Annabeth Gish breathes new life into The X-Files as agent Monica Reyes.

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.

Gish graduated with a degree in English and resumed her acting career, which she had scaled back while attending Duke. She 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.

Nine years later, Carter is still in charge and The X-Files is still entertaining viewers with tales of the fantastic and the grotesque. But the show's audience is shrinking. A spate of beloved baddies have received their comeuppance and appear no more. Duchovny is gone and Anderson is headed out the door after this season. Has The X-Files' magic run its course? Not for Gish, whose path has finally crossed with the series.

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 10th 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, 30. 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 woman 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," she says. A couple of weeks after the eighth season ended, Gish got the phone call she'd hoped for. "They invited me back [as a regular], 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 for the actress. "On a day-to-day basis, the crew and cast has 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 Monica Reyes, it's because Gish and her character are much alike in their attitudes and their outlook on life. She auditioned for the role with Carter and executive producer Frank Spotnitz toward the end of 2000, and "there was an instant attraction," Gish recalls. "I have always respected the work they do on the series. It's a quality show. And from what they told me about the character of Monica, it seemed like a really good match for me. On an 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.' And Monica is definitely a believer; she's very open-minded. I'd like to think those qualities can be attached to me as well.

"She is definitely a seeker, a soul searcher," Gish reflects. "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. 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 -- practical, analytical, skeptical -- actually fills the role of the "old," non-believing, Scully. Even Reyes' wardrobe, which follows a younger, trendier style, provides an immediate contrast with 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 has -- that's all a performance," the actress 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 on the show, is also a stretch for me," she adds with a laugh. "It doesn't just roll off my tongue as casually as it does for Monica. But in the 11 episodes I have shot so far, my vocabulary and my physical prowess have increased greatly. The longer I do it, the easier it will be. The experience of being able to run by an exploding ship and hold a gun at the ready -- it's really quite empowering."

As the ninth season progresses with new and exciting challenges 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 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 Robert 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 drinking 10 cups of coffee."

However unlikely it seems, Gish says James Pickens Jr. -- who plays Reyes' and Doggett's boss, the tough, terse deputy director Alvin Kersh -- shares her love of salsa dancing. "I can't wait to get out on the salsa floor with him," says 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 feel I'm in the presence of a great actor.

"The chemistry among all of us is great," adds Gish. "We all have distinctly different personalities, and it's nice for the show to mix it 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 Fullmer (Carey Elwes) will continue to pursue Reyes ... who harbors a secret flame for Doggett ... who holds a torch for Scully. "That's going to be great fun to play out," the actress says emphatically.

She's reluctant to give out details concerning upcoming stories and ongoing plot developments, but Gish does confirm that although Mulder is gone, he's not forgotten. "Even though David isn't on the show anymore, his legacy pervades a lot of our work," she says. "We will be looking for Mulder a lot. And Scully's baby, William, will figure in stories. But one of the interesting things about doing a television series is that, as an actor, you don't often know what's going to happen next. You have to wait and see, by the scripts they give you. I am curious to learn more about Monica's past, but I also love the cases that we investigate that have a spiritual bent. I can tell you we are doing a lot of stand-alone episodes that are primarily focused on Robert and I, Doggett and Reyes, as they try to establish a new relationship on the show."

At this point 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 her first day on the set are still sharp. "I had to report to work at about three in the morning," 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 I would trip and fall. It was quite an introduction to my new job."

Next was "Empedocles," in which Doggett and Reyes deal with an evil force that jumps from body to body. Reyes helped Doggett come to terms with his son's disappearance. "That episode was very dark," Gish notes. "I remember working with the little boy who played Doggett's son. He had to lay down on the grass to shoot a little sequence of shots, and it was hard to [step back 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" were the two halves of the Season Eight finale, in which Reyes took Scully out to an abandoned place where she could give birth to her potentially alien-hybrid baby. "That was a lot of 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 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," in which Reyes and Doggett took on deputy director Kersh over his complicity with conspirators -- and possibly aliens. A.D. Fullmer was introduced as Reyes' old flame. "That was great, because I finally got to tap into Monica's sexuality," Gish says. "That's an aspect of the character that Chris and Frank wanted to be clear -- Monica is a passionate, sexual, sexy woman. It was great to go there with Carey Elwes."

In "Daemonicus," Reyes and Doggett investigated a series of satanic ritual murders, their first "regular" X-Files case together. The 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, ironically, the story 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."

The episode "4D" offered an intriguing look at the idea of a parallel reality, a place in which each of us has a double. When Doggett is seriously injured by a killer who can move between the 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 states. "The piece was so well written for my character. As an actress, it contained the entire spectrum of emotion 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 10th 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 a new 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 Monica 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," she says.

One day The X-Files will pass into television and pop-culture history, and Gish expects to keep working, learning and growing as an actress. "I have been doing this since I was 13," she says. "I have grown immensely since then. Eventually I'd 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," says Annabeth Gish, "there are plenty of X-Files adventures ahead."
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