Jake Johnson started his summer by co-starring in the year’s biggest movie, Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, and he’ll end things with one of the season’s smallest: Joe Swanberg’s Digging for Fire, a relationship dramedy starring Johnson and Rosemarie DeWitt as a married couple dealing with the reality of growing up and being parents.
“What people don’t realize about this movies is what we shot it in 15 days with a two-and-a-half page outline,” Johnson, who is credited as a co-writer on the film, told EW. “I worked eight days on it. When we do press on it, we do press like it’s just a regular old movie. It’s not. It’s an art film. It’s an art film with a bunch of actors who you recognize. But it’s a small film.”
About that bunch of actors: Digging for Fire is stuffed to the edges of its frames with massive stars. Johnson’s onscreen friend group includes Sam Rockwell, Mike Birbiglia, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, and a very naked Chris Messina; DeWitt spends her time with Jenny Slate, Ron Livingston, Melanie Lynskey, Judith Light, Sam Elliott, and Orlando Bloom. But it’s Johnson and DeWitt, as Tim and Lee, who make up the film’s emotional core. They play a couple who are housesitting in Los Angeles, and the challenges of their marriage come forward after Tim finds a bone and a gun while digging in the backyard. (It’s based loosely on something that happened to Johnson and his wife when they moved to Los Angeles.)
See an exclusive clip from Digging for Fire below.
“It’s really, in my opinion, geared to people in our generation and older,” Johnson, 37, told EW. “Not the next generation. They’re going to find this movie a little bit boring. When you start getting in the world of having kids, something happens. It’s the best, and then it’s also like, ‘Oh wow, I am actually going to die. And these will be the people who will be with me when I’m not as social with my friends, because I’m 60.’”
Johnson said that was why he and Swanberg wanted to do this film after their 2013 comedy Drinking Buddies, which focused on late-20s life, “when you’re still basically a kid.”
“In Drinking Buddies, we wanted to show the beginning of the break, where Olivia Wilde’s character was like, ‘It’s actually not working out the way I thought,’” Johnson said. “Then we wanted to show a movie about mid-30s, where you’re like, ‘It is working out, it’s just harder than I thought.’”
Ruminating on age is a big part of Tim’s life in Digging for Fire. He spends lots of time trying to avoid doing the family’s taxes, and enjoys a moment of arrested development with a group of old friends and slightly younger girls. At one point, Tim, a high school gym teacher, discusses with melancholy and surprise how he realized he wasn’t a kid anymore after horsing around with a pair of 16-year-old students. “Even when I’m talking to younger people about that stuff, they get it as I’m the old guy,” Johnson said about the generational divide that he finds himself slipping into more and more. “It’s like when my uncles used to be funny to me. Because I actually deep down can’t relate. I don’t understand this sh—. I get it intellectually. I know what a GIF is. But I’m like, ‘Why would you spend an evening looking at GIFs? They’re nothing.’”
At 33, Swanberg is slightly younger than Johnson, but the pair have an easy rapport with each other that stems from a shared vision of filmmaking. “I think Joe true artist in a business that is more and more about business,” Johnson said. “That’s what I love about him. He wants to make projects he loves, and that his cast and crew love, and that hopefully others love — but we’re not making it for people to line up and love it. We’re making it because we love to make it.”
That’s not a line: Johnson and Swanberg came together again this summer to make Win It All, a film Johnson called a “wild departure” from how Digging for Fire was made. Unlike their previous movies, which were improvised and based off outlines, the new film was co-written by Johnson and Swanberg into a screenplay.
“We did Digging for Fire and we felt good, but we both said we don’t have another story here to tell. Together, we don’t need to do another story about the trouble with relationships, about hipster-y people,” Johnson said of the project, which he and Swanberg teased on Instagram for weeks. “So we came up with a whole different story that hopefully turns out as good as we think it can.”
Johnson stars in Win It All as a “degenerate gambler” who gets presented with an opportunity from an old neighborhood acquaintance. “That guy’s going to jail, and says, ‘I want you to be a storage company for me. If you touch anything in this bag, I’m going to put you in the ground. If you don’t, I’m going to give you $10,000,’” Johnson said. “He opens the bag and sees it’s cash. The movie is that, but then there’s a love story in there, and then there’s a story of redemption. It’s more like a movie movie. It’s fun.”
Digging for Fire is out now in limited released, before a VOD rollout on Aug. 25.
•See the exclusive new poster for ‘Digging for Fire’
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•Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt and basically everyone else star in the new ‘Digging for Fire’ trailer
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