Gattlin, how did you approach playing a character that changes greatly through the course of the film?
Gattlin Griffith: Henry was kinda like me at the time. It’s a coming of age story of a boy turning into a young man. I was 13 at the time, and as soon as I read the book I kinda connected to him, I felt what he was feeling. I didn’t have to be the man of the house as much as Henry, but he was trying to figure out who he was. He was sensitive, I was a little emotionally unstable as well back then.
Jason Reitman: You grew out of your clothes also.
Gattlin Griffith: I did.
Josh Brolin: I love that he says “back then,” whereas Jason and I, it was like four minutes ago.
Jason, do you think the at times tense tone of the film indicated that you were looking to try something new?
Jason Reitman: I don’t say we tried to do anything different. I read this book, and I fell in love with it, and I wanted to be very true to what it was, and I made a conscious decision to work with the same people I always worked with. But each of us knew we had to grow, and I had a conversation with my cinematographer, who I’ve known since I was 15 years old, my editor I had known since I was 17, my production designer, my costume designer, and we talked about what kind of movie we were going to have to make if we were going to accomplish this. For weeks we’d watch movies at my house, and we’d point things out. I mean, we watched Body Heat just to analyze sweat –we spent two hours talking about how sweat looks on hair, how it looks on clothes, should it be damp, should it be sheen. This was a very technically complicated movie for me and very different from everything I’ve done, but I don’t look at genre as, “oh I want to do one of those.” I don’t aspire to do a sci-fi film, I want to do personal films, and it’s really the ingredients underneath that interested me in this.
Jason, how did you come upon the book?
Jason Reitman: My producer, Helen Estabrook, found the book, and told me “this is very different from anything you’ve ever done but I know you’re going to love it,” and she was 100% right. My initial conversation with Joyce was similar to my initial conversation with Walter Kirn and Christopher Buckley, and it was “I’m the guy they hired to f*ck up your book.” A book and a movie are very different things, but in this case, I really wanted to emulate the experience of reading that book. It wasn’t just a piece of source material that I was going to use a few things here and there from. I wanted the movie to feel the way I felt when I read it. When I sent her the script, she had a few thoughts. I remember one of her notes was very funny, she said “on the east coast, we don’t call highways The 91, we just say 91.” On the west coast, you hero-ize your highways, you call them THE 101. It’s just a road.
Why did you cast Gattlin?
Jason Reitman: He has remarkable eyes, doesn’t he? It’s the main reason I cast Gattlin. The whole movie is through his eyes. You’re watching three people in a house, and you’re trying to figure out why everyone is doing what they’re doing, and even though there’s no logical reason that you can say “this makes sense,” you just feel like it does, that they should be together. And the person you try to figure that out through is Gattlin. And you needed to be able to do that without words, and that’s what was so remarkable about his audition: his ability to do everything with his face. Typically young actors rely on not just what’s on the page but all the stuff thrown in on top of it, and Gattlin has an ability to be still – to look at the room, and his mother, and this man, in such a complicated situation, and he makes the movie make sense for us.
Jason, how did you choose to portray some of the more intense moments in the film?
Jason Reitman: I wish I had a good answer to this. This goes back to a piece of advice my father gave to me before I made my first film, and he said, “look, your job is not to make things funny, your job is not to make things tense. Your job is to find truth on a daily basis.” You have to write a screenplay that you think is funny, or think is tense or dramatic, but once you get to set, the whole job is “does this feel honest to you?” And at that point, you rely so much on your actors, and on this one, perhaps more than ever. I was in a world, a type of genre that I had never really played around with, and I had actors that I couldn’t just write a bunch of dialogue to explain things away.
I had moments like the one on the stairs, where [Josh] and Kate are sitting on the stairs, and you put your hand around her waist, and she sets her head on your chest, and she slowly closes her eyes, and you guys do it in a way that I could never really direct you to do so. You just had to understand the moment of what we were trying to say there. And at that point, it’s not me directing you guys, it’s me learning from you guys, and I think that’s where the tension came from, it’s through the relationships that they build.