Q&A: ‘Digging for Fire’s’ Rosemarie DeWitt: ‘I wasn’t a good ingenue’

Actress Rosemarie DeWitt at The Trails Cafe in August 2015. DeWitt stars in "Digging For Fire" as a dissatisfied wife who finds herself on an exploratory night out alone.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

In “Digging for Fire,” Rosemarie DeWitt plays half of a married couple spending a weekend apart. When plans with a female friend don’t work out, she ends up on an unexpected odyssey that finds her walking on a beach with a character played by Orlando Bloom.

“Digging for Fire,” directed and co-written by Joe Swanberg (the other co-writer, Jake Johnson, also co-stars as DeWitt’s character’s husband), features the latest in the actress’ line of natural, quietly reliable performances (“Rachel Getting Married,” “Your Sister’s Sister” and “Promised Land,” plus such TV shows as “Mad Men,” “United States of Tara” and “Olive Kitteridge”).

DeWitt, 43, was interviewed at a coffee shop near where she lives in Los Angeles with her husband, actor Ron Livingston, and their young daughter.

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You began acting in film and television after you’d already been working in theater in New York for a few years. You seemed to hit your stride on-screen as a fully formed grown-up; you didn’t really have any ingénue years on film.

I wasn’t a good ingénue. I remember John Simon one time in a review of a play I did in New York — a play I stepped into with three days’ rehearsal, to be fair to myself — he gave me a review where he called me “an unfortunate ingénue.” They say you only remember bad reviews, and that one stayed with me for a moment.

I was in New York doing theater and didn’t come out here until I was in my early 30s, and then I think I just got lucky. I don’t even know if I was in my stride, I think I just got some breaks. But I feel more comfortable this age. I feel like in my 20s I was putting my hair in a ponytail and pinching my cheeks and raising my voice an octave. So I feel more comfortable being a woman than I did being a young ingénue.

“Digging for Fire” was made using structured improvisation, so you knew the story and where each scene had to go. How did Joe and Jake initially explain the story to you?

It’s very much about a marriage and a long-term relationship. I think in this case, it’s almost like two movies, Jake has his story and I have a story, and I think it’s very much about having a life outside your marriage and what keeps you in it. And sometimes it’s not the things you think. There are some things people could get super judge-y about in this movie about the couple, but they love each other and they want to make it work. They’re not at a point where they’re unhappy, it’s that you always want your life to keep moving forward and growing and you can stop growing in a relationship. And sometimes there’s these outside factors that can help you along.

There’s a scene where you go to visit a female friend, played by Melanie Lynskey, and she gets into an argument with her husband, played by your husband. What was it like to watch him have a domestic squabble with someone else right in front of you?

One thing, Ron and I met acting, so for some reason, we just don’t have that weird thing between when you go to work or when you’re home, it’s not a touchy, sensitive area. It’s very easy. I know with some people it’s complicated, that balance. Also, Ron’s just nothing like that. It’s interesting to me just how many [jerks] he’s played because he isn’t like that in real life. If anything, it’s just fun to watch him quote-unquote act. And he and Melanie are so good together.

How do you see yourself — as a leading lady, a character actress, or something else?

I don’t know about other actors, but I can never get a sense of that. I don’t know how anyone can see themselves. I don’t even mean as a character actress or a leading lady, I don’t ever have a sense that I have a career. I’m always surprised that I get called to work. I always feel the way I felt when I was 24 or 25 trying to get a job. I’m amazed I have my SAG card and my Equity card.

I’m not being facetious, I really think I worried about that stuff a lot in the beginning. I’m always surprised how old I am. Someone will call to ask me to play the mother of a 22-year-old and I think, “I have a 2-year-old.” I just don’t spend maybe enough time figuring out my place. Maybe I do in the world, but not so much in Hollywood.

I think you’re always drawn to what you love, and I’m always really drawn to things that feel really real and really true to me. I love things that make me think of things in a way I hadn’t and I love looking at people in the world in a way that I hadn’t. And sometimes big, huge stories do that for me, but I think I am drawn to smaller ones. I am drawn to truth on film.

I bore myself a lot as an actor when I see myself and always wish that I could make bolder choices and go out on a limb more. And it’s hard because what moves me is finding the truth in a scene and then that doesn’t feel super big or other than me. I think I’m a little bit of a selfish actor, because I love to work on pieces in order to illuminate things in my own life and move my life forward.


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