Sometimes, all it takes is a single performance to make you fall head over heels for an actor. In the case of Rosemarie DeWitt, that performance, for many, was her flawless, deeply human turn as the eponymous bride in Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married. The film wound up being an Oscar vehicle for Anne Hathaway, who played DeWitt’s on-screen, in-recovery sister, Kym, but that didn’t stop DeWitt from leaving a permanent impression on viewers. Since then, she’s become the kind of fail-safe actor whose movies those same viewers go to see, simply because she’s in them. She’s brought invaluable support to films like The Company Men, Promised Land, and, more notably, Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister, which placed her in another complex sibling relationship opposite Emily Blunt, and evidently, formed a muse-master bond that stuck.
DeWitt and Shelton have teamed up again for Touchy Feely, a dramedy that makes literal the ways in which we all can be out of touch. Acting alongside Scoot McNairy, Allison Janney, Ellen Page, Josh Pais, and her real-life husband, Ron Livingston, with whom she previously starred on the Fox series Standoff, DeWitt plays Abby, a budding masseuse whose unsettled psyche soon translates into a creeped-out (and career-crippling) fear of physical contact. Talking to DeWitt is an awesome free-for-all. She’s as lovely and unpretentious as you could possibly hope, and she’s wonderfully forthcoming about her craft, her early-career ignorance, her love of Rachel Getting Married, and her own ick-inducing phobias (be sure to ask about ground rules before taking her out for sushi). Had our conversation gone on longer, anything might have come up, but in the time we had, we covered everything from the gifts Demme and Shelton share to watching movies on drugs. Needless to say, DeWitt left yet another Rachel-level impression.
So, I can’t start a conversation with you without first bringing up Rachel Getting Married.
Well, that makes me happy. That’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done, so I can always talk about it.
How many times have you seen it?
I feel like I typically see a movie that I do three times. Because the first time I can’t watch it, because I can’t watch myself. And then the second time I get a little more detached. And then the third time I can actually really see the movie. That one I probably saw, like, four or five times. I really love it. I’ll probably bust it out again now that you’re talking about it.
Well, it’s definitely one to revisit. And while I know awards talk can get a little awkward sometimes, I’m just gonna go on record saying that your lack of a Supporting Actress nomination that year is one of the great Oscar robberies of all time.
You’re so sweet. I have to say, looking back on that, I remember not knowing what awards season was, and thinking, like, “God, I can’t believe we’re promoting this movie six months later!” I like that I was so ignorant that I just didn’t know why we were doing it. Like, I thought that that was what you do for every movie. You know what I mean? Where you just talk about it, and then you do phoners, and then you do blogs. I’m glad I didn’t know what it was all about.
It’s interesting to hear that. Because from my end, we’re following this stuff pretty vehemently all year, but you’re never quite sure how the talent is receiving and experiencing all of it.
Well, it was also the first movie like that that I ever did. And I was just like, “This goes on forever!” And, I mean, I loved it; I could just keep talking about it. But, now, after living in L.A. for a couple of years, I’m like, “Oh, there’s a whole machine at work here.” It’s interesting.
Can you describe how opportunities opened up for you after that? Because you definitely had projects prior to that, like Cinderella Man, which was about your grandfather, as a lot of people probably don’t know, but Rachel Getting Married certainly seemed like your breakthrough film.
I feel like there are two things that happen. There’s the breakthrough with the first person who gives you a job, ever, and the things that help you gain confidence and experience as an actor. And I do feel like Cinderella Man was the first time that a major director [Ron Howard] even auditioned me, let alone gave me a job. So there are things like that that are little, personal milestones. But Rachel was not only one of the best and most creative experiences I’ve ever had as an actor, but also, it relates to something my husband said to me at the time. He said, “You know, you won’t really feel what this movie has done, professionally or just in general, probably for another three years.” Because you do these movies, and they’re not the big tent-pole movies, so it’s not like everybody sees them the year they come out. And he was right. It’s true. It’s sort of like the gift that keeps on giving. And to have it be one of the first things that you do really sets a nice tone for the kind of work that you’re brought in on. And I just think Jonathan Demme is amazing. The way he works with actors, I just didn’t realize how rare it was to be given that much permission and freedom. Although, when he saw Your Sister’s Sister, he did call me and he also sent a note to Lynn [Shelton]. I think he can always recognize a fellow traveler when he sees one. You know? When the work is very honest. And I think Lynn makes those kinds of movies too.
Well, a tone that seems to have been set for you is that you’re really loving what you’re doing. I think that really comes through in your work.
I do. I really do. I feel like the real gift of starting in the theater, besides…well, there are so many, but there’s the gift of just working for, like, $200 a week, and having that feel like a big payday. With that background, I don’t feel like I usually need to do movies that I don’t like. There might have been one or two in there where I was trying to fit into a certain box, or something, but most of the time I really want to work with people like Lynn, who have something to say. Like, in the case of Touchy Feely, I didn’t quite understand what this character’s journey was about, and I like being a little terrified, and this film checked all those boxes off. Yeah, it’s kind of a gift if you’re not worried about making a lot of money. [laughs]
Speaking of Lynn, a lot of the films that you’ve done post-Rachel, like The Company Men, and The Watch, and even Promised Land, to a certain degree, have been very male-dominated. Is the dynamic different with something like a Lynn Shelton project, where there are simply more females in the room?
Yes. Actually, yeah. I mean, I’m trying to think of what the main difference is, but I don’t think it’s a gender thing. Because, you know, Rachel was very female-centric. I think it’s just about working with somebody who gives her actors a tremendous amount of freedom and encouragement. I just think, with those things, she creates an environment for people to do their best work. But male directors can do that too. I will say, sometimes you’re lucky enough to have a conversation with some of the other actors, and the director, and you’re able to question a motive of your character. Often, the trickier thing is that sometimes the characters are written by men, and there might be a couple beats in the script that don’t feel true to you. And you might think, “Well, she loves him,” or something. And that just wouldn’t happen with Lynn. Because Lynn is telling her story from a female perspective, and typically the men are telling a bigger hero’s journey. And those movies are more about where the female energy fits in.