Robin Wright Talks 'House of Cards' Season 2; Working with Kevin Spacey
by elizabeth thorp
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Robin Wright is defying the typical arc of over-40 women in Hollywood. With the acclaimed Netflix series House of Cards set to debut its widely anticipated second season on February 14, a John Le Carré movie called A Most Wanted Man, starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, premiering at Sundance Film Festival, and a wedding on the horizon, the recent Golden Globe–winning actress is enjoying a glorious renaissance. “Working with Robin is most satisfying,” says Kevin Spacey, Wright’s costar on House of Cards. “She’s sharp, funny, always searching for the unusual angle into a scene or an emotion; and she’s most deserving of all the praise that has come her way for her creation of Claire Underwood.” Capitol File spoke with Wright in December, the day after her Golden Globe nomination for best actress was announced.
Congratulations on your Golden Globe nomination! [Wright ultimately won the award.] I mean, four for the show. Best show, best actor to Kevin [Spacey], best actress to you, and best supporting actor for Corey Stoll.
ROBIN WRIGHT: Oh yes, Corey! I didn’t know we got a best show nomination, too. That’s Beau [Willimon], the show runner and creator. He got snubbed at the Emmys, so he deserves this.
I’ve lived in DC for 21 years and have done some political work, and I feel this show is the most realistic show about Washington—minus the super evil plotting, maybe?
RW: Take the evil plotting away, you think? Be more specific. Tell me what is implausible in the evil scheming of Francis Underwood.
I don’t know. Corey’s death?
RW: [Laughs] Oh, I see. A little too mafia?
Yes, exactly, like Frank wiping the steering wheel of fingerprints after the murder—it was a little Sopranos.
RW: What else? We spoke to a senior person in the Obama Administration at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner last spring, and he said everything is accurate in this show—[except] you’d never get an education bill passed that fast.
Did he think reporters sleeping with sources and members of Congress was factual?
RW: Oh yeah… DC is more corrupt than Hollywood. It really is. It’s more sleazy than Hollywood… how much infidelity goes on.
Well, they say that DC is the Hollywood for ugly people.
RW: [Hysterical laughter]
Isn’t that mean? I take that personally!
RW: DC is a great city. A beautiful city.
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Who are the women who are sitting over there waiting to talk to you?
RW: They work for an organization in the eastern Congo. [Shortly after this interview, Wright earned the distinction of Goodwill Ambassador for the Congolese women’s rights organization.]
Is that a charity you’re involved with?
RW: Yes, it’s called the Enough Project, based in DC, with John Prendergast. He was the African Advisor for [President] Clinton for four years. I met him through a movie I was going to do, playing a doctor with Médecins sans Frontières, and he was my advisor on the film. He helped me go to Senegal and Tanzania for research, and then he turned me on to the crisis in the Congo. I kind of became the spokesperson for the “Raise Hope for Congo” campaign [of the Enough Project, a group focused on ending crimes against humanity]. I went to the Congo two years ago and met with survivors. Then we made a documentary [called Blood in the Mobile], and I spoke in front of Congress.
I remember you came to testify. That must have been intense.
RW: It scared the shit out of me… You know, it’s selling used cars—that’s what it’s like trying to push legislation. Depending on the day, it’s what’s important on that day. You know how quickly they cut funds when we have a crisis, an economic crisis—or when we have a government shutdown.
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You’re also involved with an alcohol and anti-hazing organization, aren’t you?
RW: The Gordie Foundation, yes.
I think this is so important, especially now that I have children entering middle school.
RW: Statistics are higher than ever now. There are key universities—University of Colorado, Boulder, is one of the worst—for drinking incidents. It’s basically just educating kids; we did a documentary on this [called Haze]. The story of Gordie is that he was a freshman at Boulder; he was a promising football player, an honor student. He was being initiated into his fraternity, where they force you to drink. It’s hazing.
RW: Yes, but they do it in a hose, a mix of cheap whiskey, beer, vodka, whatever. You cannot allow kids to sleep it off or “pass out.” We have to educate kids to keep kids awake, sitting up, and give them water. Even if they’re throwing it up. Never let friends sleep. When Gordie passed out, he was on the couch facedown, and they took a Sharpie and wrote [derogatory terms] on his face and body. [Gordie was left on a couch of a fraternity house to sleep it off for 10 hours before he was found dead the next morning; no one called for help.]
That’s unbelievably horrible.
RW: His poor mother… So, what she did is put all her efforts and money into this organization to educate the kids. She made key chain bottle openers that have the steps you need to do, the signs to look for, then to call 911.
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We need to chat about the House of Cards trailer for season two. It’s just you, filmed in black and white, alone, smoking in slow motion. Not to glamorize smoking, but it’s a great trailer. The other trailer says, “The butchery begins!” Can you give us any hints or teasers about what we can expect in season two?
RW: Just wait. What we have in store for you guys... In [House of Cards Executive Producer] David Fincher’s words, “You will be tied and skinned.” We’re sworn to secrecy!
