Why Actress Robin Wright's Favorite Role May Just Be Entrepreneur

The 'House of Cards' actress relishes her evil character, but her heart is in the war-torn nation of Congo.
Why Actress Robin Wright's Favorite Role May Just Be Entrepreneur
Image credit: David Giesbrecht | Netflix

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She's played a lovesick farmer's daughter in the cult classic Princess Bride, a conniving and corrupt American First Lady in House of Cards and the self-destructive soulmate of the title character in the much beloved Forrest Gump.

But during a keynote Q&A Saturday at the Synergy Global Forum in New York, actress Robin Wright intimated that her most passionate role in life is one far removed from her A-list movie career: entrepreneur-philanthropist. "It's endless what we can do in this country, the access we have," the 51-year-old actress said, describing how she and designer Karen Fowler founded Pour Les Femmes.

Their startup is a luxury sleepware company for women in this country that devotes a portion of its proceeds to helping women in war-torn Congo. Specifically, the money goes to Action Kivu and other charities serving the rape victims of the ongoing violent conflict in that African nation.

Related: 15 Women Leaders on Risk, Mentorship and Following Your Dreams

It was 10 years ago, Wright said, that she first learned about the Congo war from a friend who described the "dirty minerals" coming from the conflict zone -- and being used to make Western cell phones. "I said, 'Wait a minute, my iPhone is carrying that mineral that directly/indirectly is enhancing this problem?'" Wright said. "So, I wanted to bring attention to society."

She told how she learned then of the cruel militias in the war zone who are dismantling families, forcing the men to become soldiers and raping the women over and over. "There have been over 6 million deaths and every six minutes a woman is raped," Wright said of the carnage.

Her and Fowler's startup profits aid recovery efforts for the women, most of whom have been assaulted five to eight times and are severely disabled as a result, requiring surgery to "rebuild them" so they're able to stand up again. The nonprofits funnel microfinancing, enabling these women to make a living sitting down, at sewing machines, creating beautiful clothing from their culture.

On the issue of the dirty minerals, meanwhile, Wright has testified before Congress but believes consumer protests are more effective. "We're not saying, 'Don't consume,' 'stop buying,'" she said. "It's basically so people can alert electronics companies that they're aware they have dirty minerals in their phones. It's like blood diamonds.

Related: Do These 50 Things Regularly and You'll Become a Better Entrepreneur

"So I felt like this is our response as consumers, to be aware and start banging on the door of Apple and Samsung and start cleaning this up. We would pay a dollar more for our phone, and I think you would, too," Wright continued, to extensive applause.

Asked about changes for women in movie roles for women, Wright commented how, "A year ago, the statistic was, a third of the speaking roles on the screen were female, and we represent over half of the population, so there was a little bit of injustice there."

Recently though, she's seen positive change with the powerful "alpha" female roles created for shows such as Homeland, Scandal and her own House of Cards, where she plays "Lady Macbeth," she said, to Kevin Spacey's "Richard III"-style president: "They're so united in corruption as a team that it's practically Shakespearean," Wright said, jokingly.

The role, she added, is also intense, so much so that it demanded the many years she's put into her acting craft: "I didn't have the confidence 20 years ago to play Claire Underwood," she said. "I didn't know how to do that."

Now, however, she's playing other powerful female characters -- "because there are so many iterations of strength" in the recent films she's appeared in, such as Blade Runner and Wonder Woman. And in that context, Wright said, her question is, why is the "universal character" people refer to always a man?

"Can we just cognitively start rephrasing [the assumption of universal maleness] as, 'Those are strong female characters like there are strong male characters,'" she said.

Related: 10 Inspirational Quotes From Women Business Leaders

As for that strong First Lady character she herself plays on House of Cards, season six is currently filming, Wright said. And, she promised, it's got great plot twists. But, she also bemoaned the fact that the show "is going to pale in comparison to the news" -- a swipe, perhaps, at America's real-life president.

"Seriously," Wright quipped, "he stole all our ideas."

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