By Ann Oldenburg, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES - Ask Robin Wright to come up with three adjectives to describe herself, and there's a long silence.
Finally, she says, "You'd have to give me a couple days. It's going to change about 47 million times."
The fact is: Wright's wary.
REVIEW: 'Pippa Lee' is a perfect role for Wright
She thinks carefully about every word before she says it, as if envisioning how it will look on the printed page, imagining the many ways it will be twisted to give a wrong impression.
Why so serious? She's in that celebrity trap: She's extremely proud of her new movie, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, opening in New York and L.A. today and rolling out wider over the next month, and she wants to keep the focus on the film.
But Wright, 43, has just ended her 20-year relationship and 13-year marriage to Sean Penn- and that's big news in the celebrity world.
Pippa Lee, written by Rebecca Miller, is the story of a woman whose marriage is unraveling after many years. As it does, she begins to explore her own identity.
It would seem a perfect opening for trying to get at Wright's own situation. There are parallels with Pippa's life, no?
"I think every woman, you know, especially after you have kids, you see the evolution of the changing of your relationships - as kids get older and become adults themselves. The dynamics change," she says.
She recently moved from Northern California, where she and Penn raised their two children, son Hopper, 16, and daughter Dylan, 18, who's at college now. Being in L.A., she says, "has its foibles." But it's her "old home," near friends and family.
Wright's parents divorced when she was 3. She left home at 15 to model in Tokyo, where her brother was living at the time. The call for blond-haired, blue-eyed girls was big, and she made $40,000 in a summer. She grew up "very fast," she says.
Now, her normally blond hair is dark for The Conspirator, a movie she's shooting with director Robert Redford about Abe Lincoln. She plays Mary Surrat, the owner of the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth hatched his Lincoln assassination plot.
But no matter what her hair color, she says she is able to move through the world without being recognized.
"I'm a really private person," she says. "It's weird for me to say, 'Hey, all you strangers, get to know me.' "
That's why getting her to give an adjective is like pulling teeth. She has no interest in playing the fame game. Walk a red carpet? Yes. Anything much more? No.
"Personally, I don't want to get to know people. I want to see their work," she says.
In her case, the work that still resonates the most with fans: 1994's Forrest Gump and 1987's The Princess Bride.
"I love those movies, and they're going to go down in history. They're iconic. And I love that I'm a part of film history. But," she says, gently, "it's so then, and we're now. It's 20, 22 years ago. I'm interested in doing other things."
Pippa Lee is one of them. While it may not have the blockbuster appeal of those movies, Wright hopes it will be respected - especially since she put so much of herself into it. In one scene, she is particularly vulnerable as she and Keanu Reeves make love in the back of his truck.
"Any kind of vulnerable is always hard to do. Just being exposed in that way is difficult," she says. "People say it's hard to do those scenes revealing the blood and soul of your heart, crying. That's easy-peasy for me." Intimacy, she says, is far more challenging. "Thank God we did it in one take."
So, let's try a Vanity Fair-type question: What is her idea of perfect happiness?
There's another long pause, and then Wright starts to smile.
"To not even to have to ask the question: Am I happy?"
She adds, after more thought: "Not worrying. Not worrying if things are going to be OK - in every aspect of life."
In the end, she lets loose just a bit and makes a reference to Penn out of the blue: "I'm not out to hurt him at all. I'm just happy about this movie."
And that's how she really feels.