Actually it got pretty hot and sticky the day that the 30-year-old actress found herself wrapped in a giant latex cocoon. "I was captured by this character who can web people," says Gish, who plays paranormally attuned FBI agent Monica Reyes. "It was scary because they put this plastic tube all over my body and it was hard to breathe. All I'm thinking is, 'This is a weird job.' "
And a potentially intimidating one: Gish, after all, is joining an eight-year-old series whose cultishly cool original stars are ending their runs (David Duchovny quit last spring to focus on a film career, and Gillian Anderson will exit after this season). Nevertheless, when Gish first appeared—briefly—as Reyes last winter, "she held her own," says Anderson. "Annabeth has got her own sense of style. She's funky and hip."
Plus, says Anderson, "she has incredible stamina." She'll need it, given workdays that sometimes run till 4 a.m. "It's a marathon," she says. Fittingly, Gish, who lives alone in a two-bedroom ranch-style house in L.A., keeps in shape with hiking, yoga, boxing and spinning. "I'm a cross-training girl," she says. "The main thing for me is to stir it up so I'm never bored."
Not that things were ever really dull in the Gish household. Encouraged by her parents, Robert, 61, and Judy, 60, both retired college professors, "we would all read out loud and act out characters in books," says Gish, whose sister Robin Butzier, 40, is an elementary school teacher and whose brother Tim, 38, is a furniture company executive. "That's where my acting started."
At age 8, Gish got involved in community theater in Cedar Falls, Iowa. When she was 13, the producers of Desert Bloom, a 1986 coming-of-age drama, came to town as part of a nationwide search for an unknown to play Jon Voight's stepdaughter. Gish was flown to L.A. to audition opposite the Midnight Cowboy star. "The competition was pretty fierce," recalls her mother, who accompanied her. "Winona Ryder was also auditioning for the role. But Annabeth wasn't nervous at all."
After winning the part she took two months off from school to shoot the film in Tucson. Voight, she says, "was very kind." But he stayed in character "even off-camera. It was such a study in acting for me."
She continued to work in films—most notably 1988's Mystic Pizza with then-up-and-coming costar Julia Roberts—while attending Northern University High School in Cedar Falls. "I developed a split life," she says. "I had L.A. clothes and Iowa clothes in my closet. It was a small town, and I just wanted to fit in."
After she graduated from high school in 1989, "my agent thought I should put college on hold," she says. "But I wanted something to fall back on." She was accepted at Duke University, where she majored in English and women's studies and graduated in 1993.
Then she got right back in the acting saddle, appearing in films like 1994's Wyatt Earp, 1995's Nixon and 1999's Double Jeopardy. Now, on The X-Files, "I'm having so much fun," she says. "I get to run around with a gun and fight the bad guys."
On the personal front things are a little less exciting. "I do believe in timing, and this seems to be a time for work," says the never-married, unattached actress. "Still, I have the dog [a yellow Lab named Lola], I have the house. I'm sure someone special's coming around the corner."
But after a season on The X-Files her taste in men might need honing. "I saw this hysterical bumper sticker the other day," says Gish, laughing. "It said, 'Chicks dig scars.' Isn't that cool? I was like, 'Yeah!' "
Michael A. Lipton
Ulrica Wihlborg in Los Angeles