AT HOME WITH: ANNABETH GISH (December 2011)
Challenging roles that deal with conflict and self-discovery stand out in Annabeth Gish's film and television career. The actress, known for her work in the award-winning Showtime series Brotherhood and films including Wyatt Earp, Nixon and The Celestine Prophecy, currently appears in the ABC Family series Pretty Little Liars as Dr. Anne Sullivan, therapist to the three pretty little liars on the show. We caught up with Gish to talk about an upcoming project and life off the set.
Your upcoming A&E Network mini-series, Stephen King's Bag of Bones, has you playing the wife of a novelist who's haunted on several levels in the two-night show (airing on Sunday, Dec. 11 and concluding on Monday. Dec. 12 at 9 p.m. Eastern both nights). What's the story about?
It's a love story, a mystery and a ghost story all in one. Pierce Brosnan plays the novelist, Mike Noonan, and I play Jo Noonan, his wife and the love of his life. The novelist has a home that his family had, and within this house, I discover the secrets of my husband's past. I die, but then I come back with clues to a mystery that transcends time and helps to clear his past. So much of it is the story of a home.
So it's a haunted house?
Yes. In this case, it's about unresolved spirits coming back as ghosts. My character's soul can't rest until the mystery of a woman named Sara Tidwell (Anika Noni Rose) is put to rest. Jo painted, and the house calls to her. So she paints huge portraits of Sara Tidwell, and doesn't even know who she is. We filmed in Halifax, and the house on Dark Score Lake was stunning. It was a lake cabin, set amidst rugged territory with a beautiful, vast landscape. They transformed the garage into my character's art studio, which created a visceral world for me. I'm not alive for much of the film, and for my time on screen, we needed Jo to present an essence. Working on that set helped me to create my character.
It's amazing how much of our spirits can be felt in a home.
We spend so much of our time there. I think people's essences are absorbed into the homes in which they live. You can sense if a place is happy and healthy when you walk into it.
What was your childhood home like?
All of my family members, brother, sister and I were born in Albuquerque, N.M., where my parents were raised. Both my parents were teachers, so they moved us to Cedar Falls, Iowa, where my father taught Native American literature at the University of Northern Iowa and my mother was a teacher in the Malcolm Price Laboratory School. Cedar Falls was as idyllic as you can get, and now that I have two children of my own, I long for that kind of place. All of my friends lived within a two to three block radius. It was safe to walk to school. Ours was a middle class, split-level home with a gorgeous Linden tree in the front yard. People would come over, sit on the porch, and drink iced tea. During the summer months, when friends would go different places on vacation, I would complain that the only place I got to go was New Mexico. When my parents retired, they moved back there, and now I take my family to visit them no less than two to three times a year.
So New Mexico has become a personal retreat?
It's a completely centering place for me. My parents live in a place at La Luz, a community compound of town homes near the Rio Grande River that was designed by Antoine Predock, an Albuquerque architect (and winner of the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 2005). La Luz means "the light" in Spanish, and the homes all face the mountains and the sunrise. The structures are all adobe and concrete, and it looks like they're built into the mesa. There's a grove of cottonwood trees at La Luz, and every time I go back, I sit there and marvel at how beautiful they are.
Where do you live now, and what makes your neighborhood special?
My husband Wade Allen and I have lived in the same house in Los Angeles for 10 years. It was a pocket-listed house and a girlfriend who was a REALTOR showed it to us. We brought our two sons (Cash, 5 and Enzo, 3) home here, and it's a haven. Some people think the house has a Japanese Zen flavor to it, but it's a 1941 ranch home that was remodeled before we bought it. It's got a red door and a lot of bamboo around it. With kids, you're brought out of the house, and into the community. I have a lot of good, close girlfriends here, and we all have boys. We make it a ritual to have a community table and dine together. Sometimes parenting can be isolating, so we get together once or twice a week at each other's houses.
What's the most important room in the house to you?
We have a nice flow between the living room, dining room and kitchen, but everyone tends to hang out in the kitchen. I love to cook, but what I really revel in is cooking our holiday meals. My favorite is making the traditional Thanksgiving dinner -- turkey, Brussels sprouts, green bean casserole and potatoes. My parents instilled in us the idea of everyone sitting down to dinner at the same time, and I love that.
Any other favorite features in your current house?
It sometimes overwhelms my husband that I'm an avid reader because there are a lot of books in our home. We have floor to ceiling bookshelves that are like diaries, or maps to life, where you can attach a time in your life to the book you read. There are books in every room -- the kitchen, living room, master bedroom, the bathrooms, the boys have their own bookcases, which are full. We spend so much time looking at screens, I'm holding out the last vestige of paper books.
What's your favorite architectural style?
I like modern architecture that's organic, anything that changes the way in which you view the perspective of the landscape, without obstructing it. I like the style of Gregory Ain, Richard Neutra, John Lautner, and things that are symbiotic with nature.
What does home life mean to you?
Home life means a paradox of peace and chaos. It's where so much of our lives happen. There's drama, emotion, and discussion, but also sleep, nurturing, gathering and cuddling.