Actress Robin Wright lounges casually on a love seat confessing to her addictions. Well, sort of.
"Since I've become a mom, I've had to give up coffee," she complains in a raspy whisper, fighting a case of laryngitis this afternoon.
Indeed, she admits, unpredictable mood swings have recently been a problem around the Pacific Palisades house she shares with longtime lover, Sean Penn, and it's not because his ex-wife, Madonna, has been calling Penn late at night.
"Oh, my gawd!" exclaims Wright. "I've become a total psychopath! I'm only recently off caffeinated, and I'm on decaf." Her face looks pained at the sacrifice. "Ohhhhhh," she moans. "I can't do it!"
It's bad enough she is forcing herself to cut down on her other addictions, which include near-pathological chocoholic tendencies and more than the occasionally sneaked cigarette. Those are simply among the prices of motherhood, if not fame.
"Your life ends when you hear those things from a doctor that you must give up," she grumbles. "But what's more important? That I stop destroying people around me from my neurosis, or do I live in my vice because I might die tomorrow?"
With that, she flashes a devastatingly mercurial grin. "That's the juggling act of being a mom."
In a recent interview at a messy suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, the 27-year-old actress spoke openly about the duality of life as nomadic actress and protective, worry-wart mother (of a 3-year-old girl, Dylan, and a 10-month-old boy, Hopper), her life with Penn, and her performance opposite Academy Award winner Tom Hanks in the sprawling comedy-drama "Forrest Gump," which opens today.
The film, based on the acclaimed Winston Groom novel of the same name, is a madcap parable chronicling the life of a not-so-bright Southerner who leads an extraordinary life spanning three decades of American history. Gump's journey makes him a participant in significant and often turbulent turning points in history, including the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. Wright plays the sensitive, rebellious Jenny, the great love of Forrest's life, who is almost done in by the protests, politics and confusions of the times.
"She's a lost soul who finds herself," says the actress, who is dressed casually in a black sweater, khaki pants and beat-up tennis shoes. "But she is not a tragic figure, at least not more than any other girl going through her 20s and that catharsis," she says. "Maybe the difference is that we get to see her through every transformation over 30 years in a movie, as opposed to a therapy session."
"Forrest Gump" director Robert Zemeckis observes, "Robin exudes a kind of strength and, at the same time, a vulnerability. She doesn't bring any of her stardom to the role. You don't look at her on-screen and think that this is Robin Wright's interpretation of the character. She's a real chameleon."
The Dallas-born Wright, who started modeling at 14, was raised by a single mother who worked for Mary Kay Cosmetics. In just seven years Wright has gone from a daytime soap ingenue on "Santa Barbara" to cinematic leading lady in "The Princess Bride," "State of Grace," "The Playboys" and "Toys." Many Hollywood insiders believe she could wind up on the A-list of actresses. But she has, like her "Forrest Gump" character, been through periods where she didn't know who she was.
"I'm still going through it," she says flat out. "And I don't know, because I probably haven't hit it, you know, that point where you go (raising her eyebrows knowingly) . . . A-H-H-H-H! Now I've reached that point of completion in myself!"
She pauses for a moment mulling over the prospect of truly knowing herself, then says wistfully: "I wonder if that's ever true."
"Robin is devoid of any pretense," says co-star Hanks. "In her life and in her work, she lacks any ulterior motives, which is rare. She's also a good deal of fun. Of course, it's not as if we did tequila shots or anything in between set-ups!"
Over the past four years, Wright seems to have been a calming influence on Sean Penn's once notorious public behavior. She is incredulous of the media's depiction of their relationship as a latter-day beauty and the beast, or the accompanying rumors that imply Penn plays Svengali over his girlfriend's career.
"I've heard stuff over the last few years to the effect (that) Sean makes my decisions for me professionally, and that he's this strong force, and I'm this quiet. . . ." Her voice trails off.
"We are so individual," she says. "The way we orchestrate our lives, approach situations, deal with business. Completely different--and yet, I've helped him with so many things in his personal life. Of dealing with things where they may say that I've 'tamed the beast.' "
The couple met in 1988 before making the film "Loon." Penn subsequently backed out, while Wright went on to a romance, both on and off screen, with Penn's replacement, Jason Patric. Wright and Penn met again when they starred in "State of Grace" two years later. The connection they felt was immediate, although both claim the romance did not blossom until after the filming concluded.
Penn wasn't the only one who changed as a result of the relationship. "He helped me to believe that I could be strong and stand up for myself," Wright says.
The press has hounded the couple about marriage plans ever since they first appeared in public together in 1990. If there are any plans, she's not about to talk about them. She's too busy playing Mom to their son and daughter.
Clearly, motherhood has changed her perspective on life. "I think it grounds you," she says. "But I think it would be the equivalent of feeling yourself having grown up. Suddenly, you have kids and zip, you're there."
The pull of motherhood always enters into Wright's decision to take on new acting assignments, including the decision to do "Gump," even though her son was only 4 weeks old when filming began. "People asked me, 'How could you?' . . . That was a major thing, but there was something about the script. I knew it was going to be great, so I dealt with the circumstances. I was just really tired."
Not surprisingly, the actress remains persnickety about her selection of projects. She turned down lead roles in "The Firm" and in the sequel-to-the-sequel "Batman Forever." She withdrew from the role of Maid Marian opposite Kevin Costner in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" after learning she was pregnant. She turned down a part in "Born on the Fourth of July"; after discussing the project with director Oliver Stone, she reportedly informed him he had a problem with women.
There were no such problems with "Gump." She felt so comfortable with Hanks and the rest of the cast that she was even at ease during a prolonged nude scene, in which she warbles "Blowin' in the Wind" wearing only a G-string, a guitar and a lot of hair spray, and during a love scene with Hanks.
She rolls her eyes remembering shooting the love scene. "It's always awkward. Always odd. Always sweaty." Wright takes another long drag from her cigarette. "It's uncomfortable."
Wright most recently has completed work on "The Crossing Guard," her first film with Penn, who directed the film, since "State of Grace." Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston star, and Wright plays the love interest of David ("Indian Runner") Morse.
"I hear from older people that, with experience, you feel that things that used to burden you in your 20s don't anymore. It's a bit easier to figure things out and not let it abuse you, like Jenny (in "Gump") has let things abuse her. Even though she knew it was not the right path, she had to do it anyway. That was her fate. I can't wait to get to that point where I can say, 'Yeah. It happened. That's life.' "