5 Things We Learned About Labor Day
Jason Reitman’s fifth directorial outing, following on from successes such as Juno and Up in the Air, is the upcoming Labor Day. The film follows the lives of depressed single mother, Adele, and her teenage son, Henry, over the course of a holiday weekend when their lives are shaken up by a chance encounter with an escaped convict.
The director and cast members Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin sat down to discuss taking the story to screen, the intense working relationships on set, and, best of all, baking pie!
1. It’s based on Joyce Maynard’s best-selling novel.
“I started reading the book,” Reitman recalls, “it started coming to life in my head, and by the end I’d fallen in love with the story and wanted to make it into a film, but was really scared because it was totally different to anything I’d ever done.”
Whilst the film is different in subject and tone from Reitman’s previous projects, the appeal of the project came from familiar themes and authentic human experience. “I’ve thought a lot about how we live our lives and whether they’re better lived alone or connected to other people. And that’s something I guess you see in all my films – characters trying to live together.”
2. It’s about finding a connection.
Winslet and Brolin portray one of the central relationships in the film and found the book useful in helping to develop their characters, the relationship between Adele and escaped convict Frank especially. “It’s one of those great, unknowable things,” Winslet commented, “you know, what is it that ever really draws you to somebody else?” Brolin agreed, adding that the relationship was inexplicable and instinctive, but made sense when “you have somebody who’s been imprisoned for 19 years and then you put him together with a woman who’s been emotionally imprisoned for as long as she has.”
“Filling voids,” remarks Brolin, “isn’t that what every story is about really?” That basic human desire to connect to others was a driving force: “It is a film about people trying to make cohesive family units,” says Reitman. “Their search for a family unit is complicated by their history and their desire. And it’s a film about getting lost in a moment. When you get lost in a moment and you forget how something looks to the outside world.”
3. It’s got a stellar cast.
Each of the central characters struggles to find a place in the world because of their past and circumstance, which gave the actors ample material to work with. Brolin researched his character in a traditional sense at first, by talking to a real-life prisoner. “I remember he said, the first thing when he got out was that he touched grass and started crying. But all that kind of stuff is masturbatory actor stuff that you don’t really get to use.”
So, instead he focussed on working with his fellow actors and Reitman’s direction. “When it comes down to it you show up on the set and you’re scared you’ve been miscast and then you look at Kate and hope there’s a connection there – and I adore her – and it starts to have its own life.”
Winslet also found it easier to avoid doing too much preparation: “I’ve been bitten by that before. I’ve watched things I did years ago and thought to myself, I did more homework for that than I did for The Reader or this and still couldn’t quite work out what I was doing in the performance. I did talk to some people who had been agoraphobic, but,” she says, “I find it funny when I hear people refer to Adele as agoraphobic, because I didn’t ever label her that way for myself. She seemed like her own person with her own set of special circumstances.”
Instead they let their characters grow through working with the other actors on set, and through Reitman’s famous practice of not including rehearsal time.
4. The cast kept it intimate.
The intensity of filming without rehearsal and with such complex relationships meant the actors got really close. “It’s very true,” Winslet says, “we just got on very well and that sort of buoyed us, I think.” Brolin agreed: “It just grounded it.” “Yeah, we were very lucky because I hate Leo, for example. Obviously that was a joke!” Winslet laughed, “No, I love him very much.”
But the most profound relationship seems to be between Kate Winslet and Gattlin Griffith, with Reitman remarking that Winslet actually “co-directed” that relationship and that whilst it scared him at first, it ultimately paid off. “By the end of the filming I realised how brilliant it was on your part,” Reitman observed to her, “because Kate, from day one, started to bond with Gattlin and would take him aside and talk to him about a lot of things. I don’t even know what you guys spoke about, some of it was about being an actor and what it’s like to be on set, and would mother him in this way that they began to have this bond that was on-camera, off-camera.”
Winslet added, “Yes, it was actually one of the most wonderful working relationships I’ve ever had, because quite honestly it was such a privilege to spend time with someone who is that lovely and that particular age, which is the most gorgeous age I think.”
5. Baking pie is more fun than you think!
One of the most stand-out scenes in the film is an incredibly charged pie-baking scene, so how good are the cast when it comes to the culinary arts?
“I cook for everybody,” Brolin says, “I wanted to be a cook when I was a kid. My dad was pushing me to be a lawyer, acting was not really in the cards, so I cooked in a restaurant for three years. I like cooking very much, I cook for my kids all the time. I cook a pie every day. I cooked many pies for this.”
“This is true!” Winslet confirms. “Perhaps too many pies?” Reitman asks. Brolin agrees: “If you watch the film, we gain more weight about every fifteen minutes.”
Unlike Brolin’s character, Winslet’s Adele doesn’t look like she has the first clue when it comes to food, so what about Winslet herself? “It’s acting, darling!” she assures, “It’s all acting.”
Labor Day screened as part of the 2013 London Film Festival, and opens in UK cinemas on 28 March 2014.