digging-posterTim (Jake Johnson) and Lee (Rosemarie Dewitt) are married with a young child. The chance to stay at a fancy home in the Hollywood Hills is complicated by Tim’s discovery of a bone and a rusty old gun in the yard. Tim is excited by the idea of a mystery, but Lee doesn’t want him to dig any further, preferring that he focus on the family taxes, which he promised to do weeks ago. This disagreement sends them on separate and unexpected adventures over the course of a weekend, as Tim and his friends seek clues to the mystery while Lee searches for answers to the bigger questions of marriage and parenthood.

Joe Swanberg’s latest film, Digging for Fire, is full of real moments and delightful performances. I was very happy to see Rosemarie Dewitt join Swanberg’s talented stock company. From her role as Don Draper’s first extramarital affair in Season 1 of Mad Men to her brilliant run as Toni Collette’s sister on The United States of Tara to exquisite performances in films such as Rachel’s Wedding and Your Sister’s Sister, Dewitt always brings so much to everything that she’s in. Co-written by Joe Swanberg and Jake Johnson, Digging for Fire also features Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Chris Messina, Judith Light, Sam Elliot, Melanie Lynskey, Ron Livingston, Jenny Slate, and Mike Birbiglia. I sat down with Rosemarie Dewitt in Los Angeles.

Danny Miller: I think Joe Swanberg and I must have the same taste in actresses. If I were a director, I’d cast you, Melanie Lynskey, Anna Kendrick, and Brie Larson in every movie I made!

Rosemarie Dewitt: (Laughs.) Me, too — and as an actor, I only want to work with those guys!

I’m always fascinated by Joe Swanberg’s process of making movies without anything like a normal script. I would think that would be either extremely liberating for an actor, or utterly terrifying.

For me, it’s the first, although I will say on Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister, I found it utterly terrifying.

Oh, was that movie also improvised?

Yes, but it was different. Lynn had a premise but how we got there was anybody’s guess. It became like this contact sport between Lynn, Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, and I. “Did we get that thing in about the dad? Oh shoot, I forgot to say that. Where else can I say it?” We were doing these mental gymnastics as we put the pieces of that story together and I think we shot enough for about 22 movies. The real brilliance of that film was Lynn and Nat Sanders going in and figuring out what the movie was.

Didn’t you also have specific points to hit in this film?

Yes, but this one was way more structured. I know Jake and Joe like to give credit to the actors but in this case they really cracked the story, they had all the beats worked out as well as the beginning and ending.

But you still didn’t have a script, I assume.

No, you don’t get a script but Joe will say things like, “All I really need you to do in this scene is to get on Jake about doing the taxes.” It was all very specific with relatively short scenes whereas in Your Sister’s Sister we had some takes that went on for 45 minutes!

I like all of Joe Swanberg’s films but this one looks different to me.

I think it’s one of Joe’s more composed movies, right from the outset. It’s very beautifully shot, and I think he wanted to play more with the camera and the tightness of the story. It’s funny because normally I don’t think Joe cares too much that his movies aren’t for everybody, but for this one, he did a lot of fiddling in the editing room. If something was a little unclear, he didn’t do his usual, “Well that’s their problem,” he went in and fixed it.

But did you even know what the other characters were doing if you never saw a script?

No, I didn’t! It’s almost like there are two movies here, Jake’s movie and my movie and we weren’t around that much for each other’s. I remember Jake saying once, “What do you mean Ro and Orlando had all of these great chemistry scenes?” My character and Orlando Bloom’s hit it off so well that one day Joe gave us the direction that, “Okay, I think these characters really get into it on the beach.” I was like, “What? Do they kiss?” That wasn’t planned at all beforehand.

Yeah, twist your arm, you have to kiss Orlando Bloom in a scene!

Right? But when we started, we didn’t know exactly what lines were going to get crossed in this marriage. We just knew we didn’t want them to go to that place of no return.

I have to admit that I was very grateful for that. Not every flirtation needs to lead to the end of a marriage!

Exactly, and these people want to be married, they both realize that.

But on the day you were on the beach with Orlando Bloom, could you have said, “Hmm, I think Orlando and I should go even further.”

Maybe. Joe is very instinctual and he just feels things out in the moment — is something too much? Not enough?

I love the little teaser plot of finding the body. Initially, that didn’t  seem very Swanberg-ian!

Probably because it was more Jake Johnson-ian, that really happened to him! So I think Joe said, “Great, we’ll put that in and then we’ll make it a Joe Swanberg movie!”


I was happy to see Joe’s young son, Jude, playing your son. He was so good in Happy Christmas and he’s a natural here, too! I have a five-year-old and I knew during that scene at the table that Jude’s crying was real and not planned.

Oh God, it was me — I made him cry! What happened was that Joe said to Jake, “if you say ‘poo-poo,’ Jude will break up laughing.” And his only instruction to me was, “Don’t let Jake off the hook about doing those taxes.” So during the scene when Jake and Jude are laughing, I said, “Jude, don’t say ‘poo-poo,’ that’s not a nice word at the dinner table.” And all of a sudden his eyes well up, his lip starts to go, and that was it. But thank God we didn’t stop. I said to Jake, “See! You always make me the bad guy!” And then I picked up poor Jude who was sobbing and brought him to his real mother. I played Hot Wheels in the driveway with him for the next two hours to calm him down!

Everything about that scene works so well for the movie and the characters even though you’ll probably have to discuss it in therapy for years to come.

(Laughs.) I know, it was devastating to make that adorable little boy cry!

How a kid that young stays in character is amazing to me.

There was this one scene we were doing with Judith Light and Sam Elliott where I said to Jude, “Do you want to go to the park?” And he said, “Yeah, but I think I want to go with my real mommy!” (Laughs.) Cut!

You’ve done great TV work, tiny little indie films, and big blockbusters. Do those all feed different parts of you as an actress?

You want to do all of it, and you want to do it with all these interesting people. Someone asked me, “What was the difference between doing Poltergeist and doing this film?” And I was like, “Well, I did that one with Jane Adams and Sam Rockwell.” You just want to work with good people, it’s all very satisfying!

Even if the Poltergeist craft services table is a little better.

Right, and you don’t have to change in the Starbucks bathroom! But I love doing all of it and you know, as a woman over 40, you really appreciate the kind of freedom that directors like Joe Swanberg give you. That’s the real trick these days. Certain parts you get at this point have a limited capacity and it can be difficult to breathe life into them. But Joe really gives you a big canvas to paint on and I’m so grateful for that!

rosemarie-madmenI have to say that I was really hoping that Midge Daniels would make an appearance in the final season of Mad Men.

Me, too. Especially after the way we left her in the third season!

I know. I worried that poor Midge might not have made it.

No, no, she’s alive! Matt Weiner might disagree with me, but I think she’s out there having a good life. It’s funny because that show was so hush-hush, you couldn’t even get the script before a table read. I remember going in when Midge did reappear on the show and I was sitting there with the whole cast when I saw my line, “It’s heroin, Don.” And I’m like, “It’s heroin?! Really? You didn’t want to give me a heads up that I’m a heroin addict when we’re shooting in two days?”

Digging for Fire opens on August 21, 2015, in L.A., New York, and Chicago and other cities in the coming weeks. It will be available on VOD on August 25.