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.