Tough Guy Sean Penn Swipes a Maid Marian from Robin Hood—and Braces for First Fatherhood

updated 09/24/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/24/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Madonna was right: Life is a mystery. How else to explain the recent revelation that Sean Penn—after wallpapering the globe with screaming headlines during his three-year marriage to the pop icon—has found his next Mrs. Wright without burning out a single paper mill? It turns out that Mrs. Right is Robin Wright—the shoutingly beautiful actress best known for The Princess Bride and currently co-starring with Penn in the new gangland movie State of Grace. A baby is already in development, due in seven months; the sequel—marriage (her first, his second)—is planned for some time after October, when Penn finishes directing a film called Indian Runner. (There's one big. lumpish pea that Princess Wright might be feeling: She has had to bail out of Kevin Costner's $40 million Robin Hood project—Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio will be Marian.)

Their viewfinders locked last fall when Penn, 30, and Wright, 24, were cast as an undercover cop and his old flame in Grace (see review, page 11). Audiences maybe able to discern some smoldering—"Oh my God," says Barbara Ligeti, a theater producer who worked with Penn on the L.A. staging of Hurlyburfy, "their chemistry really comes across." On the Grace set, "there was that unspoken attraction between them." says Beatrice Marot, a makeup artist who has known Wright since they were girls in Los Angeles. Penn had actually met Wright in 1988, during preproduction of a movie called Loon (Penn backed out of the project). But whatever their feelings then, "it never turned into anything until after he left Madonna," says Marot.

It has turned into something different for both of them, she adds. "The men Robin's been with"—including Jason Patrie {After Dark, My Sweet), who ended up in Loon—"have never been enough of a challenge for her taste." Penn, she says, "is really a man's man, and she likes that."

Wright seems to have brought out a kinder, downier side in Penn. After seeing the couple at the Manhattan premiere of Grace, Ligeti says, "Whereas before, he was just with whoever was on his arm and seemed more concerned about himself, you could see that he was very embracing of her. It was almost as if he were carrying her—like he was treating her like a little glass object."

Certainly no one has ever used Tennessee Williams imagery to describe chrome-plated Madonna. "Madonna and Robin are like night and day," says Marot. "Not that Madonna isn't wonderful," she adds, "but she's a real hard kind of person." Wright doesn't show the same Blond Ambition. "Robin can be happy in bed with a stack of videos," says her publicist, Mary Moen. That's assuming she doesn't watch Shanghai Surprise.

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