By now, you've probably already heard about "Labor Day" and that infamous pie scene. But believe it or not, Jason Reitman's new movie isn't just about baked goods. So what else is it about?
Based on Joyce Maynard's coming-of-age novel and set in small-town New England in the late 1980s, the film stars Josh Brolin as Frank, an escaped convict who convinces a reclusive single mother (Kate Winslet) and her young son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) to let him hide out in their house. What's originally only supposed to be a few hours turns into an entire long weekend, as Frank becomes the stand-in man of the house both mother and son had been missing, fixing loose floorboards, teaching Henry how to play baseball, and yes, bake a peach pie.
Following the movie's premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival, Reitman, Brolin and Griffith held a press conference to discuss their new film. And while we've already covered the ensuing pie talk, here's all the non-baking-related details we learned about the unlikely romance.
This is new territory for Reitman:
The first thing you notice about "Labor Day" is that it's something of a departure for the writer/director. Sure, it's adapted from a book (like "Thank You for Smoking" and "Up in the Air"), but it's also much more of a straight drama than the crowd-pleasing dramedies he's become known for. According to Reitman, he wasn't necessarily looking to do something different.
"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," he explained. "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 percent right," he explained.
He tried to stay true to the book:
"Labor Day" is Reitman's third adapted screenplay now, and he recalled telling Maynard the same thing he told authors Walter Kern and Christopher Buckley the first time they met: "I'm the guy they hired to f**k up your book."
In this case, he wanted to make sure he stuck as close to Maynard's words as possible. "I read this book and I fell in love with it, and I wanted to be very true to what it was," Reitman said. "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."
The only major change he made was breaking up Frank's back story, which is slowly revealed throughout the film via flashback. "I thought it would be more interesting if we were just getting these glimpses," explained Reitman. "I realized there's all these little moments in Frank's back story that strangely relate to things that are happening in the movie along the way."
Casting was crucial:
Recalling a piece of advice his father gave him prior to filming "Thank You for Smoking," Reitman said that, regardless of genre, his job as a director is "to find truth on a daily basis." To do so, he has to trust that his actors are all on the same page. "There's a few things that I need to do right in my job or it's never going to work," he explained. "A lot of things I can screw up, but you have to pick the right actors, and they do have to have chemistry."
Luckily, Winslet and Brolin immediately got where Reitman was coming from. "I knew that they completely understood the DNA of who these people were," he said. "They're two actors who understand how to approach vulnerable, broken characters without judging them, which is really hard to do."
As for their obvious chemistry, Reitman chalked that up to instinct, saying, "It's a gut feeling that two people are going to respond to each other. And I'm very happy that they did."
It was a light set:
From the sounds of it, Winslet and Brolin may have gotten along a little too well though. "Especially with a drama like this that's so laconic and so subtle in its behavior, I kind of make an ass of myself on the set," explained Brolin. His main target? Winslet's Oscar. "If she had a question, I'd go, 'I'm sorry, is this an Academy Award question? Because I've only been nominated, so I'm not sure if I'm really able to handle this question,' " Brolin remembered.
"It was a lot of laughs," admitted Reitman, despite being the one who had to try to corral his actors' antics. "A lot of his direction came down to, 'Please stop moving and f**king around, and can we just do the work,' " Brolin joked.
Gattlin Griffith makes the movie:
Equally important as Winslet and Brolin was finding a young actor who could capably play the 13-year-old Henry who's at the centre of the story. "The whole movie is through his eyes," said Reitman, explaining that for audiences to accept the film's unlikely romance, it all comes down to Griffith's performance. "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," he said.
Reitman praised Griffith's ability to underplay a scene, saying, "Typically young actors rely not only on the dialogue that's on the page but all the stuff that's thrown in on top of it, and Gattlin has the ability to be still."
"As Mr. Reitman always said, you have to underact rather than overact," Griffith recalled. The only note he apparently didn't take? To call his director Jason. "Trust me. You tell him 20 times, he'll never call you by your first name," laughed Reitman.
Winslet and Griffith bonded instantly:
Beyond just bringing her "Academy Award-winning" experience to the set, Winslet was invaluable in helping the young Griffith get comfortable. "Kate would take you aside and I know she created a bond with you that Josh and I were not even privy to," Reitman told his teenage lead. And Griffith agreed, saying, "I knew that I could count on her and I could ask her any questions."
He also remembered Winslet helping calm his nerves during his first scene with Brolin, telling his co-star, "I never told you this, but I was so intimidated by you. It was inside the grocery store. You were bleeding and you were really in character. And in between takes we'd walk our separate ways, and I'd walk over to Kate and I'd say, 'He's so intimidating! What do I do?' "
Her advice? "She said, 'Listen, honey. You need to just take that intimidation and you need to use that,' " remembered Griffith. Still, Reitman agreed with his young actor's initial assessment of Brolin, laughing, "If you play his eyebrows one way, it's really intimidating."
"There's a reason why he chose me to play the part, because I come across as being more intimidating than I necessarily am," protested Brolin. "It's not my fault."
You're going to see some familiar faces:
Even though most of the action in "Labor Day" takes place inside Adele and Henry's house, Reitman still made sure to work in a part for J.K. Simmons, who's been in every one of the director's films to date. You'll also spot a few big-name actors like Tobey Maguire, James Van Der Beek, and Clark Gregg contributing in limited roles.
"J.K. Simmons had one more scene that we had to cut for time," explained Reitman. "They're just actors that I like to work with, and they were very generous to come out and do smaller roles than they would normally play."
Brolin compared the director to the Coen Brothers in that respect, saying that appearing in a Jason Reitman movie is "just a no-brainer" for many actors. "And then you find out you only have one line in it," he laughed. "But even then you don't care, you're just happy to be in the film because you know it's going to be a good film."
Reitman deflected the praise back onto his casts. "From day one, the actors that have said yes to my movies, I can't imagine why they did, but I'm so grateful they did because it just starts a chain," he said. "And because those first few actors said yes, other actors since then have said yes as well. And frankly made me look like a better director than I am. Because all too often I'm simply just watching. I'm watching great actors make great decisions," Reitman continued. "And I get that lovely opportunity to watch them as a solo audience before the rest of the world gets to."
"Labor Day" opens in theatres on January 31.