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DRUGS & SEX (AND POLITICS AND MOTHERHOOD) (November 2008)


Annabeth Gish was a teenager living in Iowa when she packed three attention-getting films — “Desert Bloom” (1986), “Mystic Pizza” (1988) and “Shag” (1989) — onto her resume and became the model of a Hollywood upstart.

But then Ms. Gish, as smart off-screen as the characters she played, took a detour to attend college. And for a while — a long while — her career languished while those of peers like Lili Taylor, Bridget Fonda and especially Julia Roberts snowballed.

These days Ms. Gish’s virtuous-seeming beauty is again on display in “Brotherhood,” the Showtime series about politics and crime on the Irish side of the tracks in Providence, R.I. Her character Eileen Caffee, the wife of Tommy (Jason Clarke), a city councilman, has grappled with sex, drugs and trying to be the glue that holds her family together.

Recently, just days after the birth of her second son, Ms. Gish, 37, spoke with Kathryn Shattuck about a career still unfurling. These are excerpts from their talk.

Question: Eileen is a complex character: a political wife and mother of three with some glaring weaknesses. Where is she now?
Annabeth: Every season has offered me a different challenge. The first season was Eileen’s drug use and sexual acting out, and the second was trying to find a way to fall back in love with her husband. This season was really about her trying to do the right thing, and about trying to find a purpose in her life outside of her role as a mother.

Question: How accurate do you think is the depiction of Eileen as a political wife?
Annabeth: Well, from some of the politicians’ wives I’ve spoken to — and I can’t make a blanket statement — I think they’ve done a very accurate job of painting the complications of it. There is masking that goes on, and a lot of emotion stays beneath the surface. One of the biggest challenges for me personally is that these characters don’t talk about their feelings, so to play a woman who suffers, who can’t say what she’s thinking — well, I’m probably too therapized and too expressive, but I felt like I had a straitjacket on so many times.

Question: You just had a baby, and the writers wove your pregnancy into the season. How was that?
Annabeth: My husband is the stunt coordinator on the show, and that position enables us to be all together in Providence while we’re shooting. As for the pregnancy, I had to call the writers in, I guess, April and suggest to them that I had a story line or a plot twist. And actually I think they did such a service to my pregnancy, period, but also to the character by weaving in this natural story line and further complicating and adding more significance to Eileen and Tommy’s marriage.

Question: You had your first roles as a teenager, and then things seemed to slow down a bit. Has your career met your expectations ?
Annabeth: I don’t know if I had any expectations. I know that I definitely deviated from a potential path after “Mystic Pizza” by deciding to go to college. I wasn’t on a meteoric rise like Julia, but by opting to go to school instead, I slowed things down.

Question: You had a nude scene as Eileen. Did you do any special preparation for that?
Annabeth: That was my first nude scene, but because it was not exploitative, it didn’t feel compromising to me. But it’s also one of the most liberating things for me personally, when you’re using your body freely, without judgment, to express a character’s emotional state. Did I work out? No, because Eileen doesn’t work out, and you can’t be a gym rat if you’re playing someone who isn’t.

Question: You and Eileen are the same age, but beyond that is there any other part of her that you can relate to?
Annabeth: I think just in the general juggling act of how to balance motherhood and work. How to be a sexual being but also be true to yourself and your partner. How to actualize all of your potential. I think these are just common, common feelings for men and women, but particularly women.

Question: What do you think people are learning by watching you as Eileen?
Annabeth: I guess playing Eileen has shown that I have different colors than people thought I had. Some people hit it when they’re young. But as far as where I’m going, I think that slow blooming will continue.
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