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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C

House of Cards' Robin Wright on how grief and loss informed her latest film

Wright directed the feature, Land, which is in cinemas on Monday.

ROBIN WRIGHT HAS had a very long Hollywood career – to some, she’ll forever be the luminous Princess Buttercup, from 1987′s The Princess Bride; to others she’ll always be the steely Claire Underwood from House of Cards.

In the 1980s, she first came to attention for her role in the soap opera Santa Barbara, but after she made her transition to film she became one of the big screen’s most recognisable faces. Her roles have spanned thrillers (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), romance and drama (Forrest Gump), and even superhero fare (Wonder Woman).

But her latest role is one of her most interesting – she plays the lead character Edee in the film Land, a film which is also her feature film directorial debut. It wasn’t a dual role she was meant to take, as Wright was initially only signed on to star in Land. When the producers came up against a timing issue (they had just 29 days to shoot it on location), they asked Wright to step into the director’s role. 

Land is a gentle, meditiative film. It centres on Edee’s journey after a traumatic loss, and how she struggles to find herself again. Set in the wilds of Wyoming, Land follows as Edee enters the wilderness on her own, wracked with grief and seeking an escape from human connection.

But into her world stumbles local hunter Miguel Borrás, played by Demián Bichir. Soon, Edee’s plans are upended by their connection. 

Those looking for a film that lets the landscape do the talking will love Land – it’s crammed full of expansive shots of the Wyoming landscape. It’s also full of shots of the landscape of Wright’s face, on which is almost written her deep trauma.

When we speak over Zoom, The Journal asks Wright what drew her to Land. “I mean, the character, it’s so much more about the message of the the overall film, that’s what drew me,” she says.

“And we all experience grief and loss in many different ways. And we all deal with it differently. And I loved the part of this story that it generally takes the kindness and compassion of another human being to help you get through difficult times.”

What she connected with was the message in there. “And really, what attracted me to the whole film was the one line that Miguel says, when [Edee] says, ‘Why are you helping me?’ and he says, ‘you were in my path’. It’s just so simple,” says Wright. “And who we are as humans, we do that kind of stuff. And then somebody does that to us. You know, it’s almost like passing the baton through life, these happenings.”

Bechir says he agrees with Wright’s assessment. Though we don’t speak about it in the interview, in the background is the knowledge that Bechir – who’s part of a Mexican telenovela dynasty – has been through a hugely traumatic real-life loss himself. In 2019, his wife Stefanie Sherk took her own life. 

Knowing this while watching the film, and understanding that Wright has experienced her own grief and loss, adds a layer of reality to Land that the viewer can’t shake.  

“I saw in Miguel beautiful layers that I haven’t explored before, as an actor,” says Bechir. “That offered me that chance of frugality and, you know, very little words, just a few words, here and there. Very contained. It was a fantastic opportunity to be part of such a film. It’s so much needed nowadays. And, at the same time, to be able to explore that character. It was a joy.”

As Bechir hinted at, the film isn’t dialogue heavy at all. That’s not a challenge for actors of their calibre, as Wright’s face and body do a lot of the talking for her. The way she holds herself, and her expressions, tell the viewer that Edee is in deep pain. 

It must have been a tough job, to play that role and direct at the same time? “I mean, to do both… you have to have an incredible team as your support system. It’s like your backbone,” explains Wright. “And boy, did we ever – I had four great producers on set every day, who’ve been in the business for over 30 years, each of them. So veterans, veterans of war, we couldn’t have done it without them.”

Bechir pays tribute to the teamwork aspect too, saying that’s “absolutely” what helped make the film. “The incredible crew that we had, those guys – they helped us, they guided us.”

What about the setting itself? There are epic mountains in Wyoming, and the film shows that it can be hit by extremely strong snowstorms. It’s a landscape of extremes. “It was just fascinating,” says Bechir.

“That’s one of the beauties of my work, that I get to go to beautiful places that…  they are not on my vacation list. But now they are, you know, I have to go back to those places, I feel the urge to do that more often.

“It’s just beautiful for you as an actor to be able to be there in the real place with the real weather conditions and just adapt to every single thing over there in only 29 days. That’s a great, fantastic challenge.”

With a film like this, about love, grief and loss, it’s natural that it might want to put across some sort of message, something to make the viewer think about. Is there a message in Land? Wright says there is: 

“That there is hope to be had when people lose hope and faith. And that the power of human resilience is incredible. And that we need to be connected to other people, we need the help of others. And it’s just a beautiful reminder. That is us. That’s humanity, the true sign of it”

Adds Demian of the message he sees in it:

It doesn’t matter how deep your pain is and your sorrow. You will come back on your feet and you will smile again, if you are lucky to follow the right steps. And then if you are lucky to find you the help of others, and if you open your heart to be helped.

Land is in Northern Ireland cinemas now and in Republic of Ireland cinemas from June 7th

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