“Labor Day” centers on 13-year-old Henry Wheeler (played by Gattlin Griffith), who struggles to be the man of his house and care for his divorced reclusive mother, Adele Wheeler (played by Oscar winner Kate Winslet), while confronting all the pangs of adolescence. On a back-to-school shopping trip, Henry and his mother encounter Frank Chambers (played by Josh Brolin), a man both intimidating and clearly in need of help, who convinces them to take him into their home and later is revealed to be an escaped convict.
The events of this long Labor Day weekend in 1987 will shape them for the rest of their lives. Here is what Winslet, Brolin, Griffith and “Labor Day” screenwriter/producer/director Jason Reitman said at a “Labor Day” press conference during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, where “Labor Day” had its Canadian premiere.
Jason, how did the “Labor Day” story come to you?
Reitman: My producer Helen Estabrook came to me with the book “Labor Day,” and she told me, “Look, this is different from anything you’ve ever done before.” It doesn’t have the type of traditional DNA of the types of things that interest you, but I have a feeling you’re going to love it. And she was absolutely right. I started reading the book. And by the time Frank was tying Adele up and feeding her chili, I knew I was in.
How long ago did you decide to make “Labor Day” into a movie?
Reitman: It was right around the time I finished “Up in the Air.” It was actually my intent to follow “Up in the Air” with “Labor Day.” And when I went to Josh and Kate and asked them to do the film, they said, “Yes.” However, Kate was unavailable. Kate was going to be unavailable for a year, and I could never imagine anyone else in the role. So we waited. We actually made a movie [2011’s “Young Adult”] in between.
Kate, can you talk about playing a fragile woman such as Adele, considering your pretty eclectic résumé?
Winslet: When Jason approached me with the script, Josh was already attached to play Frank. When something comes at you, and it’s a sweet-smelling, glossy package like that, you’ve got to be some kind of crazy person to walk away. But I was very, very lucky that Jason waited for me. Very lucky, indeed. I don’t think it’s ever happened before.
It was absolutely challenging playing Adele because, yes, on the surface, she is fragile and fragmented, and she has this sort of charred and blistered past. But at the same time, there is a strength in her that never wavered, and it was the strength she had as a mother. And I was really able to admire that and hang on to that, actually, in her, because I haven’t played very many fragmented people, I suppose, in the past.
And to play someone who was able to still pull it together and not turn to Prozac and gin by 3 in the afternoon, she absolutely was not that woman. She could raise her son. He was and is a good child — and that is entirely because of her. And she has this very big heart and huge capacities to love and romanticize and be passionate. It’s just that she’d forgotten how. And to meet Frank and to rediscover those things, and to have the courage to rediscover them as well, after having been so shut away for such a long time, there were many things about her that I really admired, as well as found challenging. It was an extremely complex character, actually.
Kate, you were the youngest actor to get six Oscar nominations. How do you feel about that? And how would you feel to get a seventh Oscar nomination or a second Oscar?
Winslet: I’m going to not answer the last part of your questions because I don’t know how to. But certainly, I’ve been incredibly lucky in my life to have worked with some fantastic actors and directors who have played such a big part of me being nominated for anything at all, let alone winning. To be honest, I’ve had some wonderful, triumphant moments that I have been fortunate enough to share. I’ve just been very lucky. That’s honestly all I can say.
Kate, how does playing a single mother change your perspective of motherhood? And how does the bond you share with your kids compare to your Adele’s bond with her son?
Winslet: I have admiration for mothers everywhere, whether they are single or not — and for fathers too. It turns you inside out. Josh and Jason can speak to this better than I can, as fathers. But it completely transforms your life, and of course, your children are your absolute everything.
I feel like Gattlin and I were very fortunate to make this film together, because there was so much I was discovering about being a mother, actually having the friendship with Gattlin, because my children are younger than Gattlin is. And so to get a little bit of an insight as to what it might be like a couple of years from now — my daughter is 12, and my son is 9. And Gattlin, I’m going to flatter you, but he’s so incredible in the film, and he’s a very unique young man. And I think all of us felt very awed by his sensibility and his strength of character, just as a person. And it was something that Jason was able to see in him, I think, when he auditioned, that would bring something to Henry that was absolutely pure and grounded. And, of course, that’s very bound up in the relationship with Adele and her parenting of him and how respectful he is as a human being. I’m kind of waffling, because I want someone else to step in, I think. I don’t think it’s a question I can entirely answer.
Gattlin, would you like to add anything about the friendship you developed with Kate and Josh and how that helped shape your performance?
Griffith: When I first met Kate, I was extremely nervous. I was stuttering, I was using my best manners. I walked in and was [he says in stuttering voice], “Hi, Ms. Winslet. I’m Gattlin. I’m going to be working with you.”
And she said, “Are you nervous?” And I said, “Yeah, a little bit.” And she said, “Don’t be. Everybody on the set is going to be your friend. And I’m going to be next to you the whole time.”
From then on, I could count on Ms. Winslet. The same with Josh. It was a little bit different. I was a little more intimidated with Josh, just because of who he is. I first met Mr. Brolin when I was at a callback, and they had some of the characters come and read with me. And even from then, I knew Josh was a country boy. Can I say that?
Griffith: I could day, “Yes, sir,” she he didn’t get offended. The first scene together was in a grocery store. And it was a really intense scene, and it was before we really talked that much. In between takes I’d get really nervous, and I’d go and walk over to Ms. Winslet … and I’d tell her, “Oh my gosh, I’m so nervous. He’s scary. He’s intimidating.” And she said, “Just use that.” And after we got past that scene, me and Mr. Brolin talked more. And I knew from the very beginning that I could ask them anything. I really enjoyed coming to the set every day, and it was a lot of fun.
“Labor Day” is about making hard decisions. Kate and Josh, what was the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make in your lives?
Brolin: Are you a therapist?
Winslet: It’s nice and light-hearted in this room
Brolin: There are hard decisions in every moment. That’s partly why we do what we do. These are the most dramatic situations you can live in. And somebody like Jason finds a story like this. It’s the most acute drama that you can live within. And once you get back home, you feel like it’s a vacation. You [journalists] don’t have that luxury. It’s wonderful. Falling in love and what that is, and you guys writing, “Would this ever happen?”
And life more than art or art more than life and all this tuff, it’s strange. Life is very, very strange, and we’re all trying to figure it out. We’re very lucky, in that we kind of get to live in fictional behaviors, but I find it fascinating, because it’s something that you never really figure out. It’s like photography. You can never master it.
And yes, we’re acting, but I’ve fallen in love with her during this process. You see Gattlin talk, and you can see us looking at Gattlin with massive, face-hurting smiles, and so there’s obviously a bubble we created, especially when Gattlin talks. He’s still so young and still so exposed. We all become very maternal and paternal within that. We like what we do very much, but I don’t know if there’s a “hardest moment” in life. It’s all a great rollercoaster.
For more info: “Labor Day” website