Jason Reitman puts Josh Brolin’s handsomely rugged features and deep well of vulnerability to powerful use in his latest “Labor Day,” which recently officially premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival after previewing to great word of mouth in Telluride (go here for Indiewire’s glowing review).
In the drama (based on a novel by Joyce Maynard and written for the screen by Reitman) Brolin plays an escaped convict who finds refuge in the home of a depressed single mother (Kate Winslet) and her son (Gattlin Griffith). As police troll the town, Brolin’s character gradually reveals his true colors and falls for his new ‘family’ in the process.
Indiewire sat down with Brolin in New York the morning following the world premiere to discuss the film, working opposite Winslet, and why he found the role so challenging.
I saw the film at a press screening. How did the premiere last night go?
Really well. I was really amazed at the reactions. Everybody seemed to react to it viscerally instead of… a lot of Jason’s films are so dialogue-driven and so kind of intellectually satisfying. I know they were expecting to be Reitmaned and they were Reitmaned in a totally different way that they weren’t expecting, which I think is really nice. It’s especially nice for him, I think. Kate [Winslet] and I have been through enough different kinds of movies and parts. But when you’re a filmmaker and you’ve only made five films and especially when your other four films are like they are, it’s got to be really satisfying for him.
Like you said, this does mark new territory for Reitman. What gave you the confidence that he could do justice to his beautiful script?
You don’t know, you don’t know ever. But you have a good track record, or he has a good track record, but with a different type of genre. He’s good at nuance though, he’s really good at—whether it’s funny whether it’s dialogue-driven whether it’s… you know most things are intellectualized.
Jason Bateman in “Juno” I thought was fantastic. I thought what he did with Jennifer Garner in “Juno” was great. So that’s what I wanted from him as an experience.
I knew him. I met him for this film then we became friends then we tried to get Kate, then Kate couldn’t do it, then I went off and did “Men in Black” or something and he went off and did “Young Adult,” so it was a year and a half of being friends before we started I think, which made it even more awkward because once we ended up on the set I got into work mode. He got into a different mode where he’s directing and he’s telling me what to do and I wasn’t used to that. So it ultimately was kind of an exposing uncomfortable—even though we had a great time and we laughed a lot—it was an exposing, uncomfortable experience because I thought, he doesn’t want me to do anything, I don’t feel like I’m ‘doing.’ I’m working my ass off but he doesn’t want me to move, he doesn’t want me looking around. All that distracting acting that you think is acting ultimately. My fear was that it was going to be incredibly boring, or at least that I was going to be boring and that it would hurt the film. Apparently not, apparently, I still look at it and I’m just like, “Just move dude, move!” But there was something that I experienced last night that I was really happy about and that’s when the guy finally does smile, you feel it. It’s not just you’re seeing a guy like me who is animated. When he smiles it has weight to it, which is really nice. Then I understood it all of a sudden, I understood it. I’m a little slow to it.
Your character has this fascinating duality. He’s a criminal with a mysterious past who essentially kidnaps a mother and her son, and yet he’s an incredibly sympathetic character. How did you balance that?
I liked the idea that he was so vulnerable. I was very exposed during that whole shoot because I was spending a lot of time on my own when I wasn’t on the set. I didn’t have a partner there with me so it was very quiet in my house. I was baking a lot of fucking pies, trying to get good at that. And then when I was on the set just because of the nature of how quiet the tone is and how still the tone is, it was very exposing. It was just like if I were to do this interview with you just standing like this [Brolin gets up and stands over his chair] the whole time. [He sits back down.] I would shake sometimes on the set and think what the fuck is happening. Weird, just a weird experience. But it all showed up in the role.
In many ways it sounds like you kind of went through what Kate Winslet’s suffers from in the film — crippling insecurity.
Totally, which was good. I was just climbing in Switzerland recently and I did a couple of these things called Via Ferratta. At one point I was on a sheer 2,000 foot cliff and with one safety line, and I just thought if I fall and there’s gear failure I’m so fucked. Anyway, I’m getting to ready to do this mountaineering movie and I’m just fucking terrified beyond belief, like so much more scared than I’ve ever been my life, not even close, there’s no close second. And I’m thinking, I will never ever, ever do this again. I don’t want to do this movie, I’m done with this, this is not for me. And yet within 24 hours I couldn’t wait to do the mountain again! So it’s that kind of thing.
That’s how I felt with Jason, I felt totally exposed, I didn’t necessarily love the process of being exposed and then you see the result and you go, “I can’t wait to do another movie,” I want to explore this side more now.
Did you feel more exposed in this film than ever before?
Probably. Organically exposed yes. I think I’ve acted more exposed. I think I was organically more exposed in this for sure.
It’s interesting to me to because I don’t think about any of this shit until we start talking to you guys.
We talk about it but to act it is something else because then you’re in your head and that’s the opposite of what you want to do. You want to try and visualize everything and be organic and be intuitive and all that stuff.
Kate is remarkable in the film. What was it like sharing the screen with her?
Great. I always wanted to work with her. We’ve always wanted to work together. I don’t think we would have done this movie had it not been us. I don’t know if Jason would have done it because we waited a long time to make sure it was she and I. She’s a force, man. She’s just a reservoir of everything. She’s got intellect. She has emotions that she can tap right into. You’re going to say this about pretty much anybody because you’re promoting a film. I mean, “How was Val Kilmer?” (laughs). “Val Kilmer has a reservoir of emotions.” But with Kate it’s not only apparent to me it’s apparent to everybody.
She’s a truck driver to me. She’s like the mom that I grew up with. My mom’s from Texas, she’s a fun, fun, fun lady, a lot of personality and Kate has a ton of personality. I didn’t expect that, by the way.
For her to have a big personality?
No. Not for her to have a personality, but to be willing to have so much fun. I heard her in interviews and stuff like that. I met her a couple of times and she had so much class and the English thing and all of that. I didn’t expect the Kate that I worked with.