Some long weekends are longer than others.
In Jason Reitman’s romantic thriller Labor Day, the late-summer holiday becomes a lens into the complicated pasts of two troubled souls: Frank (Josh Brolin), a wanted man who’s just broken out of prison after spending 18 years behind bars, and Adele (Kate Winslet), a shattered single mom who has locked herself away from the world. The dilapidated house she and her 13-year-old son inhabit becomes the perfect place for a fugitive to lie low — whether they like it or not.
The film takes place over five days but flashes back to each of their histories, with Tom Lipinski (TV’s Suits) playing a much younger Frank, who gets caught up in a whirlwind romance that ultimately ends with his imprisonment. We also see Adele’s descent into anxiety as she struggles to show she can raise her boy (Changeling‘s Gattlin Griffith), even though he’s really taking care of her.
What begins as a hostage saga evolves into an unlikely love story — and a much-talked-about pie-making sequence is one of the sexiest food scenes in years. Despite the movie’s dark edges, when Brolin, Reitman, and Winslet sat down with ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, they had a lot to laugh about.
Kate and Josh, what was it about Frank and Adele that you understood, and what did you feel you needed to learn to play them?
Josh Brolin We had a lot of conversations to prepare: How verbal is this guy? How much does he move? You get all intellectual about it and then you show up on the set and you do your first scene, and suddenly you feel like you’re completely ruining the movie. I was putting on some manly voice that I didn’t even realize.
Jason Reitman I think I said, [blinking] “What are you doing?”
Brolin “What do you mean, what am I doing?” “Are you doing something with your voice? Are you okay? Are you sick?” [Jason] had constructed what it’s supposed to be in his mind really specifically. So there were times where we would do a scene and I’d move my hand and the next take he’d go, “Don’t move your hand.” And at that point you kind of want to quit. [All laugh.]
Did you have to get into prison-yard shape?
Reitman [Smiling] I’m very curious about the answer to this question.
Kate Winslet I want to answer it!
You got into prison shape, Kate?
Brolin She’s always in prison shape.
Winslet The way that Josh described it to me was that he just decided that he was going to eat a lot. Really just f—ing eat a lot and not care. He tells the story of how Jason had gone over to his house —
Brolin It was the first time we had seen each other after I went on a trip to Scotland.
Winslet Scotland, that’s right, where you had been drinking and eating and rolling around.
Brolin I love that you know this story so well.
Winslet I just love that you told it so openly. So Jason had turned up at Josh’s house and Josh was celebrating his little bit of Scottish chub and said, “I’m thinking this guy should be really big,” and Jason just went, “No.”
Reitman Do you remember my final argument that won you over? I said, “Well, there’s this young actor named Tom Lipinski and he looks exactly like you. It’s a miracle. And he spent the last two months literally working out every day and eating the perfect diet so he could be in the shape of his life. I would hate for the audience to look at you and think, ‘Wow — in 20 years Frank just got…fat.'”
Brolin [Laughs] Lots of starches in prison — that was another argument I had. Then I looked at Tom Lipinski and he lifted up his shirt and I was so f—ing angry. For the next two and a half weeks, and I’m lucky because my body responds, it was three hours a day in the gym.
Kate, what about this woman made sense to you?
Winslet There was nothing immediately relatable for me about Adele, other than she is completely devoted to her child. On the one hand she is a fragile woman, but she’s incredibly strong. She could easily be raising a child who’s f—ed up, and her child is not. He’s a lovely boy, and that’s because of her.
Why do you think Frank and Adele connect with each other?
Winslet I always thought they were similar — that they both knew what it felt like to be locked away. They knew how to exist, they knew how to cope, how to survive. They knew how to function quite well in that level of isolation that she had chosen to put herself in and that he faced, obviously, against his will.
Food plays an important role in this movie. Jason, it seems like you often take an ordinary act, in this case baking a pie, and show how it defines a character, like George Clooney packing his suitcase in Up in the Air.
Reitman I’m a fan of process, and it is in every movie. Like Mavis putting on her makeup in Young Adult. The pie scene was the sex scene. It was the closest we were going to get to a sex scene in this movie.
Frank also cooks Adele chili from random leftovers and a pot of coffee. He’s a resourceful dude.
Reitman Well, beyond resourceful he’s saying, “This is what’s in this woman’s life, and I can actually make something of it.” He ties her up, and then he makes chili with whatever’s there and he feeds her.
Winslet I wanted to punch him because there were several takes when Josh was willfully trying to make me laugh. I’ll say that now.
Reitman That’s right! You kept on cracking up while blowing on the chili! I remember editing it, and it was a pain in the ass!
Winslet I pride myself on not cracking up.
Brolin Not me.
Josh, I heard you did a lot of pie baking on your own.
Winslet I can vouch for that. Josh would come to work in the morning and say, “I was up at four and I baked you this pie.”
Reitman At the beginning it was great. “Oh, wow, Josh made me a pie!” But by the end it was “Oh, f—, I can’t eat another pie!”
Winslet Even my children — I would come home and they would go, “What’s that?” and I’d go, “Oh, it’s a pie Josh made for us!” and by the end it would be “Oh God, what’s in that box? Another pie?”
Reitman He’s like the picture of masculinity, but you’d show up at his cottage and he’d be in his apron going, “Look at the crust! Look at the juices coming out of the side!”
So Josh basically said, ”If I can’t be fat, I’m gonna make all of you people fat!”
Brolin [Laughs] That’s what it is! Revenge!