After three decades in Hollywood, Carla Gugino has been in nearly everything—the Spy Kids movies, a Bon Jovi video, a BBC adaptation of The Buccaneers and the disaster flick San Andreas, to start. But strangers still stop her on the street to talk about her early turn as poor little rich girl Chica Barnfell in the 1989 cult classic Troop Beverly Hills.
“Troop Beverly Hills was very key for me. It was the first job that allowed me to make enough money that I was going to be able to support myself and continue acting,” Gugino, 46, tells PEOPLE. Up until landing Troop Beverly Hills, the child actress had only booked small guest stints on TV shows like Webster, Alf and Who’s The Boss.
The Florida-born, California-raised actress admits that she did one thing for that particular role that she’s never done again.
“It was the only role that I ever lied about my age to get!” she recalls with a laugh. “It was before IMDb existed, I was 16 and I said I was 14 to get the job. After I got the job and when we were deep into filming, I said to the director [Jeff Kanew] one day, ‘Just so you know, I am actually 16, but I told you I was 14 to get the job.’ He said, ‘Had I known you were 16, I wouldn’t have hired you!’ So my lying was sadly confirmed as the right choice in that moment.”
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In looking back at her 30 years in the business, Gugino says that she’s grateful she’s had so many different opportunities across genres, TV, film and theater.
“I was thinking about things that have changed in terms of my interests from the beginning of my career to now, and one of the constants has been I’ve never really been interested in being known as a brand or known as a particular character more than another,” she says. “I’ve always gravitated towards the ability to be able to be transformational as an actor.”
Gugino’s latest role is as a mysterious head housekeeper to a wealthy reclusive scientist in the thriller Elizabeth Harvest (now streaming on Amazon Prime), written and directed by her longtime partner Sebastian Gutierrez.
“I love the idea of playing a woman who is to some extent, unreadable, or misperceived, thought to be one thing and my job is not to reveal who she is,” she says.
And when it comes to working with her longtime partner and Elizabeth Harvest director Gutierrez — Gugino has appeared in all eight of the films he’s directed, and they’re currently working together on a new TV series called Jet — the actress says that they genuinely enjoy collaborating on creative projects.
“I genuinely love his work, and obviously we have a great level of trust with each other,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to do what you love and also see the person you know really well. I don’t take it for granted.”