Filmed on a budget of $9,000 dollars, Newlyweds is the latest film by New York writer/director Edward Burns. This relationship comedy focuses on Buzzy (Burns) and Katie (Caitlin Fitzgerald), who believe that their new marriage works because of their conflicting work schedules—their happiness will not be destroyed by overexposure. Katie’s sister Marsha (Marsha Dietlein Bennett) and her husband (Max Baker) are skeptical, though their own marriage is going down the tubes. The arrival of Buzzy’s unstable sister Linda (Kerry Bishé) and Marsha and Max’s impending, ugly divorce challenge Katie and Buzzy to find a way to stay together despite the outside forces that begin to weaken their relationship.
Caitlin Fitzgerald (It’s Complicated, Taking Woodstock) recently sat down with us to discuss her career, her love of New York and all things Newlyweds: from the audition process to on location shooting to the closing night gala at TFF 2011.
Tribeca: Your filmography is full of NY credits, from Gossip Girl to Law & Order: SVU. Are you a native New Yorker?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: I’m from Maine originally. I came to New York City for college, and I’ve been here nine years. So I feel like a native New Yorker, but Maine is my home.
Tribeca: Can you talk about the audition process for Newlyweds and how it differed from auditions that you have done for other roles?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: I first auditioned for a different movie that Eddie was set to make, and the casting director made a tape. I then got a call that Eddie decided to do a different picture, but that he wanted to have a meeting with me. He sent me some pages, and we met and chatted for a while. It was a lot more discussion than normal. With auditions, you usually come in and read and leave. Eddie really just wanted to talk to me because on a film like this, I think, it’s so important that the personalities work and you find an actor who fits your idea of the character.
Tribeca: So it was very different from the audition for It’s Complicated.
Caitlin Fitzgerald: Right, which was a six-month process [laughs].
Courtesy of Tribeca Film / Credit: William Rexer
Tribeca: Given Ed Burns’s improvisational style, were you able to read much of the script beforehand?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: When we first had that initial meeting, he only had about 20 to 30 pages, which I read. He started to ask me hypothetical questions like, “If you were this kind of person and had this kind of career while in this relationship, what might you do, etc.” So we were able to talk about the story before he finished the script and that was great. I had the chance to voice my opinions, so that was really nice.
Tribeca: Did you ever have that kind of input on other films you worked on?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: It’s never been that collaborative before.
Tribeca: You were the only member of the cast that hadn’t previously worked with Ed Burns. Can you tell me about that first day on set?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: It’s funny that you ask that, because Newlyweds was so unlike any other set I’ve ever been on. Mostly all the locations belonged to friends of Eddie, who were kind enough to let us come in and shoot in their homes or places of business. We were a pretty un-invasive movie, which is rare. Usually, you want to do anything other than let a film crew into your house, but we were very respectful [laughs].The first scene we shot involved only me, Eddie, Will the DP, Mike the sound guy, and our producer, Erin. It was really a three-person crew. Right from the start, I knew this was a whole new way to make movies, and I was kind of excited about it. It was very comfortable, and I felt very calm almost immediately.
Tribeca: Newlyweds was shot over a period of 12 days: what’s the craziest thing (or lightning-strike moment) that happened during production?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: We did a lot of direct address to the camera, meaning that our characters break the 4th wall and speak directly to the audience about what’s happening. We would shoot those and Eddie would say, “You know what? We got another 5 minutes of daylight. Let’s duck into this alleyway and talk about this.” He would give me 3 or 4 bullet points to hit, and I would just talk. It was really cool, and he got a lot of footage that ended up in the film.
I just loved shooting in Tribeca with its beautiful cobblestone streets. I just love shooting in New York period. When you shoot in New York, you feel a connection to all the other movies that have been filmed here before you.
Tribeca: Had you previously done work with improvisation?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: I went to New York University, and improv was a major part of our curriculum. A lot of actors don’t like it because they prefer the structure of the script, but I love improv to a fault. So much so that I’d have to be reined in at times [laughs].
