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article imageJason Reitman talks chemistry, peach pies and 'Labor Day' Special

By Kristal Cooper     Jan 31, 2014 in Entertainment
"Storytelling is self-discovery masking as entertainment, so the best stories are bound to address the things that confound us the most. Love, while the most wonderful thing on earth, is also the most confusing."
Director Jason Reitman is circumspect when asked to discuss not only his new film, Labor Day, but also what it is that draws him to a particular project.
He's not so much interested in exploring specific genres, he insists (although one could think that given his varied filmography), but rather the inspiration behind a production — in this case, the source material which is a novel written by celebrated author Joyce Maynard. "I wasn’t looking to do anything different. I just read this book and I fell in love with it. I wanted to be very true to what it was."
Reitman continues, "This was a very technically difficult film for me and very different from anything I’ve done but I don’t look at a genre and say, 'oh I want to do one of those.' I want to do personal films and it’s really the ingredients underneath that interested me in this story."
That story is one that centres around a dejected woman named Adele (Kate Winslet), her son Henry (Gattlin Griffin) and an escaped fugitive named Frank (Josh Brolin) who takes refuge in their house over the Labour Day long weekend. As the hot summer weekend unfolds, the tension is slowly ratcheted up as the mother and son get to know Frank while also fending off the prying eyes of their small town neighbours. It's a taut, all encompassing ride that fully absorbs the viewer into its charged atmosphere. This fraught feeling was intentional, reveals the Director, "I really wanted to emulate the experience of reading that book. It wasn’t just a piece of source material that I was going to use pieces here and there from. I wanted the movie to feel the way I felt when I read it."
It was a decision that was based on advice from his Father, famed producer/director Ivan Reitman. "He told me, your job is not to make things funny, your job is not to make things tense. Your job is to find truth on a daily basis. You have to write a screenplay that you think is funny or tense or dramatic but once you get to set the whole job is, does this feel honest and at that point you rely so much on your actors."
With the casting process, Reitman relied on a gut instinct to tell him whether or not his principal actors had the right chemistry to pull off the growing bond that becomes the film's beating heart. "I’m a big believer in chemistry," he admits. "There are a lot of things I can screw up in my job but you absolutely have to pick the right actors and they do have to have chemistry."
"I met with Kate and Josh and I knew that they completely understood the DNA of who these people were. They’re two actors who understand how to approach vulnerable, broken characters without judging them which is really hard to do and is a much rarer trait than you think. Because of that commonality I thought, these two are going to bond."
This proved especially important in creating a very tactile-feeling scene that has Adele, Frank and Henry making a peach pie. It's a plot point lifted directly from the book where the act is described in very intricate detail thanks to Maynard's intimate knowledge and background in pie-making.
"The story behind the pie is this," says Reitman. "When Joyce Maynard’s mother became sick, she said she didn’t want to watch her figure any more, so Joyce made a pie for her every single day and became a brilliant pie maker. Everyone would ask how to make pies and she found that she was actually very good at teaching people how to make them. In fact, the second time I ever met her, I went to her home in Blue Valley and she taught me to make a pie, she taught Josh to make a pie, she taught Kate to make a pie."
With the mechanics of the pie-making down, it was then up to Reitman to leave it to his cast to give the scene the proper weight it needed to communicate the pressurized relationship dynamics at play. It's a tactic that works in spades. "All too often I’m simply just watching great actors make great decisions and I get that lovely opportunity to watch them as a solo audience before the rest of the world gets to."
Labor Day opens on January 31, 2014.
Follow Kristal Cooper on Twitter @mskristalcooper
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