Robin Wright Is Taking Matters Into Her Own Hands
The “House of Cards” star opens up to Marlow Stern about her feature directorial debut “Land,” “The Princess Bride” memories, and the sweet relief of no more Trump.
For the past year, Robin Wright has been parked in front of a computer monitor piecing together her feature directorial debut. And on Sunday evening, Land will be unveiled at the virtual Sundance Film Festival (prior to its theatrical bow on Feb. 12).
The star of The Princess Bride and Wonder Woman was editing the film in New York City when the pandemic hit, forcing everyone back into their respective homes. “And then we did Zoom, Zoom, and more Zoom in order to finish it,” she recalls.
Land tells the story of Edee Holzer (Wright), a woman who retreats to a cabin in the wilderness following a traumatic event, and, with the help of a pair of kind neighbors (Demian Bechir, Sarah Dawn Pledge), slowly rebuilds her soul. Filmed over 29 days in the mountains of Alberta, Canada, it wasn’t an easy shoot by any stretch.
“The Chinook winds would come at 75 miles an hour, almost taking lights up in the air like The Wizard of Oz,” Wright tells me. “And then we would have to jump in costume for winter, because there was all of a sudden hail and snow. We were facing that on a daily basis.”
Fortunately, Wright already had some experience behind the camera, having directed herself on Netflix’s House of Cards. “If I hadn’t had that experience, I would have been much more feeble in the two-hats position, if you know what I mean,” she chuckles.
Ahead of Land’s Sundance premiere, The Daily Beast spoke with Wright about her stunning first film as a director and much more.
It’s interesting that the film is coming out now, because it explores trauma—and the battle to overcome trauma.
Completely. It’s about human and spiritual growth when you are challenged by adversity, and the beauty of this story I feel is needed. The message is needed right now. And it’s about resilience, and hope, and human kindness.
Yes, it struck me as being a testament to the human spirit and mankind’s ability to persevere in the face of incredible hardship.
Everyone has had trauma—every single one of us, in our own way. People deal with trauma in singular ways, so this is really almost a retrospective on one person’s experience and one person’s journey dealing with an unfathomable event that ends the life that you have once known, and that you will never know again. You can never be that person again; it doesn’t exist anymore. So it’s not, “I’m going to go commit suicide” and actively decide to do that, it’s “I’m going to erase myself and find a new path.” It’s a rebirth.
Your character has to reconnect with nature in order to be reborn. I live in New York City, and it’s easy to become disconnected from nature, and I think it’s unhealthy.
Nature is a character in this movie—and a character that she finally becomes at one with. It’s no longer a stranger, a foreign entity, or an enemy, like it is in the beginning. And, when she finds peace within herself, and is educated from Miguel how to successfully and respectfully live amid nature, then they become friends almost. The healing properties that nature provides are undeniable.
And she is saved by Alawa Crow, a Native American.
I wanted that in the movie just to get rid of the division, and the lines of culture. We are all one when it comes down to saving someone’s life, or being in someone’s path and feeling this need, this duty to help another. It doesn’t matter what race, creed, color you are.
Land spoke to me because it’s not just COVID America is going through. We also just went through four years of Trump, and his relentless nastiness.
I was just going to say, “Relentless nastiness.” Just mean. Deliberately being mean. I just feel like it was contagious, and people jumped on that bandwagon and said, “I’m going to be that bully, too. It’s easy to be mean.” It’s more difficult to be kind, I guess. That’s why I wanted to make this movie. It’s a reminder that people are good. Are we all born good? I believe we are, and then life takes some people down a different path. But I just want to keep believing in hope and resilience, and the act of human kindness always wins.
Did you watch the inauguration?
I have not watched it! I’ve been doing press and I can’t wait to get it on—I guess YouTube? That’s where I’m gonna watch it. I’ve heard it was beautifully produced. I listened to Amanda [Gorman] and her poem, and it was so beautiful. I just feel like there’s this restored decency that came back. Just having him removed, it was like: Can we get an adult back in the room? Thank you.
It was silly, but some folks on Twitter were joking that they were so happy and relieved during the inauguration that they felt like they wanted to recreate the scene in Forrest Gump where you jumped into the Reflecting Pool.
[Laughs] That’s so true! That sense of liberation—and a big sigh of relief. The exhale just felt different.
You actually take a dip in the Reflecting Pool in that scene?
Yep! And they said at the time that no one has ever been allowed to do such a thing. They would never allow it, and I don’t know why they complied and I got to get in that dirty water!
So, you basically spent a day just swimming around the Reflecting Pool.
Yeah! I did.
