Rosemarie DeWitt was too happy to play sad. As a new mother, the actress found it difficult to conjure the demons required to become Rachel Coulson, the depressed New England mother she portrays in Olive Kitteridge, the recent HBO miniseries.
“The tricky thing about my character was that she was a deeply depressed person looking for a way out, and I was a new mom and the happiest I’d ever been in my life,” DeWitt says. “There was a part of me that was resisting playing Rachel, because I just couldn’t wait to get home to my family.”
A chance encounter with a filthy bathtub made her job a bit easier. “There was a scene where I had to take a bath, and they cleaned it as well as they could,” she recalls, “but at one point, I saw a mold spore floating on the water and thought, well, this is depressing. It definitely ruined my mood—and that helped.”
What that fungus can’t take credit for, however, is DeWitt’s on-screen ubiquity this year. From the Lisa Cholodenko–directed Kitteridge to turns in the CIA cover-up thriller Kill the Messenger and Jason Reitman’s latest, Men, Women and Children, DeWitt has appeared in some of the season’s most talked about movies. Reitman’s film finds her in an especially memorable role as Helen, a woman trapped in a failing marriage who fumbles through the world of online dating.
“She’s looking to feel desire and feel desirable,” DeWitt, who herself is married to actor Ron Livingston, explains. “And she’s not abnormal in that way—looking outside your marriage is as old as the institution of marriage itself.”
What made the character compelling to DeWitt was the modernity of her adultery. “She was not the type to go to a bar; she wouldn’t have had the courage,” she explains. “It was easier to sit at her desk, type up her profile and hit send.”
Reitman says the part required a unique kind of charisma. “She’s one of those rare actresses who’s very beautiful but also has the ability to play the everywoman,” he says. “She has an affair, which is about the hardest thing for an actor to do on-screen because it’s so unforgivable. But she brings such a human approach to it that you almost understand it. She sells the stagnation of the marriage in such a real way that the affair becomes this exciting journey you go along on.”
With Helen now in her rearview mirror, DeWitt is prepared to tackle new projects, including an upcoming remake of the horror classic Poltergeist. And while she’s glad to be as in demand as she is, working so frequently does have its pitfalls.
“We were shooting in Toronto and I didn’t have my family with me, so I woke up, looked out the window and freaked out for a solid two minutes because I had no idea where I was,” she says. “I was running through my head all the places I had been working before I was like, ‘OK! I’m in Canada.’ I don’t have so much trouble keeping my characters straight. I just need to remember where it is I’m waking up.”