Joyce Maynard wrote the novel Labor Day in just ten days, and now it has been adapted into a film by Jason Reitmen starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin.
We caught up with the popular author to chat about the book, seeing her work turned into a movie, and what lies ahead.
- Labor Day has just been adapted for the big screen and is about to be released on DVD here in the UK, so can you tell me a bit about the film?
Labor Day tells the story of a lonely and reclusive single mother (imagine Kate Winslet, lonely???) who is persuaded, by a man she meets on a back-to-school shopping errand with her son, to bring him home with her.
He turns out to be an escaped convict who hides out in her house with the two of them over the course of a long, hot, late summer weekend. Through the eyes of the 13-year-old son, we see the two fall in love.
I call Labor Day a romantic thriller. Or a thrilling romance. It’s a big, old fashioned, three-handkerchief love story that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
- What inspired the story for Labor Day back when you were writing it?
Well, I’m not the Kate Winslet character. But I was a single mother raising my three children (two of them sons) in a small town. Therefore, I know a thing or two about the romantic yearnings of a woman like this one - who is giving out to her child, with nobody looking out for her.
The character of the convict - played, thrillingly, by Josh Brolin (one of the sexiest actors I know of right now - seems scary at first. But he has this big capacity for love.
This is a story about two damaged people, with some miles on them, who heal each other. At the same time, they break each other’s hearts.
- I read that you wrote the book in just ten days?
That’s true. I’ve written nine novels now (plus my memoir, At Home in the World - which was published a while back in the UK, by the way) but no other book I wrote came to me the way this one did.
It was almost as if the character of the narrator, the young boy, was speaking to me as I wrote. And I could hardly keep up with him. Truly, I wrote the novel fast because I just had to know how the story was going to turn out.
- You penned the novel on which the film is based, so where did the film project start? How keen were you to see the book get a big screen makeover?
Well, I never thought of the film as a makeover so much as a visual transformation... from what I put on the page, to the screen.
The truth is that when I write, I am already seeing a movie playing out in my head, and I see my job as making that story come alive on the page. So the idea of having the movie actually made felt, for me, like going full circle.
I was excited to see my characters brought to life... and the fact that actors like Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin would be playing them - and Gattlin Griffith, the wonderful young actor who plays the boy - was a dream.
And I was a big fan of Jason Reitman’s films. So I went into this project with a lot of trust.
- Were there any reservations at all when you handed your work over?
There’s a scene in my novel in which the character of Frank, the convict, bakes a pie for the woman and her son. It was important to me that this scene look real, and I wanted to make sure that the pie looked like the kind of pie this man would make and not some perfect Hollywood creation.
It’s a very sexy scene, and it needed to be handled in a way that showed the electricity between the two main characters - in the kitchen, with the young boy standing by, and nobody removing a single item of clothing. Jason understood this.
Almost the first thing he asked me was whether I’d teach him how to make pie, the way Frank would do it. He came over to my house, and we made an apple pie. I wonder if pie is the same in the UK?
This is a very American pie that Frank makes for Adele, the Kate Winslet character. People who watch the movie are always telling me they want to go home and make a pie. (And by the way, for anyone who reads my novel, there are pretty good instructions for how to do it, embedded in the story.)
Of course, a writer always feels very protective of her characters. I did. But I saw that they were in good hands.
- Jason Reitman was in the director's chair and penned the screenplay, so how closely did you work with him on the project? Or did you just leave him to it?
You know, it’s a little like parenthood. You create these characters - whether it’s your children, or the ones in your books. You love them, watch them grow. And then the day comes, you have to let them go.
It was a lot like that, turning my book over to Jason. However, I have to tell you, he was unfailingly respectful of my novel.
We spoke often, over the period of time leading up to the shooting of the film, and he had me come to the set to teach Josh and Kate how to make the pie. After that, I knew enough to go home and leave him to it.
- Did you get the chance to talk to the actors about the characters that you had created? What was it like seeing them embody your creations?
Kate and I had a long talk over the phone before the shooting got under way. She had clearly read my novel very carefully... not simply read it, but studied and thought about it.
We spoke a long time about her character before we actually met up on the set. She’s an extraordinarily intelligent, perceptive actor. And a total pro.
I was dazzled, incidentally, by how she could be sitting in the makeup chair one minute, speaking with her British accent... then get up, walk into a scene, and deliver her lines as a total American.
- Did you get the chance to visit the set during the shoot?
I visited at the very beginning of the shoot, and returned with my daughter on the last day. I do have one very short cameo in the movie, though you have to look really hard to spot me.
There’s a flashback in which we see Kate Winslet, as Adele, shopping for groceries. I’m the woman in the turquoise shirt and unattractive 80’s pants who talks with her.
- What did you make of the film when you saw it for the first time? Are there any scenes in particular that are your favourites?
Well, I cried near the end, but I don’t want to give away what inspired that. And I just love the scene where Frank and Adele play baseball with her son and a physically handicapped boy they’re taking care of. And of course I love the pie scene.
I still cry when I see that one because it always makes me think about my mother.
- You have enjoyed huge success as an author, but what made you go down this path in the first place?
I love stories. Hearing them, telling them. I’ve been a writer all my life. You can read how I became one if you check out my memoir, At Home in the World. That is a shameless plug for the memoir, by the way. (And unlike most of my other novels, that book WAS published in the UK).
Of course, I’m hoping that with the release of Labor Day in the UK, more readers there will discover my books. And I’ll get to come back to your country to talk about them. It’s been way too long...
- Finally, what's next for you? After Her was released last year, so are there other novels on the horizon?
Just three weeks ago, I delivered the manuscript for my newest novel - my 9th. It’s called Under the Influence. I’ll be hoping that British readers start demanding my books from their local bookseller.
The same way I used to hunt down Enid Blyton and Noddy, years ago... Well, it’s a LITTLE different, I guess.
Labor Day is released on DVD & Blu-Ray 4th August.