There’s something therapeutically serene about Robin Wright’s directorial debut, Land. Filmed in Alberta for just about a month, its mountain landscapes that protect Edee (played by Wright) from the outside world look awfully appealing these days. Edee escapes to this terrain after a terrible trauma. Wright didn’t know it at the time of filming, but the film, now, during a worldwide trauma, takes on a whole new meaning. Escaping to the mountains to ride all this out doesn’t seem like the worst idea.
Edee finds some solace in the company of local man Miguel (Demián Bichir). The two have esoteric conversations about Yoda and Tears for Fears, which lighten the mood in a pretty heavy movie, and that’s where we start when we spoke to the ever delightful Robin Wright. (Also, when I had time to bring up one of her older films, she did seem a little surprised that it was Toys and not The Princess Bride or Forrest Gump, but that movie has kind of haunted me since I saw it in theaters. It’s a very strange movie.)
I wasn’t expecting a deep philosophical discussion about Star Wars during this movie.
[Laughs] Right? Got to go obscure. Got to get some levity.
I did wonder with Demián Bichir’s character how many people out there don’t know who Yoda is, but are extremely familiar with the music of Tears for Fears?
The Venn diagram between those two sects seems like it would intersect a lot.
I think so, too. I love that Aaron Dignam added that to the script, who’s one of our writers. We were just giggling. We were like, he’s got to be funny, this guy. He’s so frugal with his words. He’s just kind of matter of fact, and only speaks when it’s necessary. And, he’s almost like a gentle giant. You know?
As the director, are you at all responsible to have to go to Tears For Fears and ask if you can sing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World“ in a movie?
Well, no, you have a music supervisor who does all of those negotiations and asks, and things like that. And we had a couple of choices, I think only two choices, maybe three, that we could use, financially. You have to pay to sing a movie.
I guess one of the reasons I’m curious about this is, I don’t know if you saw Ethan Hawke’s movie on Tesla, but he sings…
No, it’s on my list. Oh, yeah, what does he sing?
He sings this Tears for Fears song.
Get out of here.
Yeah, he does a performance as Tesla singing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
Oh, my goodness. I love it.
So, I wonder when these lists of songs come, is it one of the most reasonably priced famous songs?
I wonder! I wonder what it costs? But yeah, exactly.
When was this filmed?
This was filmed, my gosh, what are we, ’21 now? I think we shot it in 2019.
Yeah, I have no concept of time like most people anymore.
Like, where are we?
“Oh, that was two years ago?”
Exactly. “What’s my name?”
So, I’m wondering even for you, as the star and director of this film, if it plays differently for you considering the past 10 months? As in the idea of going into the middle of nowhere to ride this out is not unappealing.
Exactly. And I think a lot of people are going to resonate with that, especially given this last year we’ve all been in. Nature is medicine. And I think a lot of us are feeling that more and more each day.
You’ve never directed before. How do you wind up being the director of this particular movie?
It came to me almost three years ago, it was during the time of all the random shootings that were going on. And I was just thinking about the amount of grief people were feeling. And how did they get through? How did they find their way? And everybody does it differently. And this script just moved me. I was like, this is one person’s experience, one person’s journey of going through the grief. And we always have to have somebody in our life that helps us through difficult times and helps us see the light and have hope again. I loved how uplifting the end of this story was. It’s so empowering, that you can get through the other side.
But, it also does seem to kind of be saying that no matter what you’re going through, maybe secluding yourself off from the rest of the world is not the best idea?
Right. And that you do need others. It’s about human connection and the necessity of that.
So this is the first movie you directed, and you also star in it. Directing a first movie seems difficult enough, why also star in it, which also seems difficult? Combining them seems like really doing really two difficult things, when you haven’t done one of them before.
That is very true. You couldn’t have said it better.
Why do that to yourself?
Why do that to yourself? Well, it was never the intention for me to be in it. We had a time crunch situation.
Once we got financed, we had a very slim window in which to get a cast and go shoot it, and get the four seasons that we needed, and we only had 29 days to shoot the movie.
So, we were like, wow, we don’t have the luxury of time to wait. Weeks, possibly months to cast it. And the producer said, “Robin, I think you’re just going to have to do it.” And I said, “All right, I’m going to be there anyway. Let’s go.”
I have a feeling that producer had that up the sleeve the whole time.
Maybe she did, that little whippersnapper. She may have.
“Look, I have got bad news. You’re just going to have to do it.” I have a feeling she knew that from the beginning.
And maybe she did. I’m going to ask her.
