Chalk it up to a case of a movie title being way too prophetic.
In 2008’s Rachel Getting Married, Rosemarie DeWitt played the titular Rachel, who did indeed get married. Subsequently, the actress went on to play wives and mothers almost exclusively in projects as varied as The Watch, Men, Women, and Children, and The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Now it may be time for her and the typical wife roles to break up.
“Sometimes, in bigger movies, you read the script, and you’re like, ‘Okay, she talks to her husband on the phone, she nags him at the breakfast table, she has sex, and then she dies on page 40?'” DeWitt says. “That’s not enough of an arc for me.”
She isn’t opting out of playing wives and mothers altogether. After all, she is a wife and a mother, and she knows that dynamic on a very primal level. However, lately she’s been gravitating more and more toward films like Digging For Fire, which is out in theaters and VOD on August 21st—films whose characters have shimmering layers of complexity and a lot more beneath the surface.
“I’ve found myself in recent years kind of frustrated at times,” she says. “I joke sometimes that I feel like America’s wife, just because I’ll get calls to play this person’s wife and this person’s wife and it’s hard to make it different. So I’ve been turning a lot of things down because when you show up for work, you want to bring your best everything to the table and sometimes I just don’t feel like I can do it.”
Where DeWitt thrives, though; is roles in which her character has a journey of her own that is central to the story, rather than window dressing. Directed by prolific indie lifer Joe Swanberg, Digging For Fire finds DeWitt and costar Jake Johnson trying to keep novelty and intimacy alive in their monogamous relationship against life’s insurmountable odds—specifically, during a weekend apart from each other in which each is set in the direct path of temptation.
It may be impossible to capture the messiness of real-life relationships in big budget, four-quadrant movies, whose creators are terrified of alienating anybody. However, because Swanberg is aware that Digging For Fire is not for everyone, he gives DeWitt and the actors the leeway to create relationships that feel lived in. The director wrote the script with Johnson, but they left the dialogue open to the actors, leaving room for an authentic dynamic to develop. He also empowered the cast to make decisions for their characters about everything from reactions to hairstyle.
“The way Joe Swanberg works is he likes for the actors to bring a lot of themselves to the table,” DeWitt says. “So there’s some quality or personality trait that I think he’s looking for us to merge with his idea of these fictitious people. Something like your hair, you go, ‘Oh, well they’re living in California and she’s a yoga teacher, let’s just make it a bit sunnier.’ But it’s not like you can just start walking around with a limp.”
Watching her and Johnson onscreen, or her and costar Orlando Bloom, you get the sense that the actors are actually curious about each other and have the capacity to be as surprised as the audience by what they’re saying and doing. It’s easier to carry out the illusion of spontaneity in a film like this one, and in doing so DeWitt and the other actors create relationships that feel genuine, specific, and personal.
“It’s nice doing an improv movie where you get to speak to the parts about married life that are interesting to you,” she says.
Spoken like someone who refuses to be America’s wife.