Exclusive Interview: Robin Wright

By Michele Manelis

Exclusive Interview: Robin Wright
Fresh from winning a Golden Globe for TV show House of Cards, Robin Wright speaks exclusively to us about motherhood, her famous ex-husband Sean Penn, and finding love again.

Robin Wright sighs dramatically and glides her fingers through a crop of elegantly tousled blonde hair. She smiles. Evidently, the loud exhale is a happy one, prompted by a life moving at such full tilt that she simply needs to hold on tight and keep up. Professionally, she’s in her prime at 48 – not an age which is often the pinnacle of an actress’s career. Personally, life is also staggeringly good. The ex-wife of Sean Penn has by all accounts found “the one” in actor fiancé Ben Foster, 33 (Lone Survivor). No wonder she exudes a giddiness not usually associated with one’s middle-aged years. If timing is everything, it’s interesting that her moment is happening now.

“Well, I’ve always been a late bloomer. And maybe it’s a matter of getting older but I’ve been getting over the fear of failure. You realise that sometimes beautiful things come out of failure or mistakes,” she says. “It took me a long time to break through that wall of worrying about it.

“And also, I had kids at such a young age. I didn’t even know who I was and when you grow up in this industry, because it’s through other people’s perspectives, you have not become a graduated person of sorts.” She smiles. “So, I grew up late but I feel young. I’m like, ‘Right, let’s go. I’m ready now’.”

She’s dressed in jeans, a beige shirt and a short slim-fitting brown jacket with taupe ankle boots. “This is Ralph Lauren head to toe,” she offers. “I was sent a bag of stuff; otherwise I would show up in my own jeans and sneakers. But this outfit is basically my uniform,” she says. “I am not a girlie girl that way.” She leans forward. “But give me a nice Gucci dress and I’ll take it, you bet.”
Tall and svelte, she radiates a kind of lightness and energy that makes her easy to be around. It’s this quality that has no doubt served her well with some prickly Hollywood types – her ex-husband springs to mind. “I was laughing with a friend the other day,” she jumps in. “[You] run up and down the stairs and do the push-ups and the sit-ups and the yoga, which is kind of infrequent, but you do all these regimes and then you go, ‘I think a reward is necessary’. And that means a cocktail and a cigarette. So it’s about moderation and trying to find balance.”

Born in Texas, she began her career on the daytime soap Santa Barbara, from 1984 to 1988, and earned three Emmy nominations. But she rose to a much more all-encompassing kind of fame in 1987 playing the title role in the huge film hit The Princess Bride. Her next major milestone came in 1984 as the ill-fated character of Jenny in Forrest Gump. She then made a conscious choice to focus on her day job as Mrs Robin Wright Penn and most importantly, mother of Dylan, 23, and Hopper, 20. Though her acting jobs became less high profile and more sporadic – such as roles in 1998’s Hurlyburly and 2000’s Unbreakable – Wright’s work was always memorable.

“Being a mum, it was too stressful to be away on set and have those phone calls from the kids crying, ‘Where are you?’ I couldn’t take it. I didn’t want to take them out of their routine and bring them with me on location either. I didn’t want to take them from their home. Kids have friends and routines and I didn’t want to break that,” she says. “And besides, I always thought, ‘Why have kids if you’re going to have them raised by nannies?’”

The Penn-Wright union began in 1989, following his divorce from Madonna. They married in a surprise wedding in 1996 in the back garden of a friend, and filed for separation in April of 2009. They went back and forth trying to reconcile but eventually divorced in 2010 when Wright dropped the Penn appendix from her name. Penn was her second husband. Her first marriage, to Santa Barbara co-star Dane Witherspoon, who died in March this year, took place when she was only 20 and ended in divorce less than three years later.

Her second divorce was tempestuous, even by Hollywood standards. And as recently as last year, Penn dropped a bombshell in an Esquire magazine piece, insisting he’d never felt real love in either of his marriages. Wright, who has described her divorce from Penn as “devastating”, says revenge has never played a part in her life. It’s simply not part of her DNA.

“I really don’t have that coin. Do we all have a piece of us where you say, ‘I would like to see that person suffer because that person made me suffer’? Yeah, there are moments of that but then I think my Texas comes out in those fleeting thoughts. My mother actually taught me that instead of being ornery or attacking or pointing the finger, she taught me to say these words when I was really little: ‘You don’t have to be mad at someone for not being what you want them to be.’ My mum said, ‘Bless their heart, Robbie.’ When you say those words about someone you don’t like it’s such a relief; it just takes the onus off of ugly.”

