“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. In September 2013, the Screen Actors Guild Foundation had a "Labor Day" Q&A in New York City with Brolin and Winslet. Here is what they said during the interview.
“Labor Day” is a major departure for screenwriter/producer/director Jason Reitman, who calls the movie “a faithful adaptation” of the Joyce Maynard novel of the same name. What can you say about Joyce Maynard and what made you want to make this movie?
Brolin: I got to know Joyce long after I got to know Jason. I think Kate spent more time with Joyce. Joyce taught me how to make a pie. That’s what I know about Joyce. I read the book. I was very moved by the book, which is why I really did the movie.
And then you have all the other elements of knowing Jason. And then we waited a year-and-a-half for Kate to be free in order to do this film. I don’t think there’s any one right person for a part, but for some reason, Kate was the only person who should ever do this part and should have ever done this part. It’s true.
You don’t look at this and go, “You know who would be great to direct this film? Jason Reitman.” He’s like the guy who shouldn’t direct this film. And then you see the film, and from my point of view, I can’t imagine anyone else directing this film. And I don’t see it as a dark departure, because I see him as a very nuanced director, if you look at all of his films from “Thank You for Smoking” on.
He’s a very nuanced director. It’s revealing another part of himself — a part that is very present. It’s just that the movie-going public just doesn’t know about it. It’s a nice marriage with him and Joyce. But my experience with Joyce is just reading a fantastic book and wanting to be involved.
Winslet: It was really interesting listening to Jason talk about his decision to do this film in Toronto. He’s almost baffled when people say, “Oh, this is such a departure for you.” And people do keep saying it. I suppose tonally, it does feel quite different from anything he’s done before.
But for me, for my money, I feel everything Jason has ever done has been different from the previous thing. That’s a great filmmaker. That’s somebody who’s interested in the human condition.That’s somebody who’s great at telling stories, which he absolutely is.
And that’s somebody who wants to experience being with different characters for a while. And that takes incredible skill and guts. And I’m going to speak for both of us, because I know we both did feel this way, it was very, very easy to trust Jason, because he is incredibly good at what he does. He does know what he wants, and he is actually always right. We would come with our suggestions … and he’d say, “No.”
Brolin: I’d come up to her and go, “Do you like what he’s doing?”
Winslet: That’s not to say it wasn’t collaborative, there were definitely moments where I found myself having to get used to the fact that this director was absolutely right. He was more right than we were, and his ideas were better. It really was just the case. And it was absolutely liberating going with that and letting him take those reigns, because he’s very, very clever. We’re really lucky.
Kate, did you read the “Labor Day” book or the screenplay first?
Winslet: I read the screenplay first.
When you were reading the screenplay, what convinced you that Adele would behave the way that she did in the grocery store where she first meets Frank? Why do you think she didn’t scream for help?
Winslet: To be perfectly honest with you, I liked the element of the not knowing as well. I asked Joyce, “Why the hell did she take this man home with her?” I wanted to know the answer. But the truth is life isn’t like that. We don’t always have the answer. We can’t always know. And to me, I didn’t mind the ambiguity of that moment.
But one thing I did feel was with a movie of this weight, with so much suspense in it so obviously at the beginning, and with the amount of fear that Adele and Henry feel, and hopefully the audiences feels as well, that level of tension needs to be balanced out somewhere. So I thought, “I can’t play tension, I can’t play fear completely. Oh, I actually have to play the truth of this moment.”
It was really just about playing the truth. What would that woman do? She clearly sees her son standing with a strange man who’s clearly injured in some way and looks a bit threatening. Well, I wouldn’t scream immediately and run.
He had his hand on her son.
Winslet: He did. And I don’t know if he’s got a knife or a gun in his pocket. All I can feel is that I’ve got to get my son away from him somehow and get out of that store.
Brolin: Or sleep with him.
Winslet: [She says jokingly] OK, Josh! I really f*cking hate you. If you all weren’t here, I’d lick the side of his face! Or take him home and sleep with him! Obviously, she [Adele] thought that too.
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