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Robin Wright is starring in 'House of Cards,' as the captivating Claire Underwood. How does she like acting for TV? (Melinda Sue Gordon/Los Angeles News Group)
Actress Robin Wright captivates in Netflix series ‘House of Cards’
First Published Jun 20 2013 09:49 am • Last Updated Jun 20 2013 10:06 am

Robin Wright apologizes for an earlier mix-up. Her reps had thought she was on the East Coast filming the second season of her highly admired series, "House of Cards." It turns out she was actually on the West Coast; so there was this EDT/PDT confusion about the interview time.

Figuring out Wright’s career is can be a bit puzzling, too. Early on, she starred in two of the most beloved films of all time — "The Princess Bride" and "Forrest Gump." Since then, she has tried to avoid being typecast, carving out a solid body of work, but not in films with such a cultural impact.

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Now Wright’s performance in "House of Cards" has reminded audiences just what a captivating actress she is. In the Netflix series — which was just released on DVD and still is available on the streaming service — she plays Claire Underwood, part of a Washington, D.C., power couple. Comparisons to Lady Macbeth are often made to her character, the head of a nonprofit company trying to get clean water to impoverished countries. Despite her do-gooder status, Claire often ruthlessly supports her ambitious, manipulative husband, Democratic Majority Whip Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey.

"I think part of me was, ‘TV? Really?’ " says Wright about being offered the role on "House of Cards." She has done some television, but not as a series regular since she began her career on a daytime soap. "House of Cards," though, is a different animal.

"It’s not TV," she observes. "It’s a 13-episode film. That’s what it feels like."

Based on a 1990 British miniseries, "House of Cards" is from filmmaker David Fincher ("The Social Network," "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") and written by Beau Willimon ("Ides of March").

Wright describes Fincher, whom she worked for in "Dragon Tattoo," as a master of persuasion, but adds she was confident in the quality of the production with him, Spacey and Willimon on board. The new "revolutionary live streaming" format intrigued her, too. Netflix released all 13 episodes the same day, Feb. 1, allowing for the latest trend -- binge viewing -- and it immediately saw a surge in subscriptions.

Then there was the lure of working with Spacey, whom Wright shared a scene with in the 1998 film "Hurlyburly."

"We giggle like little kids at camp between takes," she says about their working relationship. But a key for the actress was the chance to develop Claire, making her a true partner with Francis.

"David assured me that I’d be part of the collaboration in building the character with Kevin and Beau," she says. "A lot of times in this business, we are sold a package of goods, but I got exactly what I was sold."

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The fact that Netflix had agreed at the beginning to two seasons of "House of Cards" — 26 episodes — allowed the filmmakers and actors to think about the show in a longer arc.

"That was a lot of the fun," says Wright, "because we didn’t have to answer all the questions immediately," noting that they were able to discover things about the characters along the way. In Claire’s case, the actress was able to slowly "reveal the cracks in the human being under the template of Lady Macbeth."

The 47-year-old actress says she has fought against being typecast over the years.

"I get offered the heartfelt and understanding mother or wife — internal and ethereal, who is deeply saddened by things," she says, laughing. "So playing Claire is great. I get to branch out and have fun."

As for the understanding mother/wife type, she says, "I basically have to turn down about eight of those roles to get one good one like ‘She’s So Lovely’ or ‘White Oleander.’ "

While admitting it’s tough for women in Hollywood, she says most actors get stereotyped anyway, whether it’s as a bad guy or neurotic. "I’m not whining," she says. "I’m just saying that statistically, that’s a fact," which is why she is developing projects of her own.

She is a producer on Israeli director Ari Folman’s trippy half-animated science-fiction film "The Congress," which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and was recently picked up for U.S. distribution.

Wright plays a character called Robin Wright in the film, which is something of a commentary on Hollywood and celebrity. Though there are elements similar to her own life, it’s not autobiographical, the actress notes. The plot involves the character being told by her agent (Harvey Keitel) that the only way to save her career is by having herself scanned by the studio’s computers and signing over her life rights so they can make whatever kind of "Robin Wright movie" they want.

"Ari wanted to use me because I happen to be in two of the most iconic films of the top hundred films in America," says Wright, who will also be seen later this year in "A Most Wanted Man" with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rachel McAdams. In that film, based on the John le Carre novel, she plays a CIA operative — not a mother or a wife.

And as far as revealing anything about season two of "House of Cards," which she will be shooting until November, she even sounds like a CIA agent.

"Absolutely not," she responds when asked.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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