Tribeca: One of the most interesting aspects of the film was Katie and Marsha’s relationship. Their interactions really capture the evolving nature of sisterhood. Do you have any sisters? What was it like working with Marsha Dietlein Bennett?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: I don’t have any sisters, but I do have 3 brothers, so I know the sibling dynamic pretty well. Marsha’s character is pretty intense in the film and she couldn’t be farther from that. Because of the way we shot and the opportunity we had to improvise, we got to discover our characters together. It was almost like being in a rehearsal because we could really find out what was working and find our stride in the process. She is the loveliest, sweetest person and has been very sisterly to me. We bonded almost instantly, and she has given me a lot of advice. I just adore her.
Tribeca: Do you have any favorite scenes or moments in Newlyweds?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: There is a scene with Buzzy’s sister, Linda, who opens the refrigerator door in my face. That was not scripted. We shot the scene a couple different ways, and Eddie said, “Try it like this,” and that moment just kind of happened. We all went, “Oh, that’s cool,” and kept it. We summed up the scene in just one gesture.
Tribeca: There’s a line that comes up again and again: “If the marriage ended today after 18 years, you can probably call it a success.” At the end of the movie, do you think Buzzy and Katie will go the distance?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: I do. I think they discover something really crucial in this film, which is about the nature of honesty in a relationship. People tend to fall in love, and while it’s so intoxicating during the honeymoon period, you forget there is a whole other life behind this person that you have to learn and incorporate into yours. That being said, I do think Buzzy and Katie are well on their way to success [laughs].
Tribeca: I’m glad to hear you say that. Now, can you tell me about some of your upcoming projects?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: I just wrapped a romantic comedy here in New York called Mutual Friends, which is another ensemble piece. I’m actually in post-production on a movie that I wrote and acted in. I was inspired to make the film because my experiences on Newlyweds convinced me that anyone can make a movie… it’s so easy! I soon found out that it’s not that easy, but the technology is there and available for filmmakers. I also have Damsels in Distress, the new Whit Stillman film that is coming out in the spring.
Tribeca: Edward Burns and Whit Stillman are two very different New York directors. How did those experiences differ?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: The nature of Eddie’s film was very improvisational. We were shooting in restaurants that were still open for business. We had to deal with a lot of elements that were out of our control, which I think adds to the realism of the film. Whit had a very specific vision for his film and the world he wanted to create, so every detail was crafted to reflect Whit’s inner story. It’s a crazy, but wonderful way to make a movie.
Tribeca: Can you talk a little bit about your experience with the Tribeca Film Festival? I know Newlyweds was last year’s closing night film.
Caitlin Fitzgerald: It was thrilling to close Tribeca. It’s such a special New York film festival. Plus, my family came down from Maine and really loved the experience. The energy on that night was so amazing; the audience was so receptive. They laughed, they applauded—I felt that they were right there with us. It was the best way to show a film to a community of people that is there to support and love filmmaking.
Tribeca: We have been compiling our year-end lists at Tribeca. Besides Newlyweds, what are some of your favorite films of 2011?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: I really liked Moneyball—I thought that was smart. I loved this tiny independent movie, Like Crazy, because I think it’s always interesting and exciting to see what other filmmakers are doing on a low budget. I haven’t seen it yet, but I suspect that Shame is going to be one of my favorites, because I think Steve McQueen is a brilliant director and Michael Fassbender can do no wrong, not to mention Carey Mulligan.
Tribeca: Who are some of your dream co-stars?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: Michael Fassbender comes to mind, just because of the range of parts that he plays and the fact that he brings all of himself to each performance every single time. For the ladies, I love the kind of work that Tilda Swinton does. She’s having a phenomenal year. Cate Blanchett, of course…
Tribeca: It’s probably safe to assume you would want to work with Meryl Streep again?
Caitlin Fitzgerald: [laughs] I would work with Meryl on everything, if I could.
Filmed on location in the streets of Tribeca, it is only fitting that Newlyweds is a Tribeca Film release. Newlyweds is now available on VOD, Amazon and iTunes with a limited theatrical release set for January 2012.