I hope they cleaned the water for you a little bit. We also have a woman VP now, and you played a VP on House of Cards. It’s great that it’s finally happened, and insane that it’s taken this long. But I do think TV shows presenting examples does shift the culture a bit.
And maybe it did help break the mental barrier of: “Wait, we’ve never known such a thing and this is so foreign to us.” And it wasn’t just House of Cards. There was the Tea Leoni show [Madam Secretary] and Veep. Just looking at it—actually looking at it and seeing actresses play the VP, I do think it can lead to a cultural shift in your conditioned mind and what you’ve only known.
And your VP kicked some ass in that role and got shit done.
Kicked some ass—and killed some people! [Laughs] Side bar—sometimes. Machiavellian—when necessary to do so.
That’s the name of the game. You were so great on House of Cards, which was of course a lead role, and I’m curious if you’ve been offered leading roles in films since the end of the show, or if you had to take matters into your own hands here?
There was a shift, and it took a lot of time to get here. There are more female directors, female writers, and content about women. Look at the movies that are out right now—Pieces of a Woman, Ammonite, Nomadland. They’re all following a woman’s journey. I think the frequency by which this is happening now needs to continue. People ask me for advice, and you just have to be repetitious. Keep talking about it. Yeah, sometimes, you do need to have a louder, more amplified voice to be heard, so do it. And if you have a vision for a movie, or believe you can play a part, stand up and say it loud, because that’s what it takes.
I admired your fight for equal pay on House of Cards, which helped push the conversation about equal pay to the fore. How difficult was that fight?
Well, I don’t believe that I ever got equal pay. I was told that I was getting equal, but I don’t think I was. Who started the amplification of that? It was Patricia Arquette, I think. She came out and said, “Why are we accepting this? You do the same job and you get the same pay.” It’s a no-brainer. And then everyone felt that they should take the mic as well. And we should continue to demand that. We just cracked the glass ceiling, and gotta keep on truckin’.
Have you thought about House of Cards’ legacy in light of the Kevin Spacey controversy? I’ve thought about what it would be like to revisit House of Cards now and I think I might have difficulty doing it.
I don’t know… I don’t know how people feel about that. Anyway…
OK, so I love you in the Wonder Woman movies and I gotta say, I was pretty bummed by how little you appeared in Wonder Woman 1984. Your scene is far and away the most fun sequence in the movie, and the scenes on Themyscira with all the women are the best, but they didn’t feature in the sequel so much.
I have yet to see it! I can’t wait for this press to be done so I can watch it! It’s such a great part and sends such a positive message, those movies. It’s fantastic for little girls to see that strength and perseverance for justice and love. With all the devices, social media, and everything that these kids are growing up with, my generation never had that distraction—and destruction. So, we gotta keep sending out pure, traditional messages. You help people through hard times, and human beings need each other. We need contact.
I re-watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo recently, and I’m curious why there was never a sequel to that? Because it really ends on a cliffhanger, with you and Daniel Craig going off as Rooney Mara’s character looks on.
I don’t know why there wasn’t! Maybe they didn’t have the money? Because that first one cost a pretty penny to make due to the amount of time it took to shoot it, and wherever that money goes in post-production. I think they didn’t want to spend that amount of money in that time, and I might be wrong about the dates, but I think it was around the time of a recession that we were going through, and people were being economical and not interested in spending too much money on a movie.
Well, at least you got House of Cards out of it—which then opened the door to directing.
Yeah! That’s true. Exactly. And the beautiful guidance of David Fincher—he gave me a lot, just being able to observe him at work.
One of my family’s favorite films is The Princess Bride. I still think it’s a perfect film. I read that Andre the Giant was quite sweet on set, and when it was cold during filming he would use his giant hands to help keep you warm.
He would! His hands literally fit over my whole head like a motorcycle helmet. Meanwhile, we’re freezing and shivering in Northern England, where it’s nothing but wet and cold all the time, and he’s sweating profusely! There’s steam coming off his head while we’ve got beanies and down jackets on.
And his back was hurting during filming so he couldn’t catch you during that famous scene where you jump from the castle?
He couldn’t! No.
And Cary wrote about this, but I’m curious if it’s true. He said that you two were quite smitten with each other during filming and were bummed when the shoot wrapped.
Aw, I totally fell in love with him! Are you kidding? We were living it in our heads. But we were young actors, and that’s what you do! This is real, and this is my Prince Charming.
Land is an impressive directorial debut, so would you like to keep directing? And do you have anything lined up?
Yes, I love it. I love the collaboration and want to do more of it, for sure. I’m going to direct Ozark in a couple of months, Season 4. I love that show. It’ll be a departure from this but I love that cast, and I’m addicted to the show. And I’m dying to direct a smart comedy.
I can’t wait to see it.