Robin Wright: The Wright Stuff?

Robin Wright made heads turn as The Princess Bride, then made headlines when she dropped out of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves to have a baby fathered by Sean Penn. Will her next movie The Playboys return her to the top of the lists as one of the most sought-after young actresses in town?

Robin Wright smiles coolly, slowly puts down her forkful of Chinese chicken salad, and falls stonily silent. We're sitting in a tucked-away expanse of her publicist's home-cum-office, and I've just remarked on some pointed parallels between Wright's real life and the goings-on in her new movie, The Playboys.

Onscreen, Wright plays a comely, wild-hearted '50s unwed mother who falls for a roving Irish actor. Offscreen, Wright is the comely, wild-hearted, unwed mother of the child she had by Irish-American actor Sean Penn, her co-star from State of Grace, with whom she now lives. Wright's steely look tells me there will be no such discussion. Nor, she makes clear with another chilly smile, does she care to expound on the dizzying irony of replacing The Playboys' first leading lady, Annette Bening, who became involved with Warren Beatty, the man with whom Madonna took up after divorcing Sean Penn.

"I don't want to bring myself out," she declares about getting personal with the press. "When I did interviews for my first movie, The Princess Bride, I said everything that came to mind. But now, I think I only owe audiences who I am--good days and bad--period. Now, I would choose not to do interviews at all, just let the work speak for itself, to the people looking at it. That's how they know who you are. That's why they go to the movies." Just around the time I'm thinking, "Swell, she might as well be Mrs. Sean Penn," I find that, if you hit on any other subject that interests Wright--aside from her live-in companion and the tabloid headlines that dog him--she'll merrily let fly. And it's a good thing I decide to hang in because, eventually, Wright will hold forth on Penn, too.

Ask her, for instance, how she and coworkers--like co-star Aidan Quinn--got on while shooting The Playboys in Ireland, and she reports, "I got a lot of 'Oh, she's become Mrs. Sean Penn,' which means I spoke my mind and got a lot of shit for it. Like I don't have a mind of my own, like I'm not my own person. For actresses, there's a fine line between being established enough or not to become assertive. I felt I was on that line on The Playboys. I watched my p's and q's a lot of the time, but I don't believe it would have gotten me anywhere if I hadn't been vocal."

Okay, Mr. Sean Penn has been legendarily vocal and physical on- and offscreen, too. But in all fairness, the 25-year-old Wright's flint was forged way before she took up with the actor-director Hollywood loves to hate. She is, after all, a girl who, as a 17-year-old, struck poses for Paris couturiers, but on her own time "tried to get the other models to revolt" against being treated like "pieces of meat." At a meeting four years later with director Rob Reiner for The Princess Bride, Wright nailed that project's Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman, whom she didn't recognize, with: "Why are you asking me so many questions?" In spite of this--or, perhaps, because of it--Reiner and Goldman hired her.

Publicizing the same movie in People magazine, Wright, whose only prior acting experience was in TV soaps, loftily proclaimed, "No nude scenes for five years." At 23, she stared down 27-year-old Phil Joanou, who was auditioning actresses to play the uppity, bruised kid sister of Irish Mafia brothers Ed Harris and Gary Oldman in State of Grace, and said, "You're the director?" Looking for the right girl to embody the movie's "moral and ethical force," Joanou signed her up like a shot.

This is nobody's Mrs. Anything. So, since I know that Wright, who is sheathed entirely in black down to her boots, today has an appointment with John Badham about playing La Femme Nikita, a ferocious hit girl, in the director's Americanized version of the Continental success, I sound her out on her feelings about going up for lesser jobs, ones that would have her playing Babes-Waiting-on-the-Sidelines-for Mel/Tom/Kevin in commercial-minded stuff. The notion gets her ragging on certain filmmakers' "upsetting lack of imagination, like, you walk into a meeting in a black dress, and they just can't see you in jeans and a T-shirt." I ask if maybe her looks make people confuse her with such other placid looking, tow-headed beauties as Rebecca De Mornay and Kelly Lynch. She shakes her head no.

"Uma Thurman, Penelope Ann Miller, Winona Ryder, Nancy Travis, Nicole Kidman," she says, ticking off the women she perceives as rivals. "We're all likely to get a look at the same parts--not that we're the same type, or anything. Most times, you're cast just by an energy, a connection between you and the moviemakers. I went up for Mortal Thoughts, Days of Thunder, Billy Bathgate, and The Freshman, just like I'm going up for everything that's around now. But I've done four movies, only one of which people have seen. Those other [actresses] have done 10. Even if only one of those 10 films was good, it's like you're shit if you haven't done that many movies. It's a very by-the-numbers-on-the-board kind of thing and I wish I didn't have to become a name to move forward in this business. But," she says, shrugging, "that's the nature of the beast."

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