Kate Winslet swoons over improbable relationship in ‘Labor Day’

— Kate Winslet will be the first to admit that the backdrop and framing of her upcoming movie, “Labor Day,” is “utterly insane.”

The film finds Winslet playing Adele, an emotionally fragile single mother of a 13-year-old son. She meets and then harbors and then falls deeply in love with an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) over the course of five eventful days in a small New England town in 1987.

“At the end of the day, the only thing that is ‘wrong’ about their relationship is that he’s just escaped from prison,” Winslet says. “Everything else is gorgeous. It’s probably the most romantic movie I’ve ever made. Isn’t that bizarre that you can say that in a story like this one?”

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On this rainy September morning, Winslet, “fairly pregnant” (she’s expecting her third child and first with her new husband, the improbably named British businessman Ned Rocknroll), and, yes, radiant, confides that “Labor Day’s” heart-tugging tone might surprise audiences familiar with her filmography, a body of work littered with unhappy endings. Winslet watched the movie again the night before to refresh her memory and found herself “completely sobbing” through the end credits. Of course, that reaction could also be chalked up to the hormones currently coursing through her system.


“No, no,” Winslet says, laughing, “because the first time I saw it, it was the exact same thing and I wasn’t pregnant then. It’s a moving story and a very simple one, really, about two people who meet in an unconventional way but who, for all intents and purposes, are actually quite similar in what they want from life.”

“Labor Day,” which opens Dec. 27 for a one-week film academy qualifying run before going wide Jan. 31, played at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, winning mostly positive reviews, though some critics had difficulty making the leap of faith necessary to buy into the film’s romance. Director Jason Reitman, who adapted the Joyce Maynard novel of the same name, acknowledged the film’s tone is wildly different from his previous, dialogue-heavy movies, which include best picture nominees “Juno” and “Up in the Air.” That’s why he waited a full year for Winslet’s schedule to open up, shooting “Young Adult” in the interim.

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“There’s no other actress that brings to life vulnerable, broken women without judging them and then making them flower in a beautiful way, making them sensual and making the audience want to watch them fall in love,” Reitman says during a mid-morning meal of chicken fingers and fries. “I really relied on her, making a movie where the characters almost don’t talk and everything is conveyed through a glance or a little touch. She and Josh are the experts. I had to learn from them.”

Winslet deflects the compliment but, throughout the conversation, inadvertently reveals that she would make an able instructor. Questions are answered with exacting detail, consistent with Reitman’s description of the way the 38-year-old actress would put color-coded tabs throughout her “Labor Day” script. (“There’s no blank space ... anywhere!” Reitman marvels. “Put it this way: She knows the trajectory of her character’s sweat.”) Winslet puts a premium on authenticity, in her work and her own life, and seems as grounded as anyone married to a man who’s the nephew of billionaire Virgin Group founder Richard Branson (and who legally changed his last name to Rocknroll) can possibly be.

“She has that English thing ... ‘class,’ I guess is how you’d put it,” Brolin says. “But she’s also like a truck driver to me. Fun. She reminds me of my mom, who’s a Texas woman who fills up a room with her personality. And that’s what Kate does. She works her ... off, but she knows how to have fun too.”

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Winslet’s most passionate opinions on “Labor Day” come when discussing Adele’s abilities as a mother, a role she feels strongly about in her own life. Winslet already has two children, a daughter, 13, with her first husband, Jim Threapleton, and a 9-year-old son with her second husband, director Sam Mendes. The children live full time with her, she says, describing her relationship with them as “very hands-on.”

“I remember saying to Jason that the one thing that was very important to me was that Adele be a really good mother,” Winslet says. “It was the quality I most admired about her, that even though she went through a terrible trauma and is meant to be a little unhinged because of it, she’s not munching Prozac and staying in the bathroom until 3 in the afternoon, as is often the case in these stories. Her child is everything to her.”

Having noted that, Winslet is keen to point out that Adele’s aversion to the kitchen, which figures prominently in the film in a couple of key scenes, could not be more removed from her own experience.

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“Kitchens are so important,” Winslet enthuses. “They’re the heart of everything. Everyone’s always in the kitchen, and I’m usually cooking something in it. So to feel that the kitchen is an alien, weird place, I had to, you know, really back away.”

Especially when costar Brolin was perfecting his pie-making skills, which play an important role in establishing a powerful connection between the film’s lovers.

“Josh got so good at making pies — thank God — that I didn’t have to go in and say, ‘No, no, no,’” Winslet says before backtracking. “OK. I couldn’t help myself in the beginning. Eventually, he did have to evict me from the premises.”