KIOS-FM

Robin Wright Makes Her Feature Directorial Debut In 'Land'

Feb 15, 2021
Originally published on February 15, 2021 10:20 pm

Robin Wright is not afraid to go to the most painful parts of the human experience. Her latest film, Land, follows a woman named Edee after the deaths of her husband and young son. Her grief pushes her away from the world and she escapes to a small, abandoned cabin on the side of a mountain in Wyoming.

"We toyed with the word 'survival' ... " explains Wright, the film's director and star. "It's not so much that she wants to die. She wants to erase herself — the self that she was with her family — because it'll never be the same."

A severe winter storm leaves her without any way to get food. She is unconscious on the floor, freezing to death, when a stranger, played by Demián Bichir, happens upon the cabin and nurses her back to health.


Interview Highlights

On Bichir's character, Miguel

I didn't have to give him much. He knew exactly who this character was. Demián also had an unfathomable event happen to him, and he had experienced what Edee had with the different phases of grief, and he just said, I know this character because I've been there.

On Bichir losing his wife, actor Stefanie Sherk, to suicide just a few months before filming began

When I met with him before we shot the movie, we sat in my living room for an hour. And he just said, "I need to play this part. It's therapy for me." And the only word I gave him, as a symbol to represent who he is to Edee, I said, "You are her saint." And he went, "Done. That's all I needed. See you on set." And we left and I saw him a month later and we started shooting.

On the intimate silence between the characters

That was brought by Erin Dignam, who was one of the writers, and she's like, he needs to be frugal with his words. He only speaks when it's important. He's an incredible listener. He's very discerning. And respects her wishes when she says, "I'm choosing to be here. And can you not tell me anything about the world outside."

He's like, OK, but if you're going to stay here, I'm going to teach you how to properly survive. And in the quietude, you know, we cut a lot of lines, frankly. He was talking too much and Demián is that quality anyway — he's one of the most soulful men I've ever met. And is such a gentle, beautifully open, gentle soul — so what a gift to to get that actor to be in this movie. It was perfect.

On a moment of levity in the film, when Miguel starts singing the 1980s pop song, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears

Erin Dignam, the writer, was actually frustrated, saying we need levity. And she just came up with that idea that he's just singing an '80s tune. And when you're doing a low-budget movie, you only have so much in the kitty. ... We had a choice between that one and I think two other '80s songs that I just went with that one. ... We just could not stop laughing.

Danny Hajek and Scott Saloway produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When a famous actor decides to try their hand at directing a feature film for the first time, the story they choose to tell can reveal something about them. And if the film Robin Wright has chosen to direct says anything about her, it's that she's not afraid to go to the most painful parts of the human experience. It's called "Land," and she's the director and star.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LAND")

ROBIN WRIGHT: (As Edee) I'm feeling that it's really difficult to be around people because they just want me to be better.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) So you're not able to share what you're feeling with other people.

WRIGHT: (As Edee) Why would I want anyone to share in that?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) But that means you're alone with your pain.

MARTIN: The film tells the story of a woman named Edee who's lost her husband and her young son. Her grief pushes her away from the world, and she escapes to a small, abandoned cabin on the side of a mountain in Wyoming.

WRIGHT: We toyed with the word survival and all of its different personalities that it could have, you know, in a movie. And it's not so much that she wants to die. She wants to erase herself, the self that she was with her family, because it'll never be the same. She says, if I die, it's on me. I'm making this cognitive choice to live off the grid and try to find a new Edee.

MARTIN: A severe winter storm leaves her without any way to get food. She's unconscious on the floor, freezing to death, when a stranger happens upon the cabin and nurses her back to health.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LAND")

WRIGHT: (As Edee) How did you find me?

DEMIAN BICHIR: (As Miguel) I was on a hunt. I noticed on my way by here there was chimney smoke, like any cabin would have this time of year. Then on my way back, there was no smoke.

WRIGHT: (As Edee) Why are you helping me?

BICHIR: (As Miguel) You were in my path.