While Penn has a notorious short fuse, Wright seems to work through her demons via meditation. “We all have those moments, probably daily, where you’re just like, ‘I’m going to rip the walls down,’ or, ‘I’m going to twist somebody’. But meditation keeps you pleasant inside and not to be just reactionary for the sake of it. I think we get fired up, we get stressed and we all operate differently in stress mode. I’ve been meditating since I was 16. Not every day, but when you do 15 or 20 minutes, it puts years on your life. My man, Ben, has been doing Transcendental Meditation since he was four years old, and he turned me onto that side of it. It’s about getting into your centre and vibrating with it. I know that sounds very New Age,” she laughs.

Wright and Foster became an item on the set of the 2011 movie Rampart. She literally beams when speaking about him. “I met him about six years ago and then we did Rampart. We didn’t have any scenes together but he produced the film so he was there on set every day. We’ve been together now two-and-a-half years.

“I like everything about him,” she declares, loudly. “Kissing him is my favourite food. He’s the one,” she shrugs her shoulders helplessly. “I wake up every day and know in my bone marrow that this is the one for me.” Despite two previous marriages, she makes it sound as though it’s the first time she’s experienced this kind of mindblowing love. “I think being in love, there’s always that question, ‘Are you in love? What’s in love?’” She pauses. “I’m in love. I’m in it. And that’s different.”

A happy empty-nester, she says of her kids, “They tried college. That didn’t go so well,” she laughs. “They’re working, they’re legal adults and they’re self-sufficient beings.
“When they leave home there’s a sense of relief because you’re always going to be a parent, you’re always hopefully going to influence them to a degree. But there’s that thing of, ‘Oh my God. I’ve always tried to be the best model for my kids, tried to give them a sense of right and wrong, morality, ethics – that’s half of a world off my shoulders because I’ve done as much as I can do. Hopefully that will manifest in the best possible way, because they don’t listen to you anymore anyway, so I hope what I’ve done up until now will resonate.”

Dylan, a model who recently posed nude in Treats magazine, will make her acting debut in the upcoming horror flick, Condemned. Her younger brother, Hopper, is also pursuing a career as an actor and most recently starred in 2011’s Back in the Game.

Though Wright has been handed some great roles of late, including Moneyball, as well as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, both in 2011, not all of her recent work has fared as well at the box office – such as Adore, starring Naomi Watts, based on Doris Lessing’s novella about two friends in their 40s beginning relationships with each other’s sons. Wright characteristically focuses on the positive. “I’d never met Naomi before and we really connected. I’ve always admired her work and we just became these two characters so naturally. It was a beautiful combo, I thought.”

It’s probably no surprise that Wright is often cast as an edgy, smart, urbane woman. In person, she comes across as fiercely intelligent and someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, though she is also a much gentler version than the cinematic alter-ego we’ve seen in The Conspirator. She recently won her first Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Series for House of Cards, in which she plays Claire Underwood, the manipulative wife of America’s Vice President, played by Kevin Spacey.

“I am certainly not Claire. There are some things [I have] in common with her, like loyalty and drive and will. But am I that calculating? God, I hope not.
“When I first met with the writer to find out who Claire was, he said, ‘Basically, it’s Lady Macbeth.’ And I said, ‘Okay, say no more’.”

What’s the most challenging part of the role? “The most difficult thing is wearing the high heels every day… I am not kidding.” Interestingly, considering Sean Penn’s famously political leanings, Wright professes not to share even a tiny modicum of those interests. “I’m a zero participant in politics. Zero involvement. I’m an activist, in a sense, for causes that are close to my heart.”

She is a supporter of the Enough project, through Raise Hope for Congo, backing women’s rights in Africa. Wright is also the honorary spokesperson of The Gordie Foundation, a nonprofit organisation that helps students navigate the dangers of alcohol, binge-drinking, peer pressure and hazing.

Wright leans back in her chair and considers her current status quo. “You get older and you stop worrying. That’s the beauty of it – other than, of course, I don’t like the gravity thing. But it’s the little things that you let go of in life. ‘This too shall pass’, is my motto. I just know that it’s all going to be okay.”


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