April 26, 1992 | By Iain Blair
“I’m not exactly the type of actress who does half a dozen films a year“, said Robin Wright. She isn’t kidding. In fact, Wright has barely scraped together three movie credits. “I’m very choosy”, she was quick to stress since she made her well received debut as the title character in the 1987 hit ‘The Princess Bride’. Her next film, ‘Loon’, in which Wright co-starred opposite Jason Patric, ended up being retitled and going straight to video. Her only other screen appearance was in the harrowing ‘State of Grace’ opposite Sean Penn, Gary Oldman and Ed Harris.
Fortunately for her many fans, the 25 year old Wright, whose smoldering screen presence has been compared with that of a young Jessica Lange, is now back on view in ‘The Playboys’ which opens Friday.
Set in a small Irish village in 1957, and co-starring Albert Finney and Aidan Quinn, ‘The Playboys’ features Wright as Tara Maguire, a strong-willed, unmarried mother who falls for an itinerant actor (Quinn) when a traveling troupe of Irish thespians called ‘The Playboys’ arrives in town. But their romance is complicated by the fact that the local police sergeant (Finney) has been pursuing Tara himself.
“It’s a great story and very funny and very touching”, said Wright of the script by Shane Connaughton, the Irish writer who won an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay for ‘My Left Foot’. “As for Tara, she’s the sort of fully realized, complex role that only comes along once in a blue moon for an actress, so naturally I jumped at the chance to play her”.
Wright described Tara as “Fiercely independent, honest and really outside the conventions of the rest of her village neighbors. She’s the only person there who doesn’t suppress what she truly feels inside. She’s definitely the outcast and very advanced for the time”.
The unmarried actress, who has a year old daughter, Dylan, by Sean Penn, with whom she lives, happily admitted that “There are a lot of parallels. Would I have done what she did? If I were her, living in that time, the answer is yes. Obviously it’s hypothetical, and I’m not that person, but I feel her drive and her aspirations are something we have in common. I felt I understood her”.
Even though Wright found Tara to be “the most appealing role” she’d found in some time, and believed she was ideally suited to portray her, she faced stiff competition for the part. “They’d already had their minds set on someone else, a completely different personality than me”, she said. “So even when I did get the part, I had a lot of self-doubt. Was I up to par in executing it the way the writer envisioned, or was I simply the second choice and they`re accepting me? Those were big pressures on me for the first few weeks”.
Wright also found herself challenged by her character’s thick Irish accent. “I’m usually pretty good with dialects, but this was a killer and I still have trouble with it. Being from Texas, it was particularly hard, because I tend to lengthen the last word of a sentence, whereas this accent is a lot more clipped. In fact, I slipped out of it now and again, and first it would sound a bit Scottish and then Cajun, and people would give me very weird looks. But then we only had two weeks with a dialect coach”.
Wright said the chance to work with Albert Finney was “another big part of why I wanted to do ‘The Playboys’ and I wasn’t disappointed. He was a completely different energy to work with because he has the kind of professionalism that our generation hasn’t been exposed to-meaning the whole English theatre background. He was the other end of the spectrum from working with Aidan, who’s very American and very internal. Albert is a character study all the way”.
The actress had similar high praise for Scottish director Gillies Mackinnon and his approach to filmmaking. “We had a relationship like brother and sister, where we could fight about a scene and finally compromise. Not that I fight a lot with my directors…”, she said with a laugh. “It was more the dynamic between us and I had so much fire in me, not having made a film for two years, that I was ready to do anything to create the character”.
For Wright this included wanting to dye her hair red and the addition of blue contact lenses, “to complement my real freckles. But they said: No, it’s too obvious. They were really afraid because they’d cast me for my looks and they wanted me to keep my hair the way it was, the same color and length, but I felt I looked like a Malibu beach bunny, not an Irish country girl from the 50s”.
Despite such minor misgivings, Wright, who said her own ancestry is “mainly English and Scottish”, feels pleased with her performance and the film. “I’m usually very self-critical, but I don’t mind watching myself in ‘The Playboys’, and it was a lot of fun to make”, she says. “We all got to know each other pretty well, but then we didn’t have a choice. We shot the movie on location in this little village near the border of Northern Ireland, and we were all stuck there for three months, in the middle of nowhere, and we all ate together and hung out. It was almost like being the playboys in the film”.
Wright, who was born in Dallas and grew up in Los Angeles, said she never had an ambition to act. “I don’t come from a showbiz family, and I wasn’t even interested in acting as a child. I guess I was a late bloomer. I met an agent through my modeling agency who encouraged me to go out and audition for sitcoms and I was absolutely petrified because I had no desire to do it. I really only started when I was 17, and then got my first part when I was 18 in something called ‘Yellow Rose’. It’s hard to remember much about that because I had three lines and then I was shot”.
Wright’s career looked more promising when she landed the role of Kelly Capwell on the soap, ‘Santa Barbara’, for which she received 3 Emmy nominations. “That was a great training ground for me, but I hit my limit at two years and then I had to do two more years. I also picked up bad habits. You get very lazy out of fatigue and there’s nowhere to expound on your craft because it’s about memorizing 40 pages of dialogue and hitting your mark and shooting an hour show every day, and I need more stimulation”.
Wright found that stimulation when Rob Reiner cast her in ‘The Princess Bride’. “I was so shocked to get the part because so many people wanted it, and then to work with Rob and Billy Crystal. It was a fantastic experience for a first movie”.
Her experience in ‘Loon’ was a far different matter. “I felt it was the best thing I’d ever done, the only thing I was happy with, but then it went through big contractual problems for three years, retitled ‘Denial’ and released on video as a completely different film. It was a nightmare basically. We were all burned”.
She waited nearly two years before committing to her next project, ‘State of Grace’. “There’s not much out there that strikes a truth chord in me and there’s only so far you can compromise in your heart. I was being offered big commercial things that could have probably helped me out a lot, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do them”.
So was ‘State of Grace’ worth waiting for? “Absolutely”, Wright said. “It was a true test of my confidence and will. To me, Sean and Gary are the best male actors of their generation by far, and it was intimidating and a struggle to free myself up and let go and fail if I had to”. Despite a critically acclaimed performance, Wright feels that she did fail. “I feel I could have given so much more but I was afraid”, she said. “I was finally able to do it on ‘The Playboys’ because I had so much pent-up energy. I was ready to explode by the time I arrived in Ireland”.
She seems more relaxed about her next film, ‘Toys’, which she’s currently shooting opposite Robin Williams. “It’s comedy all the way, complete craziness”, she said. “There`s no script. He just goes on and improvises and we take the ball and run with it. It’s light and fun, and so relieving to not have to rip your soul apart”.