Last time we saw Robin Wright, she was cleaning up a right old mess in the White House and saving the final season of House of Cards from disaster following Kevin Spacey’s cancelling. (As we speak, he’s mooching back into the limelight.)
right’s portrayal of ice cool and possibly sociopathic first lady Claire Underwood was a revelation: as the series went on, you almost became more interested in her than her windbag of a husband Francis, and wondered what was going on in that perfectly sculpted head.
While on House of Cards, Wright tried her hand at directing, and that experience has inspired her to take the helm on her first feature, a spare but emotional drama called Land.
In it, she plays Edee Holzer, a woman who has decided to dispense with cell phones, iPads, computers and the 21st century in general while retreating to a spartan cabin high in the Wyoming Rockies. She’s coping with a family tragedy that seems too vast to process and has found what she thinks is a blessed spot where no one will ask her any awkward questions.
But Edee’s no outdoorswoman and after several almost fatal brushes with Wyoming wildlife and a brutal winter, she’s befriended by a local man called Miguel (Demián Bichir), who offers help, but gives her room to find herself. Though it was shot just before Covid hit, Land offers timely perspectives on isolation, healing and the deep human need for company, comradeship.
“Well I think we’ve all been dealing with this for more than a year, right?” Wright says when I spoke to her via Zoom. “And so, in a way, it’s a reminder, this film, of what’s really important. Like Edee, we’ve all been in isolation and been away from our loved ones and not had connection like we had once known it.
“But I hope people who watch the film will also come away from it with a sense of how important it is to get away from the mayhem and the chaos, from society’s demands and from all devices that we’re in all day long, and just get out and commune with nature. I’m dying to do more of that basically. I’m just jonesing. I think all of us are.”
Incidentally, ‘jonesing’ means craving something: don’t feel bad, I didn’t know either.
What initially drew her to the story? “The script came to me about three years ago when I was looking for something to direct,” she says. “House of Cards was coming to an end and I really wanted to do something completely different to that.
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“And it was in that time period where, in America, we were experiencing these random shootings on an almost bi-weekly basis, so much so that it was becoming almost the norm — oh did you hear about the shooter in North Carolina, did you hear about the shooter in Florida.
“It was just part of our daily dialogue and I just kept waking up every morning and wondering how do these poor people get through that awful trauma of losing a loved one, where everything that you knew in your life doesn’t exist any more.
“Then this story was sent to me, and was so beautiful and powerful. It was about the power of human resilience, how you can find hope again and that, generally, it takes the kindness of another human being to help you get through. And I felt that was an important message to share right now.” Wright’s role in the film is very demanding in the sense that her character spends lots of time alone and experiences various conflicting emotions without verbally expressing them. Lots of anguished silences then — something she took in her stride.
“Actually, I find it easier in a sense not having words get in the way,” Wright says. “I wanted the film to be spare and lean and, for instance, we shot multiple scenes explaining Edee’s past, but in the editing room, I took them all out.
“We stripped down dialogue from Miguel and Edee’s scenes, and the leaner it got, the less chatter we had, the more it resonated I felt. It was in the editing room that I really finally understood this movie.”
Editing, by the sound of it, was a lot easier than the actual shoot. “It was tough,” Wright says. “We were filming exteriors mostly, up in Calgary, and we only had 29 days to shoot the movie and cover four seasons, so it was a challenge.
“I’ve always been an outdoors person — we were camping from the time we could walk and my dad always had a camper trailer. We would drive across the country all the time and pop tents, so the outdoor life wasn’t entirely foreign to me.
“But Canada, it’s a beast — the elements are extreme. It gets freezing up there and like the river we filmed in, it was so cold, I could only do two takes and hypothermia was setting in. We might be shooting a summer scene and within 30 minutes we’d get a dump of snow, so we would always have to have the change of costumes and hair and make-up standing by in case we’d have to start shooting winter.”
She had to work hard on her survival skills as well.
“We learned how to skin a deer and how to flay the meat and smoke the meat. We learnt how to hold and fire a gun — it was fun actually, though we didn’t actually shoot any animals.”
Wright, who’s 55, first broke through in the 1980s with a starring role in The Princess Bride. In the 90s, she was best known for her tempestuous, on-again, off-again relationship with Sean Penn. She’s always been a fine actress and conclusively proved just how good she can be in House of Cards. But she greatly enjoyed the challenge of directing a feature film and is keen to repeat the experience.
“I think after being an actress for so many years, I felt ready because, as an actor, you’re a puppet essentially, you’re taking direction, and it was nice to work on the other side.
“I loved working with all the different departments because, on a film set, you’re all building this one thing, you’re all aiming for one vision. Whereas for an actor, it’s a solo act essentially — you’re doing your homework by yourself, you’re memorising lines by yourself, you’re looking in the mirror talking to yourself all the time.”
Directing, she concludes, “is the other end of the spectrum, you feel like you’re really collaborating”.
Land is released in cinemas on Monday.
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Robin Wright: ‘Random shootings became almost the norm – I kept wondering how these people get through that trauma’