When Annabeth Gish made “Mystic Pizza” in 1988, she received top billing over Julia Roberts. The hit romantic comedy featured a cast poised to become stars: Lili Taylor, Vincent D’Onofrio and two lesser known actors, William R. Moses and Adam Storke. Afterward, Julia Roberts went off to become, well, “Pretty Woman” and the most popular actress of her generation. Gish, who co-stars on FX’s intriguing new crime drama “The Bridge,” went off to college. The daughter of two professors enrolled as an English major at Duke University, leaving the business for a chunk of time to study Milton with the renowned Southern novelist Reynolds Price. In this case, the road taken, as Robert Frost might have said, has made all the difference.

“It proved vital for my intelligence and social experience,” says Gish, 42. Her matriculation was not entirely free of some Hollywood touches. When it came time to take her final exam, Gish couldn’t write; she’d lopped off her pinky making a television pilot with Wes Craven. “I had to sit and talk to Reynolds Price in his house about ‘Paradise Lost’ for four hours.”

This willingness to take an unconventional path is partly what led Gish to “The Bridge,” the edgy, sun-baked murder mystery that premiered on FX this summer. Based on a joint Danish/Swedish murder mystery, the series, developed by Elwood Reid and Meredith Stiehm (“Homeland”), uses a commonplace TV plot — serial murders — to make a political statement about immigration issues affecting Mexico and the United States. Not only is the first corpse found on the bridge connecting Juarez and El Paso, the narrative eventually leads to the discovery of a tunnel between the two cities that ends on the property of Gish’s character, rich widow Charlotte Millwright.

The tunnel, built by Charlotte’s late husband, is used by a drug cartel run by an extremely dangerous woman named Graciela (Alma Martinez), whom Gish nicknames “the evil cartel madonna.”

As Gish tells it, the tunnel is the focus of the series’ remaining episodes.

“Charlotte owns the tunnel through which the storylines begin to merge,” she says. “There’s gangster stuff coming.”

Though Gish’s scenes are filmed on a ranch in California’s lush Simi Valley, she has no doubt of the veracity of the “Bridge” subplot. “I bet you there are a bunch of them,” she says. “This s – - t is real. Where do you think the Mexican cartel gets all of their weapons? From the US.”

With her separate storyline, Gish has remained isolated from the show’s stars, Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir, except at table reads. The extra space has given her the chance to evolve Charlotte from gold-digging widow to a woman fighting for her own piece of the pie.

“You think Charlotte’s a trophy wife of a wealthy Texas rancher. But now it’s about survival.” Gish says. “She’ll take over the ownership and running of the tunnel. The way they’ve written her is unusual.”

“They” includes Reid, Stiehm, and novelist Patrick Somerville. “There’s nothing slick about any of the people writing for this show,” she says. “I love working with people who are atypical for Hollywood.”

Most atypical is the portrayal of women on “The Bridge.” The writers have established a nice triangle of right and wrong and the gray area in between among its female characters. Detective Sonya Cross (Kruger) has so far yet to discover the tunnel owned by Charlotte or the nefarious underworld operated by Graciela, but you sense that’s where the series is headed.

What remains unclear is how Charlotte will deal with her friend Ray (Brian van Holt), a friend with benefits visiting her from Tampa. Gish’s sex scenes with van Holt have provided an earthy contrast to the show’s procedural plot.

“In the pilot, it was about the death of Charlotte’s husband. I didn’t realize how sexy the role would be,” Gish says. “As a 42-year-old mother of two, it’s good to be seen in a different light.”

Thankfully, most of those times, the lights are low. But the vibe is never comfortable. “Brian and I got through [the sex scenes] as best you can,” she says. “You do everything you can to feel safe, but there’s a roomful of people watching and listening to you. As an actress, I used to play a lot of best friend roles and now I’m a harlot.”

Her private life is much more sedate. Gish is married to “Bridge” supervising stunt coordinator Wade Allen. They have two sons, Cash — named for Allen’s favorite singer, Johnny Cash — and Enzo, ages 7 and 5. Mostly she’s learned to relax about the risks involved with her husband’s job.

“Watching him doing stunts. I find him incredibly proficient and never reckless. But it’s not my cup of tea. When he’s setting himself on fire, I say, ‘Tell me about it later,’ ” she says, adding wryly, “It’s one of the sexy additives in our marriage.”

They met 12 years ago when she played Monica Reyes on “The X Files” and he did stunts on the show. So she will always have a soft spot for the iconic Fox sci-fi drama. “It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me,” she says. “It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I had two years of wonderful work and I loved it.”

A quarter-century has passed since “Mystic Pizza” premiered and Gish is proud to say that “we’re all still here in different realms. I’ve taken my time and my convoluted path. Lili has a new show on Fox [‘Almost Human’], Certainly, Julia’s attainment of superstar status is something to behold. It was a very talented young crew. It’s crazy to think that was 25 years ago.”
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