Jason Reitman praises Josh Brolin’s wicked peach pie

by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

brolinDirector Jason Reitman and actor Josh Brolin, star of Reitman’s latest film, Labor Day, couldn’t be more different when facing the press.

Brolin, who’s been acting since he was 17 (he was in The Goonies!) is so used to the media circus that he looks for ways to keep himself interested. (A few years ago I interviewed him while he was making the press rounds for You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, and he managed to say meaningful things while watching the U.S. Open. Impressive!)

Reitman is a different beast. Following four well-received dramedies and an equal number of Oscar nominations, Reitman is breaking the mold with Labor Day (which also stars Kate Winslet). The story of an escaped convict who ends up at the home of a lonely woman and her kid, Labor Day is his first full-on drama, meaning Reitman has more on the line. Consequently, he’s more tense.

I talked to Reitman and Brolin about their first collaboration during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

To what degree was the back story of Josh’s character developed? In the movie we hear he was in jail for manslaughter, but there are a lot of blanks left for the audience to fill in.

JOSH BROLIN: I think it’s all there — it’s just that [Reitman] has placed it in a way that’s more in tune with the character, and that’s more elusive. Who is this guy? What are his real motives? Is he going to fall in love? Is it a manipulation? It’s not wrapped up in a perfect ribbon. It’s making you work, and that’s a good thing. It doesn’t happen often.

How did you find the line between tenderness and danger?

JB: In the beginning, you intellectualize it purely out of fear. You just don’t want to act bad, and you want to see [Reitman’s] vision through the best you can. But there’s a reason why Jason chose me to play the part: it’s because I come across as being more intimidating than I necessarily am.

JASON REITMAN: If you play his eyebrows one way, it’s really intimidating. And if you bring them up a little, it’s way more tender.

JB: It’s not my fault. My father was 6’4”, my mother was 5’2”, and I proportionally came out to be able to play this role.

Was all the pie-making you show in the film as prominent in the book?

JR: When the mother of [Labor Day author] Joyce Maynard  became sick, Maynard said, “I don’t want to watch my figure anymore.” So Joyce made a pie for her mom every single day and became a brilliant pie-maker. She also found that she was very good at teaching others how to make pie. And the second time I ever met her, she taught me to make a pie. Taught Josh to make a pie. Taught Kate to make a pie. Josh made a pie every single day over the course of the shoot.

JB: It’s true.

JR: He’s the picture of masculinity but when you show up at his cottage and he’s wearing an apron and he’s over the moon [at] the crust he achieved that day, it’s a very different side. He would give the pies to everybody. At first it was really charming: “Oh wow, Josh made me a pie!” By the end of the shoot, it’s like, “Oh fuck, he made me a pie.”

What’s your best pie, Josh?

JB: I only made peach pie every single day. I had people going to other villages to get me peaches, because I bought out all the ones in Concord, Massachusetts.

Jason, in this movie you seem to be stretching your legs. Were you looking to branch out?

JR: No, I wasn’t looking to do anything different. I don’t look at genre as “I want to do one of those.”  I want to do personal films. I read this book and I fell in love with it, and I wanted to be true to what it was. I made a conscious decision to work with the same people that I’ve always worked with, but each of us knew we had to grow. For weeks we watched movies like Body Heat at my house, just to analyze sweat. We spent two hours talking about how it looks in hair, clothes: should it be damp or just sheen?

Do you believe in the power of chemistry?

JR: I’m a big believer in chemistry in every definition of the word, in life and in performance. I can screw up a lot of things, but you have to pick the right actors. I met with Kate, I met with Josh, and I knew they completely understood the DNA of these vulnerable, broken characters without judging them. I suppose because of that commonality I thought these two were going to bond, but at the end of the day it’s instinct.

Tension is a big part of the film. How did you go about incorporating it?

JR: This goes back to a piece of advice my father [Ivan Reitman] gave me before I made my first film: your job is not to make things funny or tense, your job is to find truth on a daily basis. Once you get to set, the whole job comes down to answering if this feels honest to me. At that point, you rely on your actors. Particularly in a genre that I never really played around with.

I had moments like the one on the stairs, where Josh and Kate are sitting and he put his hand around her waist and she sets her head on his chest and he slowly closes his eyes. And these guys do it in a way that I could never really direct them to do.

So I think that’s where the tension came from. It’s through the relationships they built.