The Weekend Warrior

Oscar-Worthy: 2012's 'It Woman' Rosemarie DeWitt

Source: Edward Douglas
December 27, 2012

This has been a long year for the Weekend Warrior blog and we've done a ton of interviews, but if we could just pick one actor or actress who really blew us away, we'd probably have to go with Rosemarie DeWitt, who began the year by running the gauntlet of film festivals of one third the cast of Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister along with Emily Blunt and Mark Duplass. It would be the movie that has had the most impact on DeWitt as the cast won an award for Best Ensemble at the Gotham Awards and DeWitt received an Indie Spirit nomination a few days later.

DeWitt could also be seen at Sundance in Ry Russo-Young's Nobody Walks playing John Krasinski's wife, but even Russo-Young was so impressed with what DeWitt did that she gave her character more screen time.

DeWitt also played Ben Stiller's wife in the suburban sci-fi comedy The Watch, having some fun scenes in an otherwise bad movie--the less we talk about that the better--and also appeared in Disney's The Odd Life of Timothy Green.

Still, that's a fairly strong presence for any actor in one year and in Promised Land, written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski and directed by Gus Van Sant, DeWitt plays a small town schoolteacher named Alice who gets pulled into the battle between Damon's corporate salesman and Krasinski's environmentalist as they try to convince the townspeople to vote their way. It's an amazing role since Alice feels so much younger than the wives and older sisters she played in other movies and in fact, you would have thought maybe they shot the movie before all the others rather than just this past spring and summer. That's fairly typical of an actress who has appeared in many movies you may not even remember her from, but has always done such a great job blending right into whatever role she takes on. 2012 was the year when she started getting far bigger roles as she inches her way to playing more leading roles. attended the New York junket for Promised Land a couple of weeks ago where we spoke to Damon and Krasinski--interviews you can watch here--but we also spent a little extra time speaking with DeWitt not only about the movie, but also about some of the other things she's worked on in the past year and in the coming year, notably appearing on Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom" on HBO and reuniting with Lynn Shelton for Touchy Feely which will premiere at Sundance. (We previously spoke with DeWitt this year for Shelton's Your Sister's Sister as part of a group which you can read here.)

Earlier in the day, we did an on-camera interview with Ms. DeWitt which was more specifically about Promised Land and she is so much fun to talk to, we wanted to give you some idea of her personality before reading the print portion of the interview below.

* How she found out about the project
* What she did to audition for Matt and Gus
* She talks about her character
* Working on a movie where the co-stars are also writing and producing
* What surprised her about the movie when she finally saw it finished

And then we got to sit down with her for a little bit longer for the interview below. Congratulations on the Gotham Award and the Indie Spirit nomination.
Rosemarie DeWitt:
Thank you!

CS: It must be great when you work so hard and have so many movies coming out…
It's nice when they come out the same year.

CS: Sure, and it must be nice for people to go "Hey, she's doing some good work."
Thank you.

CS: Have you literally been working non-stop over the last two years?
Yeah, I think so. I think the biggest break I took was just this fall. I took a couple months off, not consciously maybe, but to just put the brakes on for a second. Yeah, I think I've been working pretty steadily. I think actors always have that fear of unemployment so when the opportunities are there, you just jump on them.

CS: But it's a really interesting series of movies and the fact you worked with Emily Blunt in "Your Sister's Sister" and then with John Krasinski (her husband) in "Nobody Walks" and now again on "Promised Land." Was that just a coincidence?
It does feel somewhat like coincidence. I like to think someone's putting a good word in on someone else's project. I know Emily was very excited when I got the part. I even said to John that I thought he got me the job and he said, "I didn't say anything." You walked out of the room and Matt and Gus said, "Okay, I think it's her." I have no idea how all that stuff works. I didn't even know John was writing this movie. I was sort of in awe when I got the script sent to me that he had co-written it.

CS: You've been working for a while, so do you feel it's just that all the earlier hard work is finally paying off and people are realizing you can do pretty much anything?
Well, I don't know if they're saying that. I think what happens is that you show up in a few projects and maybe the studios or the powers that be think that you have an audience that they can give you the job. I think they like to give actors parts, but I think sometimes they have to give the same ones parts because there's a lot of money on the line. If you're not carrying the movie… "Your Sister's Sister," that budget was so low, that it didn't really matter, but when the stakes get higher, when the budgets are bigger, they can't always give you the job.

