Live From the Sundance Film Festival: Robin Wright

Award-winning actress Robin Wright plays double duty as star and director in Land.

Read senior editor Joe Leydons conversation from the Sundance Film Festival with award-winning actress Robin Wright.

Cowboys & Indians: There’s a subtle but perceptible Jeremiah Johnson vibe to Land, your feature film directorial debut. It’s the story of Edee, a contemporary woman who finds herself unable to maintain ties to family and friends in the wake of a devastating tragedy, and seeks solitude in a secluded cabin in the wilds of the Rockies. Trouble is, she has little experience dealing with the challenges of life so far removed from the comforts of civilization, and comes close to death until a seasoned hunter played by Demián Bichir offers aid — and tutelage — that she only reluctantly accepts. What drew you to this project?
Robin Wright: I received the script [by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam] from our wonderful producer, Allyn Stewart, about three years ago now. And it was during the time when we were all witnessing, and a lot of people experiencing, the random shootings that were going on almost biweekly. And I just was up every night going, “How do people find their way after something like that? Everybody does it differently. Loss, grief — how do you get through?” And this script is exactly about that. It’s having to erase yourself, because the self you knew will no longer exist. And it’s about resilience and hope and the kindness of others.

C&I: What made you decide to pull double duty as star and director?
Robin: It was never the intention for me to be in the movie. We just were in a time crunch, basically, with getting financed. We only had a window of time when we could shoot the movie. And in order to do that, we needed an actress available and ready to go an hour ago. It was that kind of thing. So we decided not to take that risk and lose the window. And the producer said, “Why don’t you just act in it?” And I was like, “Yep. Going to be there anyway. OK.”

C&I: You certainly scored a bullseye by casting Demián Bichir as Edee’s mentor. Why did you want him for the role?
Robin: I saw Demián in A Better Life, and I was so blown away by his performance and his soul. I could see him, I could just feel him, being Miguel. And then I saw him in The Hateful Eight, and was on the floor in hysterics. He was completely silent in the movie. And so funny. And I was like, “This guy is amazing! We need to see more of him!” And he came over to my house. We had an hourlong meeting — and he just said, “I need to do this part.” I said, “You’re built to play this man. He is a saint. And so are you.”

C&I: Would you say that, at heart, the movie is about the human condition, and the effects we can have on each other with even the smallest of gestures?
Robin: I was always thinking about that very thing. Like why make this movie? Well, make this movie now for that reason. It’s a reminder that we do need each other. We do face adversity, and it’s generally the compassion and kindness of another person that gets us through that difficult time. And I think we all can resonate with that right now.

C&I: Where did you shoot Land? And how difficult was it to shoot there?
Robin: We shot it in Alberta, Canada. We shot it in 29 days, and we had maybe 24 hours of summer weather. So we had to get every scene that would have been summer in about a day. And then all of a sudden, snow came. Out of the blue. So it was almost like autumn decided to take a nap, and we just got a dump of snow. So we had to change our schedule at the last minute, and “Hey, let’s go shoot everything winter in this week!” And then all of a sudden, it melts — and we have autumn. So we got very lucky, I have to say, even though the unpredictable weather patterns were quite challenging to shoot in. The Calgary crew, they’re so experienced being up on a mountain, 8,000 feet up, where we had the cabin built.

C&I: And we understand you had to look out for bears?
Robin: [Laughs.] We did not have a real bear in the scene when Edee’s in the outhouse, because it wasn’t safe to bring the trained bear onto a set where there are wild bears roaming around the cabin area all day long every day. In fact, we had a bear whisperer on our set every day. Because one day, this bear went over to the craft service table and got a hamburger. And then he obviously decided, “I’m going to go back every day and get another one.” So we definitely were on alert pretty much every day until the cold weather hit.

Land currently is available on DVD and Blu-Ray and various streaming platforms.

Photography: (Cover image) Alamy, (Illustration) Jonathan Fehr

From our August/September 2021 issue