The other thing I sometimes hear is, “Well, we couldn’t afford the actor we wanted, and the only person that we could afford was me, and I’m the director. And to get people to see it, I had to star in it.”
Yes. That’s probably partially true here, as well.
Was there an actor that you envisioned?
We had ideas. You’re sent a list, a very short list of people that can get your movie financed. And we couldn’t get a commitment from anybody. And, also, you’re possibly dealing with schedule conflicts. Sometimes you go to cast somebody and they’re like, we really want to do it, but I’m still on a movie, can you push your dates two weeks? Or, can we start earlier than you would like? And we couldn’t, we didn’t have that freedom.
You filmed this in Alberta?
Yes. Alberta, Canada.
Who wouldn’t want to spend a month looking at that scenery?
Exactly. Well, we were ready. It was definitely just shifting gears quickly, and just going. And it’s a job. You know, acting is a job, just like any other. It’s an emotional job in a different aspect, obviously. But, we had talked about the movie so much, and I had spoken with two very experienced experts in the field of trauma. And he said, “Let’s you and I do a session. And I’m going to talk to you as if you’re Edee.”
Oh, that’s interesting.
And it was the most enlightening two-hour session I’ve ever had. I cried. I laughed. I felt renewed at the end of the session. I felt like I peeled back the onion of my own traumas. It was so beneficial to talk to these doctors about how do you help someone get through these phases?
When you’re doing this, do you only talk in character? You said you were peeling back some of your own trauma. Do you talk about specifics in your own life, or do you stick to Edee’s specifics?
I was sticking to Edee’s specifics, because we knew what her story was. And, it was always about, we have to achieve getting to the end of the movie, which is about empowerment. When you come out on the other side with the help of a beautiful human and kindness.
Since you’re directing yourself, and you’ve obviously worked with a lot of great directors over the years, do you ever think what would this director be saying to me right now?
Yeah. And having the discussions about this very thing that you and I are talking about, when you’re having multiple discussions in prep, and you’re talking with your producers who you know are going to be there every day. And I have to say it was basically made successful by my two incredible editors, the way they cut the movie. We had multiple scenes of her past that we shot and we got in the editing room and we were like, we don’t need them. They were pulling us out of the movie. So, we chose to keep the mystery going.
Is there anything that goes through your head? Like, oh, what would Patty Jenkins say to me right now? Or what would David Fincher say to me right now? I don’t know if that goes through your head at all, or if that’s not the way it works.
I didn’t really have to go there. It’s basically what is already in your wheelhouse, having been an actor for over 30 years and worked with multiple great directors. And you do, you pick up things from all of them. Different little tidbits that you’re like, oooooh, I like that process. Or, I like that technique.
What’s an example of that?
I had the opportunity to work with Anthony Minghella on a movie [Breaking and Entering] years ago, and I never forgot his way. I just connected with the way he directed. He didn’t just give you a descriptive word as an actor, which is very hard to play. Instead of saying, “Oh, can you just come into the room and have more energy next take?” He would tell a story. Every take, if he wants something different out of you, he would give you a story. And you think, this story has nothing to do with the scene. What are we? And he would walk away and he’d say, “And, action.” And you would do a completely different take because he had infused you with this beautiful little vignette. And then you execute that as the character. And you’re like, wow, that was a completely different take. I hadn’t even thought about that, to do it that way.
Yeah that’s much better than, “more energy.”
Yeah. Well, what does that mean?
How do I get there? How do I get to more energy? So, you do have to have more of a description of the environment, not just an adjective.
I’m going to mention one of your older movies…
It’s probably not one you’re thinking I’m going to bring up. So I saw Toys when it was in theaters. It’s very strange. I guess I’m going to word it this way. In my mind, if there was a book written about the production of this movie, it would be extremely interesting. Am I correct?
Oh, without question. I mean, just the behind the scenes stories, that’s half of the book right there.
It’s one of the first movies I saw in a theater where I was old enough to think, I don’t think this turned out exactly how they wanted it to.
I love that you said that. That’s so great.
Are you talking about this movie, or Toys?
Because I was like, it’s kind of the same on this one.
Really? This movie at least seems like exactly what you wanted? I thought this was your vision.
Yes. It was. But you’re thinking the whole time, is it going to resonate with people?
Oh, I see.
And it worked, meaning don’t give all the information away at the top of the film. Save it. Trust your audience. Let them go on that journey with you. They will stay engaged.
I want to be on the record. I like Land a lot more than I like Toys.
Aw. That’s so sweet. Thank you.
I want that to be clear.
They’re two very different movies, Mike.
‘Land’ opens in theaters this weekend. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.