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Actor Annabeth Gish on Her Career from 'Mystic Pizza' to 'Pretty Little Liars' and Everything in Between

This longtime actor talks about endurance and integrity as well as what age has given her

By Michele Wojciechowski

Now that the latest incarnation of "Pretty Little Liars: Summer School" has begun streaming on Max, if you look, you may just see a familiar face among the twenty-something stars.

Headshot of a woman. Next Avenue, Annabeth Gish, Mayfair Witches, Mystic Pizza
Annabeth Gish

Annabeth Gish, 53, reprises her role as Dr. Anne Sullivan. Gish, who began playing the character of the psychiatrist in the PLL franchise back in 2011, says that Dr. Sullivan has a more prominent place this time.

"I've never been so famous that I've been mobbed — thank God."

She was talking with one of the producers, with whom she's been friends for 30 years, and Dr. Sullivan came up. "We said wouldn't it be fun if Dr. Sullivan came back?" recalls Gish. "It's been such a pleasure because this iteration of the reboot is a campy, modern take the horror genre. I love the young actors. It's been absolutely wonderful to be part of the show."

This isn't Gish's first foray into the successful modern horror landscape. She's been in many of director Mike Flanagan's projects—which are more psychologically disturbing much like Alfred Hitchcock's work — starting with Mrs. Dudley in the remake of "The Haunting of Hill House," as well as Dr. Sarah Gunning in "Midnight Mass" and Eliza in "The Fall of the House of Usher."

Gish's husband of 20 years, Wade Allen, has also found himself in the horror genre. A two-time Emmy award-winning stuntman and stunt coordinator, Allen worked as second unit director and choreographed some fights in the film "Abigail."

"We were laughing because when we were at the premiere, someone said, 'You're horror royalty.' And I thought, 'What a moniker!'" says Gish. "But I do have tremendous respect for and have always loved the genre."

Her First Film

If you were to guess Gish's first film, what would you say?

If you guessed "Mystic Pizza," you'd be wrong. In fact, she was in four films before that breakout role.

When she was growing up in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Gish remembers performing in community theatre starting at about age 8. Her parents were both professors. When her father was at a conference on Western literature in Minneapolis, the local newspaper announced an open casting call for a film called "Desert Bloom." Gish went.

A woman wearing a white suit standing on a spiral staircase. Next Avenue, Annabeth Gish, Mayfair Witches, Mystic Pizza
Credit: Riker Brothers

"I auditioned with 800 other girls. Oddly enough, they then flew me to Los Angeles," she recalls. It came down to Gish and one other girl — Winona Horowitz, better known as Winona Ryder.

"I got the job, and that was the inception point for me in this business," says Gish. "Honestly, I don't know how I would have gotten here otherwise. I was born in New Mexico, but grew up in Cedar Falls."

In "Desert Bloom" she played the leading role of Rose Chismore in a coming-of-age story about the atomic bomb with Jon Voight, Ellen Barkin and JoBeth Williams.

"It was an incredible gift," Gish says.

She also starred in cult classics "Hiding Out" opposite Jon Cryer and "Shag" with Phoebe Cates and Bridget Fonda.

Then "Mystic Pizza" hit.

"I did all these 'chick flicks' while in high school," she says. When not filming, she continued to attend Cedar Falls High School. "My mom or my dad, whoever was available to leave their job when I was working, would go with me and function as my on-set tutor."

Gish then took four years off to attend Duke University, where she majored in English.

"During my freshman year, I remember students screaming ''Mystic Pizza' at me, which was kind of weird," she admits. "But I've never been so famous that I've been mobbed — thank God."


The Power of Endurance

Over the years, Gish has played more than 100 roles in TV and film. Because she is a successful character actor, she's continued to get work, playing in everything from huge productions such as "Wyatt Earp" and "Nixon" to independent or cult films such as "The Last Supper."

While you may have seen her in "Sons of Anarchy," "Scandal," or "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (which seems like a requirement for all serious actors—to have appeared in one of the L&O franchises), she's also appeared in 26 episodes of "The X-Files," "Halt and Catch Fire," and even two episodes of "Barry."

"I think they see in me a woman who is balanced."

"I had to sleep with the stunt coordinator to get that job. Don't tell my husband!" she says while laughing. (If you missed it, her husband was the stunt coordinator.)

Gish also stars in "Ride," an independent film opening on June 14, which she describes as a gritty cowboy Western. It tells of three generations of bull riders who join together to raise the money so that a young family member can get treatment for cancer at a better hospital.

Having continued to be able to work in her chosen field throughout her life isn't lost on Gish. "I'm an enduring figure in my industry. Endurance is a worthy, but sometimes undervalued quality. I may not be the most famous or the richest, but I have integrity and endurance," she says.

She's also proud of showing her sons with Allen, Cash, 17, and Enzo, 15, that she's a working mom. "They see me hustle, fight for integrity and advocate for women's rights," says Gish. "I think they see in me a woman who is balanced."

What Age Has Given Her

As she has gotten older, Gish says that she has seen a sea of change in Hollywood — especially for women.

"I think it's because women are becoming storytellers. We are bolder and there are more of us in leadership positions. It's still disproportionate to men, though," she admits. "But I do think there are changes amidst, and it's good. There's much more diversity and the presence of women. I'm grateful for that."

Aging has also given her so much more. "Some think that the mark of success is to be an A-lister. But I'm quite happy with the quality of my work and the quality of my life," she says. "My voice has become stronger as I've gotten older. Age has provided me with the ability to accept my authentic self."

Contributor Michele Wojciechowski
Michele Wojciechowski Michele "Wojo" Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer who lives in Baltimore, Md. She's the author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They'll Carry Me Out in a Box. Reach her at Read More
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