Please note that there were two press conferences that took place for this film during TIFF. One was held by the festival while the other was held by Paramount. This article is based on the one held by Paramount.
Jason Reitman’s hotly anticipated new film Labor Day made an appearance at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and we were there to see it. The film stars Josh Brolin as Frank, a fugitive on the run in rural Massachusetts who interrupts the lives of the young and impressionable Henry (Gattlin Griffith), and his deeply depressed mother Adele, who is played by Oscar-winner Kate Winslet.
Based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day is an emotional, and romantic chamber piece drama that takes place over the course of one long summer weekend. It’s the most honest and earnest effort yet from Reitman, who made a huge impression with his 2005 debut feature, Thank You For Smoking, before wracking up more praise and accolades directing films such as Juno and Up in the Air.
We were lucky enough to get to see and review the film early, as well as sit in on a press conference featuring Reitman, Brolin and Griffith that took place during the festival. Without going into spoilers, the stars left nothing off the table, explaining their approach to the creative process, relationships, love, and yes, pie. The film is set for limited release this Christmas Day, before going wide January 14th, 2014. Until then, enjoy this sneak peek at an early awards contender!
What about this period piece do you think resonates with today Jason?
Jason Reitman: The only reason it is a period piece is because we needed the flexibility to move backwards and forwards through time. While I wish I could say it has a relevance to now, I think it could easily have taken place now. But it needed to take place in ’87 just so we’d have the flexibility to move forward and have [Gattlin’s] character speak about his childhood later on.
Jason, how did you choose to approach the presentation of the character backstories?
Jason Reitman: In the book, each of their backstories is told as a solid chapter, where it’s “this is what happened to Frank, this is what happened to Adele,” and as a storyteller I thought, while that works well in a book, there’s no way in a movie we can stop for two ten-minute flashbacks. So we decided to tell the Adele flashback as one piece, but I thought it would be more interesting if we just got these glimpses of Frank’s story. And as soon as I thought of that as a screenwriter, I realized there’s all these little moments in Frank’s backstory that strangely relate to things that are happening in the movie along the way, and if you could somehow pepper them in throughout the movie, so they are constantly acting as a visual metaphor for the other things that are happening inside the house at the moment, that could be interesting.
Josh what did you bring to the development of your character?
Josh Brolin: I think it’s all there. [Jason] has placed it in a way that’s more in tune with the character and elusive. “Who is this guy? What are his real motives? Is he going to fall in love? Is he just taking advantage of them?” You’re not positive, you know? That was my experience on [No Country for Old Men] too, when people were like, “well who killed him?” and then they saw the movie three times. It’s not wrapped up.
Jason Reitman: We’re looking for box office. [laughs]
Josh Brolin: It’s making you work, and that’s a really good thing. It doesn’t happen very often.
Josh, how did you balance Frank’s tenderness and danger?
Josh Brolin: You intellectualize him purely out of fear in the beginning. Once you get into it, you try to visceral-ize it as much as possible, so [Jason’s] tweaking it more than I am. Once I’m inside, I can’t really see it. I know how I feel, but there’s a reason he chose me to play the part, because I come across, I don’t know, as more intimidating than I necessarily am.
Jason Reitman: If you play his eyebrows one way it’s really intimidating. But if you bring them up a little it’s way more tender. [laughs]
Josh Brolin: My father was 6 4”, my mother was 5 2”, and I proportionally came out being able to play this role.
Josh, what did you think of the unlikely relationship between Frank and Adele and what it said about human nature?
Josh Brolin: When it comes to chemistry, there’s something you really can’t deny. I know some people have said “could something like this really happen?” and I think when you have two people that have come from such isolated situations, one being Frank physically, and then [Adele] since her divorce – she’s become totally agoraphobic – you put those two together, and there’s such need of human connection. It’s just two magnets, they’ll figure it out. It’s almost undeniable at that point.
Gattlin, how did you choose to modulate your performance as Henry.
Gattlin Griffith: When I first went to the audition, I was screaming, I was doing all this other stuff, and Mr. Reitman was like, “you need to take it down.”
Jason Reitman: You tell him 20 times, but he’ll never call you by your first name. [laughs]
Gattlin Griffith: Yeah, as a kid, I’d always go out for Disney auditions, and stuff like that, and they’d always say “you’re nice, but you’re not funny.” As Mr. Reitman always said: underreact. Underact, rather than overact, and that’s kinda how the whole movie was planned out.
Was the scene with the pie in the book?
Jason Reitman: Oh, that scene times 20! The history of the pie is this: Joyce Maynard, the author of the book, when her mother became sick, she said “I don’t want to watch my figure anymore.” And Joyce made a pie for her mother every single day. And she became a brilliant pie maker. Everyone she knew would ask her “how do you make a pie?” and she would start teaching them. She found that she was very good at teaching how to make a pie, and taught people around the world how to make a pie. The second time I ever met her, I went to her home in the valley, she taught me how to make a pie, taught Josh to make a pie, taught Kate to make a pie. Josh made a pie every single day!
Josh Brolin: Usually the teamsters ate it.
Jason Reitman: He’s a picture of masculinity, but when you show up at his cottage, and he’s wearing an apron, and he’s thrilled, over the moon by the crust he achieved that day, or the juices that were able to come out, it’s a very different side. And he would give the pies to everybody, and at first, it was really charming. Like, “oh wow, Josh made me a pie!” By the end of the shoot it was “oh fuck, he made me a pie! Can you take this? Josh made me another pie.” [laughs]