As we sit talking, the high-pitched zzzing of an electric saw provides a constant, albeit soft, soundtrack. “It’s so noisy here for being such a peaceful community,” says Wright, getting up from her chair and walking over to a small bedside window, where the additional clatter of hammers and backhoes is drifting in. She glances outside and shakes her head. “Go to lunch, you guys,” she says, and then comes back and curls up where she had previously been, one leg tucked beneath her body. She pours herself more water. “Those saws are driving me crazy.”
In the early 1990s, Wright landed what’s probably her best-known role: that of the emotionally damaged Jenny Curran in the Academy Award–winning Best Picture Forrest Gump. Seriously, mention the actress by name to some people and their faces go blank. Say Jenny from Forrest Gump and those same moviegoers will start proclaiming their love for her. With Forrest Gump’s critical and commercial success, Wright’s career catapulted to a whole new level of stardom. But rather than follow that path onward, the actress opted instead for a much less Hollywood-traditional route.
“I think it was a combination of finding the paparazzi hiding out in a bush in front of our house,” says Wright, who at this point had already been with Penn for the better part of a decade, “and that I was carjacked with the kids here in Santa Monica. I was so freaked out, and instead of processing the trauma, I packed up the house and we moved to the San Francisco area.” From 1996 until 2009, the couple raised their kids nearly 400 miles north of L.A., in the unincorporated town of Ross, Calif., population 2,415, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco in Marin County. “Marin is beautiful, and just so sane,” she says, and then laughs. “You know, compared to here.”
During this time, Wright continued making films — averaging one or two per year — including such notables as Unbreakable with Bruce Willis, How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog opposite Kenneth Branagh and Message in a Bottle with Kevin Costner, but her path was incongruent with that of a celebrity about whom Jodie Foster once stated, “if she’d wanted to, she could’ve been the best actress of her generation.” Still, Wright maintained a steady career highlighted by numerous artistic roles, all the while holding together a family in the San Francisco suburbs.
When I ask Wright how she was able to balance all of it, she tilts her head thoughtfully and says, “I don’t know how to answer that. It’s a tough question, because I look back and go: Well, it happened. Maybe I didn’t work that much? I get burned out when I see people doing too many movies and too many magazine covers, so maybe it’s a benefit.” She pauses for a moment, then continues in a tone that’s more centered and reassured. “Yes, it is a benefit to not work so much. I’m not disheartened by the way it went. It happened the way it was supposed to happen. I got to be with the kids, and now it’s good and busy. And fun.”
“Do you miss the Bay Area?” I ask.
“Not. At. All.” She shakes her head from side to side. “Been there, done that. You know?”
As the hour progresses, there’s one thought that continuously strikes me: Robin Wright is just really … real. She speaks purposefully, at times emphasizing specific words or pounding on one hand with the other to make a point. She’s wearing workout clothes and hanging out with me in her bedroom as though I were a friend who stopped in to say hi. And she simply radiates passion while discussing her kids, her projects and what she has lined up in the coming months.