At a production house in Los Angeles here last month, a director and editor worked on an episode of the second season of Netflix’s House of Cards. In the darkened room, they toggled back and forth over a scene in which Rep. Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, and his wife, Claire, played by Robin Wright, are in their bedroom with a laptop, looking at clips from his political career and talking about the road they have chosen.
“Would it be too many cuts, to go back to Kevin’s face one more time?” the director asked. The actor is, after all, looking at Wright, whose face invites staring. That would be fine, the editor said. Satisfied, the director spun in her chair and said she was ready for a break.
The director of the tenth episode of the second season is, in fact, Wright. On camera since she was a teenager, she is for the first time calling the shots, and she is deeply engaged by every aspect of the opportunity.
Wright, 47, is a bit of a legend in Hollywood for passing on dozens of lucrative roles – in Batman Forever and The Firm, among others – and for fleeing the spotlight at every turn. As an actress, mother, wife – she was married to Sean Penn, with whom she has two children – she has lived a life of remove, with a reputation for reticence that some read as imperiousness. Having heard as much, I first approached the room on cat’s paws. But she smiled widely and said, “We’re going to get this started with a hug.” Gee, things were not going quite as I expected.
“It feels like a second coming, not in a religious way, but for me personally,” she said. “I am the age I am, I have been in this business for a long time, and I didn’t work a lot because I wanted to raise my kids. I have no regret about that. But this is a very different chapter I am embarking on.”
At the end of the first season, when Spacey, whom Wright said she loves working with and described as her “play date,” mentioned he might direct in the second season, she was surprised it was even a possibility.
“I said, ‘I want to, too,’ and I kept saying that to multiple parties,” she said. “They said, ‘Yeah sure,’ and I just kept saying it over and over. I was and am serious. I’m tired of biting my tongue. As an actor, I had noticed very vividly that very few directors know how to direct actors, because they haven’t done it. I’m not at all sure I know what I am doing, but I know what brings good work out of actors.”
She is eager to direct more, is working on a screenplay – “it’s a comedy, believe it or not” – with her fiance, Ben Foster, and, given her performance in House of Cards, is very much back in the mix as an actress at a time when the movie industry seems ready to work with grown-ups.
After years of picking and choosing her way through Hollywood, Wright is ready to engage as long as it is on terms that she can control.
*House of Cards Season 2 begins in the UAE on February 19 at 9pm on OSN First HD.