Wednesday 16 October 2019

Finding Mr Wright

How Robin Wright found the man and role of her dreams

Cast member Robin Wright poses at the premiere for the second season of the television series
Cast member Robin Wright poses at the premiere for the second season of the television series "House of Cards" at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles. Picture: Reuters
Robin Wright with Kevin Spacey in 'House of Cards' - Netflix most sucessful show.
Robin and Ben Foster

Stephen Milton

Every actress approaching middle age in Hollywood has offered their two cents' worth on the apparent decline in meaty roles and on the increasing difficulty of competing with the nubile Jennifer Lawrences and Kristen Stewarts of the industry.

But at 47-years-old, Robin Wright believes it's time to silence the rabble for good. "There was a dry spell which focused primarily on age but I don't feel the well is empty for us gals over 40," she says, furrowing her brow at the very thought. "And this is such a great role and a prime example of that. I feel blessed to have it."

The role she refers to is her nuanced turn as Claire Underwood in Netflix's political flagship drama, 'House of Cards'. The show, a triumph for the website, landed Wright her first Golden Globe win for Best Television Actress last month.

She won over 'The Good Wife' star Julianna Margulies (also 47) in a roomful of fellow over-fortysomething nominees such as Jessica Lange, Cate Blanchett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Sandra Bullock.

"There's a wealth of writing out there," says Robin. "The roles don't get fewer, just older. I'm getting older, the roles are going to change and [so is] what's available to that age range.

"I was typecast for so many years, playing the disgruntled heart-wrenched wife whose husband was unfaithful. She was just dour. It was exhausting."

Robin's roles have transformed during the course of her career. Her previous work seemed to focus on providing either support or just something pretty to look at. Her breakthrough was as Buttercup in 'The Princess Bride', which she later followed up with 'Forrest Gump', M. Night Shyamalan's 'Unbreakable' and Nick Cassavetes' 'She's So Lovely'.

Her traditional part as the beleaguered love interest was mirrored in real life too with her 20-year relationship with actor Sean Penn, which produced daughter, Dylan and son Hopper.

The final three years of their union were a mish-mash of separation, reconciliation, re-separation and legal wrangling. Divorce plans were announced in 2007, before being withdrawn four months later.

Penn filed again in February 2009, only to repeal the decision before Robin petitioned for a divorce a third time, claiming she had no intention of reconciling and dropping Penn from her surname.

Five years later, the ethereal beauty from Dallas has enjoyed a renaissance. She became engaged to 33-year-old actor, Ben Foster last month, after meeting on the set of 'Rampart'; while a strong presence in David Fincher's 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' led to an offer from the 'Se7en' director to play Claire, the imperious partner of Kevin Spacey's Machiavellian despot-in-waiting, Frank Underwood, in 'House of Cards'.

"She's the Lady Macbeth to his Richard III," Robin tells me. "We know who those characters are and now perhaps get a glimpse of who they would be together if we were to mesh those plays.

"They push each other in different ways and different fashions while always appearing as a united front – it's like, 'I've got your back and you've got mine'."

In the unmissable first season, the Underwoods plotted revenge on those who wronged them after Frank, the majority whip in the House of Congress, was passed over for secretary of state.

Their machinations culminated in the manipulation and murder of troubled congressman, Peter Russo, and Frank's acceptance of the vice-presidential nomination.

In her role as accomplice, Claire's tyrannical rule of an environmental lobby group perfectly illustrated her terrifying froideur and offered a foretaste of her capabilities.

"She's a pragmatist in the art of war and that's what people respond to," says Robin. "I think those same characteristics in a man would be very much admired."

With political reporter Zoe Barnes [Kate Mara], with whom Frank embarked on an extra-marital affair, swiftly closing on their dastardly trades, the outcome for season two is anyone's guess.

"David Fincher's probably in this room as a ghost, and a guillotine will come out if I say anything about what's to come," she jokes. "What we have in store for you is as shocking if not more; as surprising, if not more. And definitely more rich and risque."

I suggest it's somewhat symbolic that Netflix chose to release the second season on Valentine's Day – a nod to the Underwoods' devotion to one another?

"It's about breed for them. When you find your breed, you become a pack, just like wolves, animals. It's complicated. Even with the Zoe affair, even though that was business, he was still affected by her.

"The humanistic side of these characters erode, and that's the beauty of the script. Even after Claire has her own affair [with artist Adam Galloway], she returns to Frank – she has a contract. Claire is a man of her word, and her alpha male is met with Frank's alpha male and that's the choice of life."

Can Robin herself identify with that? "Oh God, no. I'm a hopeless romantic. I'm so in love with my guy [Ben] and totally couldn't imagine living like that. Great for the Underwoods, but I don't know what that world is like. Though, it's so much fun to play."

Virtually embracing herself on the mention of Foster, she is visibly tingled by the butterflies of love. Should we buy our hats? Wright breaks out into a slow, meaningful smile. "I just couldn't be happier."

Her demeanour has softened since the last time we met. Last year, her newly acquired gamine crop gave her an armoured confidence, while a strong Roland Mouret-like ensemble acted as protective chainmail. She was guarded, reserved and uncomfortable in her surroundings.

Today, however, the actress is wistful and warm, casual in jeans and a shirt. Her crop is elegantly blow-dried but falls and settles into a softer shape. She coos and oohs repeatedly and laughs with an infectious ease.

While recent success has re-energised a more than 30-year career, Wright hasn't forgotten her commitments to the big screen, with her latest effort, a film adaptation of John Le Carre's 'A Most Wanted Man' due out later this year.

It stars Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and, in one of his final screen performances, the recently passed Philip Seymour Hoffman. "Great loss," says Robin. "What an artist, a brilliant artist."

The actress can relate to the stresses of a life lived in the spotlight. "Life's tough," she says. "There's so much pressure to deal with already, and then to be displaced and documented, everything you do and everything you are.

"People are free to judge you, and that's on print every day. And I'm not talking about myself, I'm talking about so many more. You're like a zoo animal. It has to be difficult to navigate those waters."

Daughter Dylan, an aspiring actress and model, was thrust into the limelight last summer after she was linked to the 'Twilight' star Robert Pattinson. Robin remembers it all too well.

"I said to her, 'You have to watch yourself. They're going to be out with a microscope, looking for something and making up shit about you'. Boy was that a wake-up call for her. She said, 'I'm never going to The Viper Room with Rob Pattinson again, who's just a friend. They just blew everything out of proportion'. And I was like, 'Welcome to Hollywood, baby'. She got a rude awakening; she's learning quickly."

Robin pouts her lower lip as time is called on our chat. "Are you Belfast or Dublin?" she asks me. I tell her I come from somewhere south of the Pale, and while leaving her central London hotel suite, she tells me about her efforts to do an Irish accent while shooting 'The Playboys' in Cavan 20 years ago.

"I've worked in Ireland twice since then, but that was the only time I've ever had to master the accent, which was such a bitch," says Robin. "But, boy, do I love it there – the magic, the romance."

While leaving the room, I catch a glimpse in the mirror as she leaps up from her chair, twirls on the spot and grins broadly while staring dreamily out the window. It's nice to see someone in love.

'House of Cards' season two was released on Netflix yesterday

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