Being in the television and film industry can be extremely difficult. Endless auditions and constant rejections are something you deal with on a daily basis. When you do finally land the “gig”, you don’t know how long it’s going to last and when it is over, you’re back to square one. But there are a select few actors in the industry that work on a steady basis and continue to grow as an artist as they progress in their respective careers. Annabeth Gish is one of those rare actors. From her breakout role in the classic film Mystic Pizza at the young age of 17, where she had top billing over another young actress named Julia Roberts, to standout performances as Monica Reyes on The X-Files and Elizabeth Westin on The West Wing, Annabeth has built an impressive resume of film and television credits that would be the envy of anyone in the industry. She can currently be seen on the hit FX freshman series The Bridge playing Charlotte Millwright, a wealthy widow whose rancher husband suffered a myocardial infarction on the Mexican side of the border and died back in El Paso. She finds out that her husband kept many secrets from her during their marriage.
Annabeth was gracious enough to sit down with us and talk about her new series, social media, and the love she has for fans of The X-Files franchise.
TVWise: Can you tell us a little bit about The Bridge?
Annabeth Gish: It’s a hard question because the show is so sprawling. The show is just not one genre. Yes, it’s a story about a serial killer. Yes, it’s a story about immigration, Mexico, Texas and the border. It’s basically a drama thriller set on the border between Juarez and El Paso. It’s about the connection between diverse groups. It’s a cross-cultural narrative about crime, loss and immigration. I really do think it’s a huge multi-cultural show. Because the lead is a huge Mexican star, he gives this show credence and the kiss of authenticity, because it’s his voice and he really does represent his culture immensely.
TVWise: What was it about the script that made you want to play Charlotte Milwright?
Annabeth Gish: Well, first of all, I’ve never played a character like this before. In the pilot, you only knew these basic, bare-bones character drawings. You knew she was a wealthy Texas wife who would become a widow. It just seemed set up in such an interesting, poignant place of departure to begin with. Because I grew up in New Mexico and my father was an ethnic studies professor, I was aware of cross-cultural thoughts and it really resonated with me. Sometimes you just read a script and you know It.—you just want to be a part of the project.
TVWise: Did you find it challenging playing your character?
Annabeth Gish: Yes, it’s very different from who I am and who I’ve played before. She’s so big! She’s got big hair, big diamonds and a big life. As we see through the course of the first season, when that is stripped away. We have to find out who Charlotte is, and who Charlotte was before she married for money and inherited this land. Also, what she does with this very dangerous tunnel. If it was me personally and I found out I had a tunnel on my property, I would call the police. She’s got a steely resolve, and she’s very fiery and daring. She’s not afraid of scandal. She’s also very sexy.
It’s interesting—in weekly television we get the scripts just a couple of weeks ahead, if that, so we are discovering our characters while the writers are writing them. Everything is intricately justified, and I feel really lucky to be discovering new complicated characters.
TVWise: Are there any similarities between you and your character?
Annabeth Gish: There really aren’t that many except that, at her heart, Charlotte wants to be a good person, and she wants to do whatever she can to survive and take care of herself. I think I have those same characteristics; they just manifest in different ways. Oh, and I don’t have a tattoo!
TVWise: Watching the show, you kind of feel sorry for Charlotte with all she has to deal with. Did you feel the same while playing the character?
Annabeth Gish: I don’t mean to be reductive saying Charlotte married for money because, ultimately, I think she did love Carl. She’s been this bird trapped in this gilded cage. Through the season, we see who she becomes. I think there was a past Charlotte, a “Carl Millwright’s wife” Charlotte, and now we will see who this new Charlotte with the tunnel is. I think there is something lonely and isolated about the pain she feels.
TVWise: Do you think it’s interesting that the show is now airing during a time when immigration is such a major issue in the country right now?
Annabeth Gish: It is interesting. It’s not that this is a political show; I just think it is a political time for this issue, and it’s in good accordance with that. Hopefully this can open up a discussion. It’s a very provocative, political issue and it’s not resolved easily. My heart says it should be and there shouldn’t be a fence. This country is one big melting pot, but it is a very political issue that I think this reveals heart stories behind the physicality of the border: the connection between Sonya and Marco despite their very different cultures and lifestyles. For me, there’s also the sex trafficking problem. The lost girls of Juarez, which is a huge and painful issue. I was not as conscious of the problem as I should have been.
TVWise: What type of research did you do for the role?
Annabeth Gish: I do research just in general, because I am a research junkie. I love to know everything. Charlotte lives in a glass bubble, and one of the wonderful relationships in my storyline is the relationship between Charlotte and Caesar. That relationship is also a bridge. It’s not just about he’s Mexican and I’m white, or that he’s a servant and she’s the master. It’s about them coming together and working as a team despite the social rules. Stuff like that we actually make conscious decisions about.
In terms of research, there are some great documentaries about the lost girls Juarez. I worked on a film several years ago called Texas Killing Fields, and that touched on it in a different capacity. This show, as the season goes on it just gets intense and more chilling. It’s in our face, but as a country we pretend we don’t know about it, or look the other way. We are so conscious about dealing with sex trafficking globally—as we should be—but there is something that’s happening right across our own border, and I feel that has a relevance that hasn’t really been addressed.
TVWise: With a show as dark as The Bridge, is it easy for you to shake off your character once you are off set?
