Whilst in London covering the BFI London Film Festival I had the great privilege to meet Oscar winning actor Kate Winslet. Her new film Labor Day (my five star review can be found here) is a compelling drama about a mother (Winslet) and son who provide sanctuary for an escaped convict (Josh Brolin). After the screening of the film I asked Kate Winslet, the film’s director Jason Reitman (also responsible for Juno, Up in the Air and Young Adult), and (very briefly) Josh Brolin, about the chemistry Winslet managed to create with the actor, Gattlin Griffith, who played her son and the processes they went through in order to bring that about. This is what they had to say.
Kate Winslet: Jason [Reitman] was part of that process and I remember saying to him, “I know how I want to do this but how would you like me to do this? What bits of him would you like to keep and what parts of him do you want me to take under my wing?”
Jason Reitman: Kate was incredible though because she co-directed that relationship in a way that I’ve never experienced as a filmmaker, which I admit scared me on day one but by the end of the shoot I realised how brilliant it was. Kate, from day one, started to bond with Gattlin [Griffith] and would take him aside and talk to him about – well, a lot of things I don’t frankly know to this day what you guys spoke about – I know that some of it just was about being an actor and what it’s like to be on set, because he’d never had a role like that. She would start to mother him in this way and they started to have this bond on camera and off camera. If there was a scene where she was distancing himself from him, you could sense his loss and when Kate did a scene where she was much closer to Josh, you felt that with Gattlin; as if Josh was stepping in between the two of them. The thing is, how do you get a twelve year old boy to feel like a) Kate is his mother, and b) in some way his partner in life. Somehow he becomes the man in the household in this vacuum and it came from all this time they were spending together between takes. Sometimes they just talked about the take they had just done and other times it was just, “this is what life is like as an actor; this is what you should expect”. He got bits and pieces that he just gleaned from here and there.
Kate: Yes, it was one of the most wonderful working relationships I have ever had, because to be honest it was such a privilege to spend that amount of time with someone that lovely and at that particular age. And that’s the most gorgeous age for a young boy or girl because they have a squillion questions and don’t have the answers and don’t even know how to ask them. At the start I would just say to him: “you’re terrified. Don’t worry, so am I. So is Josh. So is Jason. And so is everyone else on this film crew”.
Jason: That is the kind of set that I lead! [Laughs]
Kate: I just knew that I needed to be his friend and I wanted to be his friend and as an actor to guide him was really my priority on the set. And it is true what Jason said, there were days when I would find it quite hard when Josh and I had particularly intimate stuff to be doing, or if we were just physically close together in the room and Gattlin was separate, I just maybe wouldn’t be so – I wouldn’t in any way be unkind – but I wouldn’t lend him so much of myself, I suppose, by way of morning hugs or ‘see you onset!’ or ‘let’s quickly run the lines’. There were definitely days where – I don’t really like the word method because I don’t really do it, just for myself – but I did find myself doing a bit of that. And there were other days when there were scenes that meant that he would need me and I was absolutely just there, really like a parent. I also made sure that when he had done something well or had done some particularly brilliant takes that I’d tell him how impressed I was or how impressed everybody else was even if they didn’t necessarily say it because they were thinking of other things, and just how proud I was of him. Little things like that. But yes, I’d also talk to him as an actor about what it’s like being an actor, and also protect him from this one [laughing, she points to her co-star Josh Brolin beside her]. Josh is a complete team-leader, so he very much ran the fun atmosphere on set which I was very thankful for as that usually falls to me, and I was so preoccupied with Gattlin I just thought, “well I’ll let Josh do that, that’s fine”. But there were days where I would say about acting, “he can do that. Josh has been doing that for ever”.
Jason: For EVER and EVER and EVER
Kate: [Laughing]… so I was like, “we have to just stay over here and be quiet”.
Jason: Yeah, “let Josh do his thing”.
Kate: I’d say, “he’s poisoning us today”. [laughs]
Jason: Josh would take him aside and would talk to him about other things.
Kate: [Laughs]…. so anyway. That was kind of a long, long answer to your question. But thank you!
Labor Day (2013), directed by Jason Reitman, is showing as part of the BFI London Film Festival this October. It is released nationwide in February 2014.
Questions for Kate Winslet, Jason Reitman and Josh Brolin were asked at LFF press conference. Press photo-call image: Ben Pruchnie. Copyright: Paramount Pictures International.