Meet Marsha Dietlein
Posted on February 9, 2014
One of The Dodgy’s favorite filmmakers, Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen), over the last few years made three New York-based movies pretty much back-to-back-to-back: Nice Guy Johnny, Newlyweds and The Fitzgerald Family Christmas. All three featured nearly the same cast, especially the latter two, including the talented Marsha Dietlein. I don’t want to say she steals every scene she’s in because all the actors were great in them, but she kicks my ass and yours in these films. She was also in Burn’s short film Doggy Bags. Dietlein took time out recently to chat with The Dodgy from her New York City home.
How did you get involved in working with Edward Burns?
I met him years ago when he was casting ‘She’s The One.’ I hadn’t seen ‘Brothers McMullen’ because it had just come out. My agent said he was kind of like the new Irish Woody Allen. I met him and remember walking out of the audition and calling my manager and saying, “Oh my God he’s so cute, who is this guy?”
Then he cast Jennifer Aniston instead of me. ‘Nice Guy Johnny’ was the first film I did with him. I tease Eddy about it. He has no memory but somewhere there’s tape.
He had a cast and crew screening of ‘Nice Guy Johnny’ the night before Tribeca (Film Festival) and said he was working on another film and wrote this really funny part for me. Then I didn’t hear from him until about six months later when I got a voice message from him saying, “We’re going to do another one. Do you want to do it?” I said “sure” and that was ‘Newlyweds.’
‘Newlyweds’ originally, the way it was presented to me – he was going to make two 40-minute films with the first one about his relationship with Caitlin (Fitzgerald) and my character and Max Baker’s character. And then he was going to have a young newlywed couple – Kerry Bishé and Johnny Solo – be the second Newlywed film. Kerry would be the linking character between the two. We didn’t even know how the story was going to end per say. It was so much fun. He ended up with about 75 minutes of a film and said, “We should just make this the feature then.” He figured out the way he wanted to end it and went with it.
Why do nearly all the actors use their real first name for the characters?
He wrote the character names for us because he was writing for us. At some point he said if we wanted to change our names we could. I never really thought about it. And he never changed it so we just went with it.
We did a lot of improv. We shot on a Canon 5D with no crew really. We’d go into restaurants and shoot in a corner. What Ed didn’t like he could pull and out what he liked we could re-shoot another day. The whole scene at end of ‘Newlyweds,’ in the apartment, was improv.
One of the funniest scenes is when you move into Buzzy and Katie’s apartment after separating from Max – the adjoining bedrooms interaction between you and Buzzy. I could watch two hours of you and Burns trading barbs like that.
He met with us one-on-one to talk about our characters. I said what might be interesting is that often the woman being left is shown as the victim. I said what if she’s just so sick of him that she just can’t wait to get out there and fuck around. This sort of prudish woman who’s been so annoying and uptight gets to sort of spread her wings and have a lot of fun. He loved the idea. He started writing really funny scenes for my character and that was one of them.
Filming in Tribeca
The apartments belonged to friends of Ed’s. He would go – “OK I know someone who owns a gym so I’ll make my character a trainer.” One friend has a recording studio below his apartment so, “I’ll make Marsha’s character the head of the recording studio.” Eddy’s kind of like the Mayor of Tribeca so everyone was perfectly happy to have us shoot in their restaurants. He lives down there so he knows everybody. He would give them a great establishing shot so people would know where we were eating.
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas
I remember a day when we were shooting ‘Newlyweds’ when Eddy said something like “I can play all your bitches’ older brother.” When he sent me the script and I loved it. I cried when I read it. We shot it around Christmas. I’ve played his sister twice (first in ‘Johnny’) and his sister’s house has been my house twice. He also used houses of friends. Houses he went to while growing up. The Fitzgerald house was one of his best friend’s or someone like that who still lives there.
He wrote a really fun crazy part for me so I loved that. There wasn’t as much improv but he’s not married to the lines. He just wants it to feel real and natural so there’s always room for improvisation but that script was fully realized. ‘Newlyweds’ was kind of like, “Let’s improv a scene and see what happens.”
The dying father of the Fitzgerald clan was played by Ed Lauter, who died last year.
I cried watching it again.
Return of the Living Dead Part II
That was my first job really (1988). My seventh audition in LA and I got this awesome film. I still keep in touch with Robert Elswit, the director of photography, who’s gone on to win Oscars. He’s an amazing cinematographer who shoots a lot of Paul Thomas Anderson films. Dana Ashbrook (‘Twin Peaks’) played my boyfriend. He was my first big-screen kiss.
It was maybe one of the first comedy horror films. Back then people sort of panned it because they wanted something more hardcore. Since then I think people have enjoyed it more after ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and all these funny zombie movies that have come out.
Drink of choice
I’m kind of a whiskey girl. I like bourbon, scotch, and Irish whiskey. It’s pretty much my drink of choice. If I order a cocktail I’ll order a Manhattan.
You ran a recording studio in Newlyweds. What kind of music do you like?
I love the Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Who, Stones. I’m sort of a classic rock girl. A newer band I love is Alabama Shakes.
Favorite TV viewing.
I’m catching up on ‘Girls’ which I love. I love ‘True Blood.’ I loved ‘Weeds.’ I’ve been kind of watching ‘Nashville’ as a guilty pleasure. Connie’s (Fitz co-star Connie Britton) so great. Hayden Panettiere played my daughter in a commercial when she was five years old. We were always auditioning to play mother and daughter because we had the same kind of hair.
On the Chicago-based “Shameless”
Eddy’s movies we look like real people. ‘Shameless’ too. Those brothers look like real people. Like they could be in Chicago. It’s not so slick. Everyone’s not perfectly coiffed. The girls are very pretty.
Dietlein has a 19-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter and her husband has his own production company, Silentcrow, where he executive produces reality shows, including ‘Deadliest Catch: The Bait.’ He used to be an actor and the couple met during an episode of ‘Law and Order.’
Dietlein was raised in Ohio in a large Mormon family. The whole Mormon thing was something she “bought into” until she got to college.
Dietlein’s husband almost played her on-screen hubby in ‘Fitzgerald,’ but instead Brian d’Arcy James was cast. “He’s a good friend of ours so I suggested him to Eddy.”
Deitlein appeared in the film ‘Little Children’ with Noah Emmerich (‘The Americans’) who also had a small part in ‘Fitzgerald.’
Dietlein performed on stage in New York last year in A.R. Gurney’s ‘The Old Boy.’ She’s currently workshopping another play.
She’s appeared in an episode of ‘Blue Bloods’ written by Edward Burns’ brother Brian. “Thank God for the Burns boys ‘cause they seem to be the ones who want to hire me.”