I love your character Claire Underwood’s efficiency and icy cold demeanor.
RW: Really and truly, she is utilitarian and gets things done. If there’s a barrier, this barrier simply needs to be removed.
It’s so Machiavellian.
RW: It’s very Machiavellian. I’m Lady Macbeth to Francis’s Richard III. And David Fincher said to me, “This is not TV, this is live stream, this is the future, and I’m going to be shepherding it.” He just kept saying, “Trust me.” He wooed me while we were in Stockholm shooting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I told him, “I have to get paid, and I want to be able to develop the character.”
Have you been surprised how Netflix has blown up and all of the innovative new programming being developed?
RW: Yes. I just read an article that called it “digital escalation.” And it all started with House of Cards.
With House of Cards, are you in Baltimore for a significant part of the year filming?
RW: Yes, we’re there spring through fall. Kevin is there almost full time. I take the Acela to Baltimore from New York. I bought a place here in New York, [which] is home.
Everyone’s talking about the hair. You make me want to cut my hair. Will you keep it short?
RW: For Claire, definitely. She’s a short hair gal. But I like it, too. I can’t imagine having long hair anymore; it’s weird. I had long hair my whole life. It will never get long; I get very cut happy.… My fiancé [actor Ben Foster] hides his buzzers from me. I’ll snip a little here, a little there.
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Congratulations on your engagement. When are you getting married?
RW: I don’t know. We haven’t talked about a date. Everyone else is talking about a date, especially my daughter Dylan. She wants me to go get the dress and all that. They’re very excited.
Are your kids in the business?
RW: They’re 22 and 20, and they’re going to be in entertainment in some capacity. Dylan is modeling right now because she wants to make money, but she’s a writer. I think she’ll write and direct. She just got the new Gap campaign gig.
I think Dylan looks like you in Princess Bride.
RW: No, I don’t think so. She’s so beautiful; it’s kind of crazy. I was awkward when I was younger. I had a pug nose; my face totally changed with pregnancy… Dylan never had my pug nose; she has this beautiful Roman nose. She has a cross between her dad’s and my nose. Her dad [Sean Penn] has a prominent nose.
Back to House, is it difficult for you to play such a diva?
RW: The only note that David Fincher ever gave me when we started the show was to be still. People were suggesting to base the character on Hillary Clinton or other strong women personas, and I didn’t want to do that. When we shot the first couple of scenes, David would come over to me and say, “Don’t move. Don’t move. Claire is a bust.” Now when I have the Claire clothes, the Claire hair, and say the Claire words, it just clicks. I’m completely and totally still [except with Kevin]. We’re so goofy. In between takes, we’re very goofy. We giggle a lot.
In January, Robin Wright won a Golden Globe award for best actress in a television drama for House of Cards.
How did you meet your fiancé?
RW: I met him years ago; he’s an actor. He’s in Lone Survivor with Mark Wahlberg about the Navy Seals. I’d always loved his work. Then I was in a movie he produced, called Rampart, and he was on the set every day since he was also an actor, so we became friends. Cut to a year later when the movie comes out, we’re at the premiere, and everyone is watching the movie. We had already seen it, so he said, “Do you want to go to the party early and hang out until the screening is over?” And that was it. We’ve been together ever since.
So how does an up-and-coming younger actor muster the courage to ask Robin Wright out on a date?
RW: Can I tell you something? That was the first date I had ever been on in my life. I had never been on a real date.
I’m finding this hard to believe…
RW: Generally, in this industry, you meet someone on a movie, and he becomes your boyfriend. I had one boyfriend before I got married and had kids. I was a married mom my whole life, really. My one boyfriend I had met on a movie, where we played boyfriend and girlfriend.… So I had never been asked on a date before. We hung out at the premiere party, talking all night and having a great time. Finally, Ben said, “Would you like to go to a poetry reading with me tomorrow night?” I went. At the reading we were moved by the same lines, and all of a sudden, he took my hand, and I got that rush. Butterflies. I thought, I’m an old hag; I thought that was over. [Laughs]
What a lovely surprise.
RW: We just work. We’re a great team. He’s from Iowa. I’m 14 years older. Nobody blinks an eye when the man is 14 years older, but I’m a “cougar” because I’m with somebody younger.
I’m pretty sure that’s the last thing people would say about you.
RW: His mother was so funny. She said “Are you kidding me?” about our age difference. Ben has always hung out with older people. When he was 9, he wasn’t with the neighborhood kids skateboarding or playing cowboys and Indians. Ben was with the 89-year-old man next door. He loved talking to him. He’d walk him down to the general store to get him his Old Spice or whatever. He’s more grown up than me in so many ways; he’s an old soul.
photography by andrew eccles styling by emma pritchard; Set styling by Adrian Crabbs; Makeup by Sean Flanigan; Hair by Tricia Sawyer; Manicure by Myrdith Leon-McCormack using Dior Vernis at Factory Downtown
Celebrating the start to the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner weekend at the British Ambassador's residence with the Entertainment Software Association.