CS: That's a shame, because you're always really good in these movies.
Thanks, yeah, no, no, I feel super lucky, don't get me wrong. I think it's great. I just don't know that someone decided "Now, we can…" I think you accumulate good will, things add up and then you're a person they can put in a movie.

CS: You did have "Your Sister's Sister" and "Nobody Walks" which were lower budget and "The Watch," which was a studio movie. Where did you feel ""Promised Land" fell, because it feels very much like an indie movie even though it looks like a movie that could be done by a studio.
It's funny because it didn't feel that indie to me, but that's because of the people involved, because it's people I've admired for so long. Frances McDormand and Gus and Matt, Hal Holbrook. I kind of felt I hit the big leagues on this one, but then it took us thirty days to shoot and that's when you realize how indie it was, how fast they were working.

CS: Thirty days is still a long time…
Sure, but when you look at how beautiful it is, how sweeping, to me it looks like an expensive movie.

CS: I haven't spoken to Gus (Van Sant) yet, but when you work with a filmmaker who is so well known and acclaimed, is it kind of intimidating to what it might be like or did you meet him early on and know he would be easy to work with?
He's so easy to work with. I was intimidated because I was such a fan and also, because there's not that many people that I know--you know when they say, "he's a man of few words?"--he truly is. He only says something about the scene if it needs to be said and ultimately, you realize that gives you so much freedom and it really puts the ball in your court and your choices in your court and you take responsibility and ownership for your part in the film. But at first, it's a little daunting because you want to look over and say "Is this okay? Are you okay with this?" And sometimes I did and he was like, "Yup!" Just give you the okay.

CS: I asked you earlier about working on a movie with the co-writers but you've also done movies with a lot of improv this year.
Well, that was hard for me, because I did another one with Lynn (Shelton) after "Your Sister's Sister" that will go to Sundance this year called "Touchy Feely" and it wasn't as much improv as "Your Sister's Sister" (although there's always some improv) so when you come off one of those and then you go to very scripted material, you feel a little bit like "Oh no, what happens if I add words?" And you don't really want to when the script is this good because there's a rhythm and a musicality to it that you want to honor. And with those guys, we did rehearse for a day in Pittsburgh, so they were really open, "What doesn't feel good? Is there anything that feels clunky or weird? What would you want to say there?" For the most part, you bow down to the writers.

CS: There were no scenes where you said "the" instead of "a" and Matt or John stopped it because you had changed the words?
No, no, no. I'm working with Sorkin. They do that there on "The Newsroom" if you say "the" when it was "and." No, those guys were cool.

CS: You're doing "The Newsroom"? Is that just a short appearance?
I'm doing an arc this year, it's fun.

CS: That's shooting in New York?
It actually shoots in L.A. and then when they have to do exteriors they fly here.

CS: One of the things that struck me when I first saw this movie is that you looked so much younger in this movie. You mentioned it was a younger part and you do seem so much younger here than in other movies - maybe because you're playing a wife or an older sister in those.
No, there was something young to me… when I first got the script, I thought, "Oh, yeah, this reminds me of myself when I was just younger" in my 20s, so I was channeling some of that. Because she hasn't settled down yet. There's a part of Alice that she's very okay in her own skin and then there's a part of her that is very much looking for her other part, so she felt younger than me. Maybe she's younger than me, maybe that's what you were seeing.

CS: Sure, but for these different roles we saw you in this year, it doesn't even feel like the same actress.
Oh, thanks.

CS: How much preparation do you usually do for these roles? I know for "Your Sister's Sister" you weren't able to do as much because it came up pretty fast.
Yeah, they're all different, you know? Like this one, it sometimes isn't research. Sometimes it's more living with the ideas and the themes of the movie and it was helpful to go shoot just outside of Pittsburgh and really see the people and talk to the girl who drove you to work in the morning and just really get a sense of how sort of unadorned life is for a lot of people. For a lot of people, it really is "How do I get food on the table?" and that's the day in and day out and I think for Alice it's go to work, try to manage this large piece of land that she has, which I'm sure is a full time job.

