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“You’d better pay me or I’m going to go public.” How Robin Wright fought for (and won) equal pay on House of Cards

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Amy Swales
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The character she plays on House of Cards would certainly never blanch at asking for what she wants, so it’s only fitting that Robin Wright didn’t bat an eyelid when demanding the same pay as co-star Kevin Spacey.

In an hour-long discussion about gender equality and human rights as part of The Rockefeller Foundation’s Insight Dialogues conversation series, Wright told the audience: “I was like, ‘I want to be paid the same as Kevin.’”

And her argument was bolstered by the fact the very show they work on is an impeccable (and all too rare) example of equally billed male and female characters and depicts an equal relationship.

“It was the perfect paradigm. There are very few films or TV shows where the male, the patriarch, and the matriarch are equal. And they are in House of Cards,” Wright explained, as reported by The Huffington Post.

“I was looking at the statistics and Claire Underwood’s character was more popular than [Frank’s] for a period of time. So I capitalised on it. I was like: ‘You’d better pay me or I’m going to go public.’

“And they did.”

Robin Wright Claire Underwood House of Cards Screening April 2015 Gender Pay Gap Inequality

Robin Wright at a House of Cards screening in April 2015

It’s a move to be applauded, given how many women – as actor Jennifer Lawrence referenced in an open letter last year – are made to feel like ball-busters or spoilt divas when it comes to closing the gender pay gap.

It's previously been revealed that Wright, also an executive director of the show, was instrumental in making Claire Underwood as central a character as she is – having initially been written as mere “arm candy” – and her portrayal of the First Lady alongside Spacey as President Frank Underwood has been widely acclaimed and often credited as a huge part of the show’s success.

But the actor, 50, also referenced a leaner time in her career. Asked by the foundation’s president, Judith Rodin, what barriers she’d faced as a woman in Hollywood, Wright said her ability to command bigger pay cheques had been affected when she took time out to have children.

“Because I wasn’t working full-time, I wasn’t building my salary bracket. If you don’t build that… with notoriety and presence, you’re not in the game anymore. You become a B-list actor. You’re not box-office material.

“You don’t hold the value you would have held if you had done four movies a year like Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett did during the time I was raising my kids. Now I’m kind of on a comeback at 50 years old.”

It's not the first time Wright has discussed how she feels she has "arrived" later in life, saying in an interview published last year, “I feel as though I’ve just graduated. I mean, I never went to college. I was pregnant at 23.

“You hear people say how they have ‘arrived,’ but it was just always there, waiting to come out. For me, it just took a long time. I’m 48. I’m finally a person. I think I’m finally ready.”

Images: Getty / Rex Features