Jason Reitman has so far only directed a handful of feature films, all of which have been kind of offbeat in the character department. He likes to refer to his protagonists as atypical heroes. ďThank You for SmokingĒ was about the head lobbyist for big tobacco. ďJunoĒ told the story of a pregnant teenage girl. In ďUp in the Air,Ē we had a guy who fires people for a living.†There was a woman trying to break up a marriage at the center of ďYoung Adult.Ē
But his newest film, ďLabor Day,Ē based on the popular novel by Joyce Maynard, about a mother and son (Kate Winslet and Gattlin Griffith) who are trying to get by, emotionally, after the father has left them for another woman, and find something akin to solace when an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) enters their lives, has a whole different feel to it. The circumstances may be extraordinary, but the characters, though facing problems, are actually kind of normal.
Reitman spoke about the film in Toronto.
How did this project initially come to you?
My producer Helen Estabrook came to me with the book ďLabor DayĒ and told me that it was different from anything Iíd done before. It didnít have the traditional DNA of the kind of things that interest me, but she had the feeling I was gonna love it. And she was absolutely right. I started reading the book, and by the time Frank (Brolin) was tying Adele (Winslet) up and feeding her chili, I knew I was in.
You got terrific performances from everyone. How did you go about preparing your actors for what you envisioned?
I didnít do much. I was working with great actors, and they came very prepared. I donít really rehearse. Frankly, this was a very unusual film for me in that Iím used to making movies that have so much dialogue. And this was a movie about looks and glances and touches. So I relied on the brilliance of my actors to feel out those moments. The only direction I would ever give was I would say less of this or less of that. I can be very controlling, but as far as the prep work went, I feel like I was hands off.
This is quite a shift in tone from your previous films. Was this something you were looking for, and did you find the shift difficult?
I wasnít looking to make a shift. Iíve never sought out to make a particular genre film or a type of film. But Iíve read books and scripts that have spoken to me, that have spoken to questions that Iíve had or problems that Iíve been trying to answer from within. And at that point Iíve had to figure out how to make those movies. Strangely, underneath it all, I think this film is similar to my other works. What I fell in love with about ďLabor DayĒ was the question: What brings these people together? The complexity of desire, thatís what I was interested in.
And that was what made you want to make this film?
Itís hard to talk about any film, and explain it. But this one in particular is really hard to speak about. Because its beauty is in what is difficult to explain, and thatís what was so lovely about the book. The book is not wrapped up or simple, and itís not a romance where you can just say he met her and she met him and they were perfect for each other and they fell in love. This is not one of those stories and not one of those movies. What made the book so good is that itís about the desire thatís inexplainable, thatís too complex to put into words. It speaks to the moments that we donít understand about our own desires. Because weíve all made either mistakes or inexplicable decisions based on our desire which is based on everything thatís happened to us up until that moment. And I wanted to see a movie about that.