Shirley Manson: I’ve been doing research about you – I’m not dangerous, I promise! – and I’ve found parallels in our universe: we’re a similar age and you strike me as someone who has also never ‘played the game’. You once said in an interview: ‘I’m going out into the world now and finding out what I want.’ Do you remember that?
Robin Wright: No, but yes – true, true, true. It’s about not having the fear to say what you want. You grow out of, ‘I’m going to hurt other people’s feelings if I do what I want.’ I grew into my womanhood very late in that sense, where there’s no shame, and I don’t have to be defensive about it. My body has an aversion to doing things that I don’t want anymore.
Manson: That gives me goosebumps. It speaks to me of surviving pain, to get to a state of grace where you have nothing to lose. You’ve walked through the fire and you know you can survive it. You’re smiling, so that feeling, at the age of 51, is a good feeling?
Wright: It’s an incredible feeling. I didn’t foresee this happening and it’s not self-congratulatory at all; it’s literally, I’ve arrived at a different juncture. Everybody endures it differently; some don’t come out of it and they become stagnant and let the pain win. And some come out of it and fly. But, to me, that’s history. That’s my past.
“I grew into my womanhood late. My body has an aversion to doing things that I don’t want anymore”
Manson: Do you think that has a lot to do with your own integrity?
Wright: Incongruent things don’t sit well in my body. I think it’s intrinsic to me, it has always been me, and I’ve just, in the last 10 years, started utilizing it. I don’t feel like I’m a liar anymore, because you’re a liar when you sit there saying, ‘I’m not worthy’, or, ‘I’m not strong enough to say the thing, or do the thing.’ I was like that when I was younger.
Manson: You worked as a model, right, to begin with?
Wright: Yes, to make money, so I could stay in Paris, because I was broke. That was a nightmare: you go into a go-see, lift up your shirt, then someone says, ‘Her boobs aren’t big enough,’ and you’re out.
Manson: You wanted to be an actress at this point?
Wright: I had auditioned before I went to Europe; didn’t get anything. I used to be a dancer, so I got a couple of commercials, dancing while holding Dorito chips…
Manson: Did you join an agency?
Wright: I put together a semi-book; dancing pictures of me in leotards. Like soft porn with legwarmers. So pathetic. In Paris, they were like, ‘This is not a book.’ It was so cheeseball. I interviewed with every agency. They said, ‘You’re never going to be tall enough to sign with Wilhelmina and IMG; you can do bathing suits, beauty, lingerie.’ I came home, auditioned and auditioned, and got the US soap opera Santa Barbara.
Manson: What does being an actor mean to you?
Wright: I love when people are moved by things; when they see paintings, when they hear a song. That’s what we do; we’re storytellers. We make them feel, and then they think, and then they feel again, and then they share it with somebody, and it makes them hug the person. It makes me feel like I’m home.
Manson: Are you careful about what you eat? You’ve got that banging body – I imagine you take care of it.
Wright: Training for Wonder Woman changed my body. I only got five weeks of it because I was on House of Cards and I didn’t do half of what the other girls did, because my body wouldn’t go there, so I kind of became Mama General: ‘Good girls, go, 15 more!’ We were doing horseback riding in the morning, learning how to canter with sheathes and arrows…
Manson: That’s hot. You know it’s hot. Did you feel hot doing it?
Wright: Totally. With our leather outfits? Come on! We would do horse riding for an hour, then drive from the stable to the studio and do weight training for an hour – heavy weights and short reps to build size quickly. We were trying to do 2-3,000 calories a day: raw oats in smoothies with avocado, whole milk and weight-gain powder, three times a day.
“You’re a liar when you say, ‘I’m not worthy’, or, ‘I’m not strong enough.’ I was like that when I was younger”
Manson: Discipline seems to come quite easy to you…
Wright: I’m a moderate person. I’ll have a bottle of wine and then I’ll wake up the next day and drink green juice and eat salads.
Manson: Your career choices feel very disciplined, too. Even the stuff you haven’t done speaks of your discipline.
Wright: It was probably more of a concerted effort in planning a career, seeing how a lot of actresses got burned out by Hollywood; they put them in every movie, every TV show, every beauty campaign. You think, ‘I don’t even know what I feel about that person.’ And I wanted to be here for a while.
Manson: You have been. Did you imagine when you were younger that you’d become a movie star?
Wright: Never in a million years. Never wanted fame, never sought it, never thought about it.
Manson: Once you got it, what did you think about it?
Wright: It was daunting. I didn’t know what to do with it. I turned down doing the cover of Vanity Fair because I was so petrified of sharing myself. I was married to Sean Penn at the time, and I knew that all they wanted to know was what color underwear he wore.
