A fiercely independent actress known for never trading on her blonde good looks, Robin Wright Penn strayed even further from the mainstream when she married iconoclast actor-director Sean Penn in 1996. Though she's appeared in such audience favorites as The Princess Bride (1987) and Forrest Gump (1994), the list of blockbusters she's turned down is far longer. Her professional essence remains linked with the daring, blue-collar cinema of her husband and frequent collaborator. Wright Penn has also followed his lead by vehemently shunning the spotlight, at least in matters unrelated to her craft.
Born on April 8, 1966, in Dallas and raised in San Diego by her divorced mother, Robin Wright Penn got her first glimpses of show business as a model in Paris and Japan, having pursued that line of work only to raise money for a trip to Europe. Ditching her thoughts of ministering to the poor, Wright Penn heeded the advice of her modeling agent and made her acting debut in the soap opera Santa Barbara, where she played Kelly, the youngest daughter of rich socialites C.C. and Sophia Capwell. Thrice nominated for daytime Emmys, Wright Penn caught the eye of Rob Reiner, who cast her as Princess Buttercup in his beloved fairytale The Princess Bride. Proud and unrelenting, Buttercup nonetheless had a passive role in the events of that comic romantic fantasy, and Wright Penn determined to play neither the princess nor the victim in future projects. This resolve prompted her to reject scripts for Jurassic Park (1993), Batman Forever (1995), and Sabrina (1995), among others.
To an audience expecting a big follow-up, Wright Penn slipped into obscurity for a number of years after Bride made her famous. She appeared with her future husband for the first time in State of Grace in 1990, becoming pregnant with their first child, then followed that up with the small Irish film The Playboys (1992). The famously picky actress finally relented to Robert Zemeckis, agreeing to play Jenny, the title character's decade-spanning love interest in Forrest Gump, the 1994 Best Picture winner. Wright Penn was again well received, flummoxing countless producers who wanted her in their movies.
Soon after Forrest Gump, Wright Penn began to be identified almost exclusively with Sean Penn's endeavors. After working together on his second directorial effort, The Crossing Guard (1995), Robin Wright and Sean Penn decided to marry, and she would continue appearing opposite him and in front of his camera over the next half-dozen years. Given their against-the-grain tendencies, the pair were perfectly suited to play the impoverished, unbalanced, star-crossed lovers of She's So Lovely (1997), Nick Cassavetes' homage to his father John's body of work. Wright Penn also appeared with her husband in the talky ensemble Hurlyburly (1998). In 2001, she was cast as Jack Nicholson's love interest in Penn's third film, The Pledge, which earned critical but not popular acclaim. Her willingness to eschew vanity has never been more evident, as Wright Penn donned a pair of crooked fake teeth to emphasize her character's lower-class upbringing.
As she has retreated into a family life that's as private and intense as anything about her, focusing more on her husband and children than in forging a traditional career, Wright Penn has also made some curious choices that have defied her typical abhorrence for the mainstream. One such example was starring in the four-hanky Kevin Costner romance Message in a Bottle (1999) -- in turn reinforcing the sense of unpredictability she holds so dear. Wright Penn also appeared in M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable (2000), and was set to act opposite Robert Downey Jr. in The Singing Detective (2003). After essaying the role of a mother whose daughter appears to have been blessed by immaculate conception in the 2003 drama Virgin, Penn would make a powerful impression with her role as a questionable cab fare in the post-9/11 racism drama Sorry, Haters. In 2006 Penn would join an impressive cast that included Jude Law, Ray Winstone, and Juliette Binoche to tell the tale of intersecting lives in modern day London in director Anthony Minghella's Breaking & Entering.