The staycation takes an awkward turn in Joe Swanberg’s latest feature, the star-packed “Digging for Fire.” Lead by Swanberg’s co-writer, Jake Johnson, “Digging for Fire” chronicles what happens when one seemingly secure LA couple — Johnson and Rosemarie DeWitt — have their worlds upended by a buried bone and a rusty gun. The film opens with the long-married pair settling into a swanky home for an extended stay, the residence of one of Lee’s (DeWitt) yoga clients, an actress with an apparent taste for dark wood and seclusion. Along with their baby (Swanberg’s own son, Jude Swanberg), Tim (Johnson) and Lee try to soak up as much relaxation as possible, a plan that’s pretty much thrown out the window when Tim finds a bone and a gun on the property.
As Tim begins to fixate on his findings — and goes digging for more — the couple temporarily separate to have solo nights off to do cool, non-kid-toting adult stuff. Tim invites over a gang of mismatched friends (including Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick), while Lee tries to get a ladies night going with her best pal (Melanie Lynskey), only to have that unexpectedly derailed. As Tim keeps digging, Lee floats around Los Angeles looking for her own fun. She finds it, too.
Indiewire recently got on the phone with DeWitt to talk about her character and the big questions that “Digging for Fire” addresses about modern marriage and parenting, all wrapped up in a wacky little mystery and a cast filled with recognizable faces (including Sam Elliott, Judith Light, Chris Messina, Brie Larson, Orlando Bloom and Mike Birbiglia). For DeWitt, the film hit close to home.
Who isn’t in this movie?
Russell Crowe isn’t.
Did Joe try to get him and it just didn’t happen?
I think so. I think for the Anna Kendrick part, but it would have been a totally different movie.
It’s an embarrassment of riches, this cast. It was fun and it was surprising. I knew some of the people that were going to be in it. Joe has some standbys that always want to collaborate together. But the funniest for me, personally, was when we were driving to my first day on set, and we were shooting up on a hill in Malibu, and I’m driving, and I pass Sam Elliott on the street. And I’m like, how cool is it that I just passed Sam Elliott? He must live up here. And then when I parked in the driveway, he parked next to me. And I’m like, “Wait, is Sam Elliott in the movie?” and Joe said, “Yeah, he’s playing your stepdad,” and I’m like, “Sam Elliott is playing my stepdad? What’s going on?” So that was a big surprise.
Sam Elliott is having a revival right now. He was in like three–
Like eight movies at Sundance this year? I know. It doesn’t get better than that though, because he’s so cool and dry, and in our movie, he’s so wise. He should be in every movie. He’s the nicest and coolest. For the record.
There’s a great scene in the film where your character asks Judith Light, who plays your mother, when she’s going to feel like her own person again. Do you feel that way?
I do feel that way. It’s funny, I didn’t realize it until we started talking about this movie that, for Lee, her big adventure in the movie is just sort of having this night that has no timeframe and no stopping point. I have a two-year-old at home, and my whole life is — besides revolved around keeping this little person alive, just watching them on the stairs and eating food and everything of every minute of every day — you plan what time you’re going to bed so that you can be your best self first thing in the morning. You don’t ever have a moment where you’re not thinking about them.
There’s something about Tim being left to the boys and Lee leaving Jude in the hands of her mom and they both are able, in the midst of their very responsible existence, to go off and have some alone time and sort of fill up the well.
It’s funny, we see Jake’s character partying with his friends, but Lee ends up spending the night mostly by herself and she seems to be having a great time.
I remember one time my cousin telling me — she’s got four kids — she would pour the milk down the drain so she could drive to the Dairy Barn just to get out of the house. And I was like, “Oh, no, is that what it’s like having kids?” and she said, “It’s the best ever, but when you find yourself with five minutes, it’s the most amazing five minutes,” because you really don’t get time to yourself once the kids come. It’s a ringing endorsement for children.
But I feel like the film is still an endorsement for marriage, especially considering the moments when it seems as if Lee or Tim might be about to make some bad decisions, but they eventually right themselves.
It’s funny, I feel like so many people say, “Monogamy, it’s not natural, we created that for a variety of reasons,” but I think a lot of people love being married and enjoy being married and want to be married to who they’re married to. It’s not without its challenges, mostly it’s just about constantly breathing fresh air into a marriage so it doesn’t get stale. I think that’s a lot of what our film is about. They have two different ideas of how to do it, or they’re not even looking to do it, it just kind of happens.
Are you able to do that in your own life?
For a long time, we had a built-in of just working in separate cities. There’s always this exciting factor of coming back together with all these new stories and all this new life experience, and then once you have kids, you kind of want to take the whole circus act on the road and you don’t want to be apart, mainly because you don’t ever want to miss a moment of your child’s life. You find yourself much more connected in that way. As boring as it sounds, you actually have to plan all the novelty. You plan the weekends away, you plan the nights out, where they just kind of happened before. I think for people who think that’s not a turn on, that sounds kind of immature to me.
There’s been a groundswell in the industry lately to shine more of a light on the inequality between men and women, is that something you’ve been noticing?
That’s such a hard question to answer. I don’t actually think I’m treated unfairly or anything. If anything, I sometimes can’t understand why I don’t see myself and the people I know represented more in films. Unless I’m going to go out and write them myself, I don’t feel like I can really complain about it. But I do long to see certain kinds — like, I’m very excited to see “Carol.” I’m very excited to see Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett and Sarah Paulson in a movie. There’s things that get me more excited than other things.
Are you interested in writing or directing your own films?
The directing thing, not so much right now, because of what an enormous job it is, in terms of how encompassing it is and because, like I said, you become a mom and that’s all-ecompassing and that is a stronger pull at the moment. The writing thing is really weird and it’s probably a bullshit excuse, but I have so much reverence for good writing, that you don’t ever think you can do it. I’m blown away by people who write, direct, star in, produce their own material. And it is kind of a rallying cry to everybody, if you want to tell stories, just go and tell them.
Your career has been so varied over the years — from television to studio films to indie features — but are you at the stage where you get recognized by people?
I’m always surprised when I get recognized. I’m actually surprised that I’m an actor half the time, and I don’t say that as a joke, but some days I can’t believe that I do this job. I forget that we do it and it’s weird and it’s on TV. I kind of feel like I’m always doing the school play. I think I have that weird thing where I don’t look like me or something, a lot of times, people say, “Do people say that you look like an actor? There’s an actor that you look like.” And I say, “Oh, yeah, I get that.”
“Digging for Fire” is in theaters today.
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