Annabeth Gish: It’s been very hard for me to shake it off. I’ve had some bad dreams and some shaky thoughts. Yes, it affects me a great deal because of some of the things I’ve had to do, but at the same time I love that because it’s so visceral. That is when you know you’ve done great work on a good show—when you can’t just walk away and go, “La di da.” The show just keeps getting more and more intense as the season goes along, but there is also a wonderful comic thread in the show as well. The writers have done such a great job bringing in the sarcasm to offset the darkness.
It’s the mark of a good show where it has a social relevance and raises awareness, but it also sucks you in just from the sheer dramatic story. I think that’s what happened with this show, and FX in particular seems to do that with its material.
TVWise: Do you think being on a cable channel gives the show more freedom?
Annabeth Gish: You can’t really do this show on CBS. No disrespect to network television, but as a woman and as an artist, cable television is the place you want to be. It’s not so pretty, and storylines aren’t so compact and easily told. Even the things that push me as an actress, you know that there is an importance to that because you know you are breaking new ground. You are doing something that is pushing your boundaries and the boundaries of what is accepted.
TVWise: What sets The Bridge apart from shows like The Killing, Hannibal and The Following?
Annabeth Gish: That’s a very good question. Honestly, I think the fact that it’s so authentically multi-cultural. It’s not a show that pretends to be about something, but it is about something. You really do have Mexican actors playing Mexican parts. It taps a deeper vein than the superficial. I think that’s what makes it different. It’s not a superficial show; it really goes deep.
A show that makes you think post-viewing, that’s the barometer for me to know that something is really good. You don’t just escape or numb out, but you watch, engage, and are affected later. I went to Mexico City for the premiere of The Bridge and just my involvement on the show and knowing what I know, it completely changed the lens through which I look and experience Mexico as a country. The episode were the people are travelling across the border and dying in the desert, when it’s really portrayed as opposed to something you just read about, I think it activates your emotions and you are affected on a different level. I know a lot of people love The Following, but it’s different. It feels fictional, more like a good book, while our show is real, actually happening.
TVWise: Is there anything you want the audience to take away from the show after the season finishes?
Annabeth Gish: Well, I think certainly the awareness of the humanity despite multi-cultural differences. Just because we have different skin colors, we have the same feelings, the same losses. We want to feed our families and have human connections. I think the Asperger’s syndrome, rather than being a quirky character thing, it’s a relevant disorder that I think Diane Krueger is doing a great job playing. From my character’s standpoint, I think it’s just about what would you do to survive. What would you really do if you had nothing, and you had to survive because your life was at stake?
TVWise: The 20th Anniversary of The X-Files is this month. What was it like working on the series?
Annabeth Gish: I am so grateful that I had 22 episodes working on that show. The franchise has always been David and Gillian, and I was just blessed to be a part of it. I think they created an amazing franchise, and it was great for me personally and professionally.
TVWise: As an actor, was it a bit intimidating joining the cast of the X-Files when you did?
Annabeth Gish: Absolutely, but ignorance is bliss. Most of my episodes Gillian was in, and it wasn’t like I was trying to directly fill her shoes. Today it would probably be a far more daunting task that I didn’t really understand back then.
TVWise: What are your thoughts on a possible third film, and would you want to be a part of it?
Annabeth Gish: Again, I think there is a huge audience. The fans are extensive and amazing. I think there is always a place for more X-Files films. Of course I would love to be involved, because I loved everyone on that show. I wouldn’t expect to be because Reyes and Dogget have never really been invited in to those mythologies, but it would be nice.
TVWise: As an actor, it has to feel amazing that a show you were a part of still is popular 20 years later?
Annabeth Gish: Isn’t that amazing? It’s funny, when people try to provoke me to be snarky about never being a part of the movies; that train and that machine was on its way, and I was grateful to have been on the caboose and been exposed to it because it was amazing. I think the fact that the show still resonates and has this legacy is due to the amazing fans. Isn’t it amazing that Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz and others like Vince Gilligan and everyone involved can create an entire world? It’s just amazing to me.
TVWise: Can you talk about the short film you were involved with called Commerce?
Annabeth Gish: It’s this amazing film that we shot 3 years ago. It’s all about gambling addiction, and Joel Gretsch plays my husband and Noel Fischer who is also amazing in this. It’s a short film that keeps on trucking and the writer and director, Lisa Robertson, has written a feature script for it. We will be shooting that soon.
TVWise: How do you feel about social media?
Annabeth Gish: I have some conflict with it; there is that privacy, transparency issue. How much is too much? Spiritually, is this bad karma to be promoting the self, but working on Pretty Little Liars is a perfect example of how you can help the success of a show. I think if you have something to say and something to market, that’s good. Shameless self-promotion can be very painful to do, but you have to as a business-woman. More often than not, I find social media to be supportive and positive. I feel like it’s also a platform for connection in this world as well.
TVWise: Any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
Annabeth Gish: Yes, I just finished what I think is a really special film called Grass Stains. It’s a coming of age drama; it’s like Stand By Me meets Ordinary People. It has a great group of young actors, and I’m super excited about it. I had a great experience on the series. Also, we’ll finish up shooting The Bridge, and then we’ll see what happens next.
New episodes of The Bridge continue on FX on Wednesday nights at 10pm EST.