good for the show. The one thing we all are, though, is dedicated and professional. It’s not like any of us are standing around, stomping our feet and saying, ‘Get the limo to take me home!’ We’re all about the work and we’re all dedicated to the work. I think Chris sort of demands that. He chooses actors who can execute that way, under these conditions."
Gish has been called upon to do some strange things in a handful of her previous projects. She, along with Cameron Diaz, Courteney B. Vance and Ron Eldard, wined, dined, murdered and buried Jason Alexander, Ron Perlman and others in the black comedy The Last Supper. And, hell, she acted with Shaquille O’Neal in the comic book-based big-screen epic, Steel. The X-Files, however, regularly requires that Gish participate in a variety of crazy things, the kinds of things that prompt her to call her friends and family after a day’s work and, sometimes, right after she wraps a scene.
"Doing some of the stuff in 'Lord of the Flies' was pretty darn weird," she says, laughing. "Getting in that plastic sheath [which served as spider webbing] was pretty weird. I’ve had to look at hamburger meat that was used as the brain in a skull. Delivering the baby [in "Existence"] was pretty wild. One of the most exhilarating experiences was doing the episodes with the ship ["Nothing Important Happened Today, Part II"]. That explosion scene was one of the most extensive stunts I’d ever been a part of and it was totally exciting."
Gish was obviously disappointed by the news of the series’ cancellation. She wanted the show to continue and she wants fans to give her and the show – which she acknowledges was starting to morph into something new – a fair shake.
"I think people like what I’m doing," she says, bringing the conversation to an end. "I’m sure there are those who are very loyal to Mulder and Scully and don’t want to have anything to do with Reyes and Doggett. As a whole, though, I think people are seeing good work and a good show."