Labor Day stars Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet talk breaking out of jail and boxes

An escaped convict and a meek mother form the basis of the director Jason Reitman’s unlikely love story Labor Day, writes Alex Ritman.

Left to right, Kate Winslet as Adele, Josh Brolin as Frank and Gattlin Griffith as Henry in Labor Day. Dale Robinette / Paramount Pictures
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The escaped convict is a classic movie character, a role already bursting with intrigue regarding previous misdemeanours and the excitement of the inevitable police hunt on the way. But rarely do they entangle themselves in complicated love stories with already emotionally unstable single mothers.

In Labor Day, however, this is exactly the tale that unravels.

Directed by Jason Reitman in a marked departure from his films Juno and Up in the Air, this tense drama is based on Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name and stars Josh Brolin as the brooding escapee Frank, with Kate Winslet playing the nervous, small-town mum Adele. Taking a rare step beyond her front door for a trip to the local supermarket with her 13-year-old son Henry (impressively portrayed by Gattlin Griffith), Adele encounters the fresh-out-of-jail and injured Frank, who forcibly invites himself back to the family home to keep away from the eye of the authorities.

Predictably for a film, but still seemingly unlikely given the personalities, over the course of the Labor Day weekend these two lonely souls find themselves drawn to one another and fear slowly makes way for deep affection. Given the setting, the chemistry reaches a climax when they bake an all-American peach pie.

“You have someone who has been jailed for 19 years and is not necessarily a criminal mind, but has committed this crime – although not intentionally so – and you put him with this woman who has been emotionally jailed,” says Brolin. “And people keep saying how unlikely this is – I’ve heard it a couple of times. But then you go and watch Jurassic Park. Looking back in hindsight at all the relationships we’ve been in and all the wacky things we’ve done, it’s not really that far-fetched.”

For Winslet, the question of what attracts people to one another, irrespective of what common sense might deem logical, is one of those unknowable things. “For Adele, I guess the obvious thing is that she hasn’t been near a man for a very long time and hasn’t been in the position of needing to trust someone,” the actress says. “And I think she finds herself trusting in the most unlikely of men, but realises one thing – something I think Joyce hoped of her readers in writing the book – that he is a good person.”

On set, Reitman did away with the usual approach of doing rehearsals, a move that Winslet believes actually lent itself to the film, which was laden with a sense of unknowing, particularly for the youngest member of the main cast.

“It particularly worked for Gattlin, because he was terrified so much of the time, just in playing the role and wanting to do his best,” she says. “The fear that he brought with him was really part of Henry. Nothing was really revealed until each day and that helped so much in terms of creating that atmosphere of not knowing what is going to happen. For Gattlin, it just remained slightly terrifying, which is what we wanted the audience to feel.”

Winslet, 38, who is expecting her third child soon, admits that she used this approach to help bring out the best in Griffith on set.

“He was my priority and I just knew that I had to be his friend and guide him. When Josh and I had scenes, maybe I wouldn’t lend him so much of myself in the way of, say, morning hugs. Other days, when we did have scenes together, I really was just there, really like a parent.”

She describes the connection on Labor Day as “one of the most wonderful” working relationships that she’s ever had.

“It was honestly such a privilege to spend that amount of time with someone so lovely and at that particular age,” says Winslet, who began her acting career around the same age as Griffith. “I think that’s the most gorgeous age to be. Every day there were a squillion questions, but they don’t know how to ask them.”

• Labor Day screens at the Madinat Arena today at 5pm. For more information, visit