Robin Wright stars as a cover girl for the April 2016 issue of Harper’s Bazaar UK, photographed by David Slijper and styled by Charlie Harrington.
Here’s the cover story preview:
On a cool winter evening, Robin Wright takes a seat at a corner table in her local New York bar, orders a glass of full-bodied red and exhales. “It has been a long week.” Wright doesn’t look tired – she has the kind of internally illuminated, Californian complexion that makes you doubt if such a state were possible. And there are reasons to celebrate. That morning, yet another Golden Globe nomination had been announced for her portrayal of Claire Underwood in the Netflix drama House of Cards (Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama, the award she won in 2014). In response to my congratulations, Wright smiles, thanks and moves on: she is, she admits, exhausted after six months’ relentless work. The end of the latest season is within reach, the wrap party days away, and she is desperate for a break. Over the past few weeks they’ve been frantically shooting the final episodes, and Wright – who has directed four of them – has been up at dawn, acting all day, then editing half the night. “I’m so done,” she says wearily. “I’m so tapped out.”
Wright, unambiguously, has reached her limit. “I would prefer to be behind the camera.” Directing, she means. For ever? “Oh yeah, full on, for ever. That would be great.” If a great part came along, a cameo, she might take it. But ultimately, she feels her acting days are over. “You feel you’ve completed the chapter. It’s so whimsical, this business; you never know when or what is going to come next. So never say never.” She contemplates her future, and then makes her choice: “But if someone said, ‘You can either act or direct,’ without hesitation I would say, ‘Direct.'”
Well, it’s not quite what you expect from an actress who many say, at nearly 50, is at a new beginning of her career, playing a part that critics agree is one of the most compelling in televisual history, in a hit show in its fourth season, binge-watched by millions. Claire Underwood is one of those characters from whom it’s almost impossible to avert your gaze from the moment you encounter her – the side-swipe of blonde hair, the finely cut dresses, the night-time jogging through Washington, DC, the pulverising ambition. If you haven’t seen the show (unlikely), she is married to Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood, who starts out as the Democrat majority whip in the House of Representatives, and over three seasons and a virtuoso display of political skulduggery and the occasional murder, becomes the President of the United States. At the end of the last season, Claire – the perfect, prototype First Lady and a vital part of her husband’s ascent – had grown sick of the inequality in their relationship, her wifely dependence, and the fact that he occupies the only chair in the Oval Office. Claire is, and has always been, hungry for her own power. In the final scene of season three (spoiler), she announces she’s leaving him, and we watch her walk out of their White House apartment in the way she always walks: faultlessly upright, proud, a little sashay round the hips – somewhere between supermodel and racehorse.
Wright, even after three seasons of the show, still sees the unmatchable magnetism of Claire. “She is the best of both sexes,” she says; as sensual as she is brutal, a physical grace somehow heightening her icy efficiency. Claire can be seductive and skewering in the same breath. Wright laughs. “It’s so not me. I’m like, ‘I’m a villain!’ It’s funny! It’s silly.” In the new season, available from March, she has had to become proficient in the art of directing herself, watching back takes and judging whether she’s good enough. On House of Cards she gets to work with plenty of old pros. “Like Kevin Spacey. He’s such a master. He turns it on so quickly and is such a fast absorber, just a sponge. You don’t have to say anything to him.”
The contrast between the way Wright talks about directing and acting is stark. On directing she is eloquent, voluble, full of ideas and observations. On acting – well, it’s as though there’s not much to say any more. I tell her how from the outside everyone saw Claire as her renaissance – the part that would lift her, mid-career, to the big-time.
She smiles. ‘Very funny, isn’t it? How they paint it for you.’ But it’s fair to think, surely, that once you’ve played such a rich part, it might make you hungry for more? And that interesting offers would be pouring in? (This year she’s acting in the Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman movie. Excited? ‘Yup. I am. I’m really excited to get in shape.’ Right.) She explains: ‘I think once I tasted the directing, I didn’t want to go back. That’s all. No different to going, “Oh, I love that restaurant, I don’t want to go back to Denny’s [an American fast-food joint].” Not that bad, but with directing there’s so much to learn and the challenge of something new. Not to say that you can’t stop learning as an actor, but I’m not that kind of actor. I can play characters, but that’s not my life force. I don’t want to do that any more.’ Is this just Wright playing down her talent, dismissing her ability, the way a lot of women, especially, tend to do? ‘I don’t think it’s necessarily self-deprecation,’ she says, directly. ‘It’s reality.’
Read the full interview in the April issue of Harper’s Bazaar UK.