When actors reach a certain level of fame, they seem to split off into two groups: In the fi rst group you have those who’ve become better known for their personal lives than their work— Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Lindsay Lohan. In the second are those who manage to maintain some semblance of privacy despite being household names—Natalie Portman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Penélope Cruz.

Robin Wright Penn stays firmly planted in the second group. How she manages to do this while being half of a major Hollywood couple (her husband, Sean Penn, is decidedly not a wallfl ower) becomes evident when you speak with her. She’s equal parts thoughtful, cautious, wary, and warm—a combination that welcomes you in while making it clear that she’s totally in control of where the conversation will go.

But with two high-profi le projects either in or on their way to theaters—Universal’s big-budget thriller State of Play and indie drama The Private Lives of Pippa Lee—Wright Penn could find herself closer to the spotlight than she might prefer.

In State of Play Wright Penn plays Anne Collins, whose husband, Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), a hotshot congressman, has been thrust into the center of an investigation involving the murder of his mistress. The film also stars Russell Crowe as a grizzled journalist and friend of both Stephen and Anne who is a little too invested in reporting the story.

“I’ve been a huge fan of Robin’s for a long time and consider her one of the best actresses out there,” Affleck writes in an e-mail message. “Getting the opportunity to work with her was a huge part of the appeal of this movie for me—and daunting. She’s incapable of pushing a moment falsely, even a little bit, and is as impressive a person as she is an actress.”

Wright Penn, 43, follows that up with this summer’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, in which she plays a woman trying to reconcile her reckless New York City past with her suburban Connecticut present. Based on the novel by Rebecca Miller (daughter of Arthur) it’s a meaty role bolstered by an all-star cast: Alan Arkin, Julianne Moore, Keanu Reeves, and Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively (who plays Pippa’s younger self).

On a recent spring afternoon, the actor talked to Gotham about studio versus indie films, the perils of Facebook, and weathering marital storms.

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GOTHAM: Your two most recent films seem right in line with the trajectory of your career, which has been a blend of blockbuster projects like Forrest Gump and straight-ahead indies like the upcoming New York, I Love You. Is that mix of commercial and independent intentional?
ROBIN WRIGHT PENN:
That’s a good, broad question. Yes, indie versus studio; I don’t really gauge quality between those two. The only difference is your trailer is a bit smaller and you have less time to shoot the indie films. [Laughs.] It’s really about the material, and who you’re working with. Pippa was something we had been trying to do for a year, Rebecca and I, but we couldn’t get financing together. That was truly a passion project. It’s such a great tour-de-force role that I was dying to do.

G: Was Pippa developed with you in mind?
RWP:
No, no. It was a novel. And [Rebecca] was thinking of a 50- to 55-year-old-actress. So my agent, Kevin Huvane, called Rebecca and said, “What do you think about Robin?” And Rebecca went, “Oh my God, I wasn’t even considering making her 45 to 50.” And he set up a meeting with Rebecca and myself, and we fell in love and just started talking about it—for a year. We had a year to prep and explore. How great to be able to work with the writer. It never happens.

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