Manson: Do you regret turning it down?
Wright: I did at the time. It affected my career. If you don’t play the game your notoriety doesn’t go up and then people don’t want to hire you. And it was twofold, because I was raising my kids, but I was also not getting parts. As a mother, I would never take that decision back, because I loved being there with my babies. But I knew I had missed out.
“If you don’t play the game your notoriety doesn’t go up, then people don’t want to hire you”
Manson: But now you’re starring in two huge movies, Wonder Woman and Blade Runner 2049, and you’ve got arguably the most empowered female role on television Claire Underwood in House of Cards. Do you feel like you were a genius?
Wright: Not at all. I never thought House of Cards would be what it is; I thought it would only last a year. It’s the greatest crew. Kevin Spacey, who plays Francis Underwood and I giggle all day long, to the point where they won’t allow non-waterproof mascara on me, because I am crying laughing.
Manson: Do you like Claire?
Wright: You have to like your character. Claire doesn’t suffer fools, but she gets s*** done. You have to find meaning and acceptance in every role, so I accept who she is – if I was that person, I would absolutely do those things. It’s looking through their lens, that’s all.
Manson: Have you become more political playing Claire?
Wright: I don’t know anything about politics.
Manson: Are you a feminist? Do you feel comfortable saying, ‘I believe in feminist principles’?
Wright: I do, but people need to look up the definition of that word again. Feminism is just equality.
“Feminism is equality. I was told I was getting equal pay on House of Cards. I found out recently it’s not true”
Manson: You fought your studio for equal pay. Correct?
Wright: Yes. I was told that I was getting equal pay and I believed them, and I found out recently that it’s not true.
Manson: That’s given me chills.
Wright: Yes, so that’s something to investigate. Claire and Francis are equivalent as far as their power, their union and the plot. I may not have as many scenes or words as Francis, but Claire doesn’t need to verbalize as much. Francis is an orator, a poet, a demonstrator. Claire is an ego that sits in the back and directs him, but they are partners on the same plane.
Manson: Which is what makes the show so compelling. Were you nervous about approaching the studio?
Wright: Not for a second. It was just fair, on principle.
Manson: Would you have done the same earlier in your career, or were you emboldened by your experience?
Wright: The latter. I would never have felt that I deserved it back then.
Manson: What is the thing that you wish people understood about what you do, that nobody ever talks about? The struggle of just an existence in the arts alone is difficult for us all; it comes with a cost of some sort.
Wright: It’s doing this interview. Don’t take it personally, but this is hard. This is the cost.
Manson: Because you feel you have to reveal a bit of yourself that you don’t want to?
Wright: I don’t want to reveal anything. I mean, why do you need to know anything about me? I’m portraying characters, so why do you want to get that muddled with who I am?
Manson: What surprised me, but what I also thought was totally badass, was that you did the 2017 Pirelli calendar. Why did you do that?
Wright: I liked the company of women I was with including Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Helen Mirren, and the fact that Pirelli decided to get out of the same photography they’d been doing for years. They made a quality piece about strong women.
Manson: Your first directing job was on House of Cards. Do you want to do more of that?
Wright: I only want to direct. I don’t want to be in front of the camera anymore. I’ve done it, I’m bored. I so appreciate this career, I’ve been doing it 30 years, but I love watching and helping other actors bring their talent to fruition. I was working with my daughter Dylan Penn last night because she has an audition for a TV show. We were running lines and I was giving her some directions, and I saw her take the direction and the next take was so good.
Manson: I think you can act and direct, but acting may have to be on the back boiler for a minute.
Wright: You know what I’d love? To do cameos – wild characters. My favorite role was in She’s So Lovely, the movie I did with Sean in 1997. That was my favorite character of all time – crazy, neurotic…
Manson: So you’re not bored with acting, you just haven’t found a role you’re excited by?
Wright: I’m bored by the activity of acting. I love the activity of directing so much more because it’s also not a soloist act; it’s everybody working together.
“Claire Underwood sits in the back and directs Francis, but they are partners on the same plane”
Manson: I get the feeling you’re in a pretty good place right now.
Wright: A really great place.
Manson: Your children are grown-up; you’re free to do whatever you damn well please.
Wright: I feel blessed. And, I say it every day: grateful. Really grateful for this, because this could not have happened. I could have hit 40 and nobody wants to hire you anymore because you’re an older woman. A lot of women have that.
Manson: Have you ever done theater?
Wright: No, and I’d love to do a play. That’s where I would love to act.
Manson: That’s what you have to do.
Wright: I have to do a play. I’d like to do it in London, though.
Manson: Okay, I’ve manifested it. It’s happening, in London, Robin Wright on stage. I’d pay to see that.
Wright: And you’ll do the music?
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