Labor a labour of love

Director Jason Reitman discusses his unique romantic kidnap film

If award-winning Canadian filmmaker Jason Reitman has a theme it’s that he not only enjoys working with women — he’s also rather adept at telling their stories.

“If you want to tell original stories tell stories about women” says Reitman while discussing his latest narrative — the stirring hostage drama Labor Day — in a Toronto hotel room. “Very few [stories about women] are told. That’s part of the reason that attracts me to great women stories — not to mention the amount of great female talent out there.”

Reitman is definitely well acquainted with the wealth of talent working in cinema. In his relatively short career behind the camera Reitman has directed such accomplished starlets as Vera Farmiga ( Up in the Air ) Ellen Page ( Juno ) Charlize Theron ( Young Adult ) Maria Bello ( Thank You For Smoking ) and now Kate Winslet.

“She’s just an extraordinary actress” says Reitman. “I think people do take for granted how amazing she is; how versatile she is how beautiful she is; how tricky it is to do each one of these roles that she does — stuff like The Reader and Little Children — where she finds such subtlety such vulnerability. She’s never judging these characters that she plays and it was that brilliance that I relied on to bring this movie to life.”

In Labor Day Winslet stars as a clinically depressed single mother who along with her young son is taken hostage in her own home by a dangerous persuasive escaped convict (played by Josh Brolin). As the tension-filled story unfurls the emotionally rattled introvert begins to learn the wounded escapee may not pose the threat the authorities warn and a strange awakening of romance begins to bloom between the pair.

“This movie is certainly more dramatic and more romantic than my other films” says Reitman noting the surprising turn toward earnestness in his work. It’s a marked difference from his famous director-father Ivan Reitman’s oeuvre which includes classic comedies like Ghostbusters and Stripes .

“I fell in love with the book. For me that’s kind of how it always is” says the 36-year old auteur. “Joyce Maynard wrote a book that made me fall in love with these characters and made me want to direct this movie and translate it into a cinematic experience so that an audience could feel what I felt reading the book for the first time.”

While Reitman collects accolades for drafting such a difficult drama the Montreal-born director is quick to credit his cast — particularly the surprising performance of Brolin as the opaque convict.

“I think that’s what Josh is brilliant at doing — at playing the ambiguity” says Reitman. “Being someone who is romantic and dramatic and scary all at the same time. With just the flinch of an eye a little move he can really move the needle this way or that way and as a director that’s such a useful skill; such a gift for an actor.”

Labor Day was a labour of love taking years to get into production. Reitman had to put the project on hold for a year patiently waiting for Winslet’s schedule to open up (he filmed 2011’s Young Adult in the interim).

As difficult as it was bringing Labor Day to the screen however it was creative nuance that was the biggest challenge.

“I honestly think the hardest thing about making a movie is just holding on to the original instinct you had when you first read something — somehow responding to something and two or three years later [still retain] the original intent that you felt” says Reitman. To him however the solution was simple. “Pick the right cast and the right material and the rest takes care of itself.”