MARTIN: Let's talk about Miguel. He's the man who saves her. He is played by the remarkable Demian Bichir. As the director, what guidance did you give Demian about who this man is?

WRIGHT: I didn't have to give him much. He knew exactly who this character was. Demian also had an unfathomable event happen to him. And he had experienced what Edee had with the different phases of grief. And he just said, I know this character because I've been there.

MARTIN: It's such a painful thing, but we do need to acknowledge he lost his wife, so this was just months before you started to shoot this movie. Demian's wife died by suicide. So...

WRIGHT: Yes.

MARTIN: ...I mean, he was grappling with this material that was cutting so close.

WRIGHT: So close. And when I met with him before we shot the movie, we sat in my living room for an hour and he just said, I need to play this part. It's therapy for me. And the only word I gave him as a symbol to represent who he is to Edee, I said, you are her saint. And he went, done. That's all I needed. See you on set. And we left. And I saw him a month later, and we started shooting.

MARTIN: We think of intimacy, or I do anyway, as being built on shared revelation. You make yourself vulnerable to someone - right? - by sharing something about yourself that's personal and then they respond. And that is not necessarily what happens with Edee and Miguel. It is all about the present moment for them and the solace they find in each other's presence. Can you talk a little bit about how you cultivated that intimate silence between the two?

WRIGHT: I mean, really, that was brought by Erin Dignam, who was one of the writers. She's like, he needs to be frugal with his words. He only speaks when it's important and respects her wishes when she says, I'm choosing to be here, and can you not tell me anything about the world outside? His like, OK, but if you're going to stay here, I'm going to teach you how to properly survive. And in the quietude - you know, we cut a lot of lines, frankly. He was talking too much. And Demian is that quality anyway. He's one of the most soulful men I've ever met and is such a gentle, beautifully open, gentle soul. So what a gift to get that actor to be in this movie. It was perfect.

MARTIN: I don't want to leave people with the impression that this is all just this very heavy film. It is heavy and poignant, but I love the levity when it comes. There's this special glimpse into Miguel when he's teaching Edee to survive in the wilderness. And apropos of nothing, he starts singing "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" from Tears For Fears. How did that come to be? It's so beautiful and so completely random.

WRIGHT: (Laughter) I know. Erin Dignam, the writer, was actually frustrated, saying we need levity. And she just came up with that idea that he's just singing an '80s tune. And when you're, you know, doing a low-budget movie, you only have so much in the kitty for what song you want to use or what actor you'd like to get.

MARTIN: Right, right.

WRIGHT: And we had a choice between that one and I think two other '80s songs. And I just went with that one. I'm like, that is so metaphorical, A, just the opening line, you know. I mean, come on. It was just - we could not stop laughing.

MARTIN: And the moment when you two sing together.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LAND")

DEMIAN BICHIR AND ROBIN WRIGHT: (As Miguel and Edee, singing) Turn you back on Mother Nature. Everybody wants to rule the world.

MARTIN: They don't have to reveal anything about their trauma, their past, but they build intimacy in this moment by singing this wackadoo song.

WRIGHT: It is - they're almost like brother and sister.

MARTIN: Yeah.

WRIGHT: Like, he's - he became her older brother mentor.

MARTIN: And it was just the most beautiful thing that it was just a time capsule of these two people who needed each other in that way.

WRIGHT: Oh, I love the way you put that. It very much is that, a time capsule.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LAND")

BICHIR AND WRIGHT: (As Miguel and Edee, singing) Everybody wants to rule the world (laughter).

MARTIN: The film is called "Land." Robin Wright stars in the movie. She also directed it. Robin, thank you so much for talking with us.

WRIGHT: Thank you, Rachel. It was great talking to you.

MARTIN: If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, there are free, trained counselors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD")

TEARS FOR FEARS: (Singing) Welcome to your life.

MARTIN: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

I'm Steve Inskeep.

NOEL KING, HOST:

And I'm Noel King.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD")

TEARS FOR FEARS: (Singing) Even while we sleep... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.