Actress Rosemarie DeWitt has a body of film work that runs the gamut from blockbuster dramas (Cinderella Man, The Company Men) to indie gems (Your Sister's Sister, Digging for Fire) to horror reboots (2015's Poltergeist). But save for a few roles (most notably as Midge Daniels on Mad Men), her characters have been modern women. So when the opportunity to play Rose Brady, the wife of a Hollywood studio boss in the '30s period drama The Last Tycoon presented itself, DeWitt says she jumped at it.
"The part of the acting landscape I've gotten to occupy has been very contemporary," she says. "So there was something really exciting for me to do this. Not necessarily about being in hair and makeup for two hours, but in wearing the real clothes and having the look, and trying to have good posture. The glamour of it all was really exciting."
The Last Tycoon is currently streaming on Amazon Prime (through July 17) as a pilot, part of Amazon Studios' program to allow viewers to vote which original shows get full series orders. The show, written and directed by Billy Ray (Captain Phillips, The Hunger Games), is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's final, unfinished novel. It centers on Hollywood producer Monroe Stahr (Matt Bomer), who's trying to manage multiple productions on the studio lot while dealing with his boss, Pat Brady (Kelsey Grammer) and Brady's ambitious daughter (Lily Collins). Mad Men's Janie Bryant served as costume designer for the pilot—which is as visually enchanting as DeWitt says. We talked to the actress to find out more about the production, her role, and what it was like to work with the rest of the cast:
InStyle: When you work on a high concept production like this, do the costumes and sets make it easier to slip into character?
DeWitt: It does do a lot of the work for you because you can't help but feel different. Mainly because your waistline is so cinched in that you can't breathe—that's part of it. There's something about just stepping into the world that makes you carry yourself differently. This particular piece is such a love letter to the golden age of filmmaking, which was one of the reasons I became an actor. I loved Barbara Stanwyck and Katharine Hepburn. Billy Ray, our creator, told me--and I may be getting the figure wrong—that in 1936, when this show is set, that Hollywood was making 5,000 feature films a year whereas now, they're making 200. People were just going to the movies every single day with their families--that was their escape. Another thing that was compelling for me was that Rose, the character I'm playing, was kind of paralyzed by her time. She's maybe 80 years ahead—very modern, but couldn't see a way to live that way. And she's raising a really fiercely independent daughter, which hopefully I'm doing too in real life, two of them. So it spoke to me.
What was it like working on a pilot that's part of Amazon's publicly-voted on program?
Usually when you do a pilot, there's a moment where all of the executives get together and say thumbs up or down. And this one, people can stream it for free right where you're buying toilet paper and toddler bathing suits and your summer reading. So it's really putting all the creative power into the audience's hands—what they like and what they don't like, and what they want more of.
Is it weird that it's all happening so publicly--usually pilot season all happens behind closed doors.
You're right. I've had friends who did pilots and I'd say, 'What happened to that?' and they'd say, 'It didn't go,' and it literally goes into a void of nothingness because no one gets to see it. All that money and talent and time put into it. With these, they have a life. There's something really gratifying about it going right out to people and it either has a life of one episode or three seasons or five.
Have you worked with Kelsey Grammer, Matt Bomer, or Lily Collins before?
Matt and I have a lot of mutual friends in the New York theater world, so working with him was just like seeing an old friend. And Lily is the loveliest person you ever want to meet--her enthusiasm is infectious. She's one of the team captains of the project. And Kelsey I had never met and I wasn't prepared for the amount of gravitas he brings to a role. It was a joy playing tennis with him.
Your role is very interesting in the pilot--you're part of a big twist at the very end of the episode. Can you tell us any more about where the plot may be heading?
Episode two is, I think, being written as we speak. So I don't know anything for sure, but the way it presented to me was that the season would be about peeling back the layers of the onion–we're going to learn a lot more as the season progresses about how we got to this point. I think a lot of things about Monroe Stahr are not as they appear and that's going to be revealed more and more. When we were going through the show bible, reading about his character, I was like, 'Shut the front door! What? That happened?' I think if we're lucky enough to do five seasons of the show, we'll end up in a totally different place than where we start out. It'll also be a very different landscape for women in five years.
Women had very powerful roles in Hollywood back then. And then it all kind of changed for a long time and now, in 2016, we're back to that point. So there's something interesting in exploring that change of seeing just how important women were to Hollywood across the board, not just in front of the camera. And Billy Ray plays with that in the series ... but of course I'm being very cryptic and can't say much more.
Watch the first episode of The Last Tycoon via Amazon Prime here and follow the show and other #AmazonPilots on Twitter and Instagram at @AmazonVideo.