The Search for the Perfect Princess Bride Stopped Here

updated 10/12/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/12/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Once upon a time in a seaside city where the klieg light is king, there lived a group of men in search of the most beautiful girl in the world. So what else is new, you ask? Well, these men were looking for a specifically beautiful girl: one who could pass as a medieval princess and carry the name "Buttercup" through a whole movie based on William Goldman's 1973 novel, The Princess Bride. "We need a new Julie Christie," said the director, Rob Reiner. They saw hundreds of hopefuls and mountains of glossies, but the men were stumped.

Then one day a very pushy agent insisted that they see her very pretty client. Her name was Robin Wright. Summoned to Reiner's house with no time to prepare, Wright, 21, sat outside the entrance "in this funky old jeep" for 15 minutes and meditated. "I was saying 'Cool out,' " she recalls. "On the walk up to the house I stuffed Kleenex in my pockets to help my sweaty hands." Then she walked in. She had cerulean blue eyes, a Snow White smile and waist-length golden hair.

On sight of her they swooned or, at least, got as weak-kneed as big-time movie men get. "We all had our image of what Buttercup should look like," says Reiner, "and Robin was perfect." Goldman, who adapted his book for the screen, was there with Reiner. "Who's this dude asking me these questions," thought Wright, with regal indignation. "I wanted Rob to ask the questions, not this guy." But when the "guy" asked her opinion of the script, she said, "It's just poetry, beauty and love. How hard can that be to act?" Just the right answer to match just the right looks. Within seconds they knew she was the leading lady in The Princess Bride, the literary fairy tale spun into one of the year's most charming cinematic concoctions.

One month later Wright was on her way to Bakewell, England, population 2,000. Culture shock. "I was totally alone," she says. Being thrown in with a cast of experienced actors and Reiner cronies—Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Carol Kane, Wallace Shawn—was, well, terrifying. Her only real acting experience consisted of a three-year stint on a so-so soap, Santa Barbara, as a character "who was raped, kidnapped and married about eight times, all in one month." Not quite the background she wanted to bring to the virginal Buttercup. And her pacing was off. "This isn't an auction," Reiner coached. "Slow down." Wright was grateful, not mad. "I'll hug him for the rest of my life," she says.

As the Princess, Wright pines for Westley (Cary Elwes), a servant boy who's been captured by pirates. In real life she lives with actor-turned-entrepreneur Dane Witherspoon, 29, in a sparsely decorated and mostly white interior L.A. rental home. They met trying out for leads in Santa Barbara. "Our chemistry was so hot we were steaming just looking at each other," Wright chuckles. "No wonder we got the parts." But just weeks into the role, Dane was fired. "He went through hell emotionally," says Robin, "but we held on to each other." Now he's CEO of Popworks, a company that makes miniature '50's-style jukeboxes. Marriage, she says coyly, is a "could be." To stave off twinges of loneliness while Wright was filming, the two kept in touch with hour-long "and enormously expensive" nightly calls.

Wright infused Buttercup with a lilting British accent so convincing that casting agents now are doubtful she can "do American." Fact is, she was born in Texas, but her family moved constantly. "Mother loved to buy houses, refurbish them, sell them and leave," she explains. Mother, a sales director for Mary Kay Cosmetics, also had three husbands, and her third, Andy Carmichael, an Englishman, was the voice model for Robin's role. Her father (and Mom's first husband), Fred Wright, works for a pharmaceutical company in Texas, and her brother, Richie, 24, is an actor in Japan. "I always had this feeling of abandonment," says Robin. "There were always new people in and out of the house."

When Robin was 14, a photographer spotted her rollerskating, and she began a career in modeling. After high school she backpacked through Europe. In Paris she also did modeling until she decided that selling her beauty was no longer acceptable to her as a woman. She grew tired of being treated like a piece of meat, she says, "and tried to get the other models to revolt." When they didn't, she came home. In 1984 she moved to L.A. in the hope of making it as an actress. She quickly won a small part in The Yellow Rose, a short-lived TV series with Cybill Shepherd, and launched her career.

This season she's back on Santa Barbara and sorting through a sudden flood of scripts. " 'Rob Reiner likes you so we like you,' " she says, mimicking Hollywood logic. But she has ground rules: "No nude scenes for five years and no sex-symbol parts." Her reason? "I want people to recognize me for my work, not just for being pretty." Wright hopes her leave-it-all-on stance won't hurt. Because "unless you're a star in this town," says she, "you're really nothing."

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