Robin Wright Penn wouldn’t mind a little comic relief

NEW YORK – Why is Robin Wright Penn laughing?

The actress is known for playing serious women in serious movies, like the new drama “Sorry, Haters.” She’s married to serious-as-hell Sean Penn. And she knows that in her business, “seriousness” is marketable only about one month out of the year.

But Wright Penn, 39 years old and best known to audiences for her sweet portrayal of Buttercup in “The Princess Bride” (1987) and her bittersweet Jenny in “Forrest Gump” (1994), waves away any hint of heaviness with a wry smile and a self-mocking sense of humor.

“Choosing these kinds of intense roles is becoming sort of a bad habit,” she says of a recent run that includes the HBO film “Empire Falls”; a stunning segment of the short-film collection “Nine Lives”; “White Oleander,” and “Unbreakable.”

“Playing the average manic-depressive woman who’s hitting 40, yep, that’d be me,” she snickers. “Bring it on!

“But I think what it is, really, is that (Hollywood) sees you do certain roles and says, ‘Okay, that’s her, let’s cast her again and again as the same thing.’ Then you wind up saying, ‘I’d like to do something else,’ and they whine, ‘But whyyy?”

Yet fans of her serious side will be happy to know her latest turn in this arena is a tour de force: In “Sorry, Haters,” Wright Penn plays an edgy New York career woman with “personality issues” whose chance encounter with a Muslim cab driver (Abdellatif Kechiche) brings out the worst in both of them. Mainly a two-character drama, “Sorry, Haters” is not what it seems at first glance; it deals with many issues, including how 9-11 made people feel powerless, the disturbing attachment some people have to grieving, and the way New York can trample dreams both large and small.

“I read the script and thought, ‘this is really good, but it scares the sh** out of me,'” she says. “But it was so invigorating. And to film it all in 15 days in New York, hanging out on the curb between takes … There was no downtime to doubt yourself.”

Wright Penn was born in Dallas and raised in San Diego, the daughter of a single mother who sold cosmetics. She began modeling at 15, and joined the soap opera “Santa Barbara” in 1984 before “The Princess Bride” showcased her long locks and storybook looks. With her next major film, 1990’s “State of Grace,” about the Irish Mob in Hell’s Kitchen, Wright Penn turned her attention to more dramatic projects.

But 1994’s blockbuster “Forrest Gump” (in which she played Tom Hanks’ doomed love) brought more opportunities for high-profile work, which she promptly turned down.

“I could have done (blockbusters) … I was offered ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ (she backed out because she was pregnant) and the third ‘Batman’ movie (a role that eventually went to Nicole Kidman). But I believe that you burn out with those things. And I didn’t want to be bored.”