CS: I was actually curious about how the environment changes your approach to a character, because you get a script and spend time on it and then you go wherever you're going to shoot and that must change things.
I feel like that informs everything. I feel like it gives you so much. I think it's a trap sometimes… You know, I say this and then I don't know what I'm talking about, so I say it's a trap to do too much work in your room by yourself because you go out in the world of where you're shooting it and it informs everything but then I went to see "Lincoln" two days ago and I mean, that kind of thing he must have worked on and crafted for years, you know what I mean?

CS: You mean screenwriter Tony Kushner?
Well, both. Tony Kushner, but Daniel Day. He's not relying on the moment. He's not waiting until he walks on set to see if he feels like a person from another time period. That's meticulous but every part is different. I think in a part like this you're trying to bring as much as yourself as you can.

CS: Some actors can't talk about their craft at all, like something like Daniel Day-Lewis where it's month and months and months to get into a role…
Yeah, I don't know what that is. That's another planet, whatever that acting is.

CS: The last time I spoke to you, you and Lynn had shot a little bit of "Touchy Feely," and now it's done, so how did that come out and how was that experience, being scripted?
Yeah, it was a really different experience being scripted ‘cause I think it afforded Lynn a lot more time to work on… it wasn't so much about what the actors were doing. She got to really work with her camera department and set shots. It wasn't just the actors and the performance is everything, it was a lot more that she gets to go out and try some new things as a filmmaker. It was different because "Your Sister's Sister" was three of us in a room together all the time so we always knew what the movie was and in "Touchy Feely" there were whole storylines that I was never at the dentist's office so when I saw the movie--sort of like "Promised Land"--it was like, "Oh my God, that's our movie." You don't know what it is until you get to see it.

CS: Even for "Promised Land" you must have had the entire screenplay…
Sure, you knew what everything is and you might have an idea what Titus' character is like--he owns the guns, guitar and grocery store--then you see it and it's such a different thing. You never know. Because we didn't do a table read. I was just with Matt and John for rehearsal.

CS: It must be like when you read a book and then you see it adapted into a movie.
Yeah, that's what it feels like sometimes. Even if you're in every scene I feel that it's different when you see it, even if you were there.

CS: You've had a busy year so what kind of goals do you have for next year and beyond. Are you back to doing five movies a year? Or is there some other goal you're shooting for that you'd like to do next?
Yeah, I don't know. When you get to work with a group like this, like Gus Van Sant and Matt and John and Fran, it makes you want to aim higher. I was very much struck by this being very much about the big story. It was about America and where we've been and where we're going and it made me want to work on things that had that kind of size. I don't know necessarily mean a big budget movie, just where the ideas are big. I was very inspired. You want them to be about something and you try a bunch of things. It's fun to go try all kinds of things and then you see what you're more drawn to but it's chess. You just look for the next great piece of writing.

CS: Because of "Your Sister's Sister" you've been doing a lot more interviews and getting more involved in doing press for movie as well as getting into the awards season stuff. How is that stuff for you? Do you enjoy doing that and being along for that ride or do you feel it distracts from the overall thing you're trying to do as an actor?
Well, you want people to see the movie, so I think you're so grateful that people are shining a light on it or paying attention to it or even want to hear you talk about it. That's exciting to me. I guess we did that whole awards circuit thing for "Rachel Getting Married," but I was blissfully ignorant. I just didn't know why the press never ended for it. It was like, "I can't believe we're still talking about this." But you're lucky because I think when you love the project--I loved "Your Sister's Sister" and "Promised Land"--you're happy to keep talking about them.

CS: I feel like "Rachel Getting Married" deserves a resurrection because it came out so long ago and you've done so many other things since then that it's probably worth revisiting having seen you in so many great roles. Even "Company Men"…
I love "Company Men" that was fun.

And with that, we felt we had spent enough of DeWitt's time for one day and it was time to say "goodbye" for the year.

Promised Land opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, December 28 and expands nationwide on January 4, 2013. You can watch our previous interviews with Matt Damon and John Krasinski here.

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