Josh Brolin tones down action man for 'Labor Day'

| Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Josh Brolin is accustomed to man-of-action roles. In his last film, “Oldboy,” he handled interpersonal disputes with a blood-spattered claw hammer. His latest, “Labor Day,” repositions him as the lead of a love story. In his big action scene, he sinks his hands into a bowl of sliced, sugared peaches and bakes Kate Winslet a pie.

“I think I've missed out on something, because I enjoyed it thoroughly,” Brolin says. “It's weird, man. You start to get a complex after a time. It's like, am I not the handsome type? Do they want me for all the ‘Aarghhh'?

“This seemed like a good hybrid between the two.”

Jason Reitman, who adapted Joyce Maynard's novel and directed, challenged Brolin to rein himself in.

“It was an uneasy time, even though we had a blast,” Brolin says. Kate and I had a similar question, ‘Will we fill every moment?' ” with actorly business. “Jason was all about bringing it back, bringing it back. Kate and I huddled up together in our insecurity. Not against Jason, but just like, ‘This is so uncomfortable sometimes,' ” he says.

“As an actor, or maybe it's just me, the paranoia was that it was just going to be boring as all hell. That people are going to say, ‘I love what they're doing, but why is he not moving?' I'd move my hand like that,” shifting it an inch, “and the next day he'd say, ‘Don't do that with your hand.'”

Ultimately, he realized that Reitman wanted him to be still because he trusted “the light in the eyes” to express Brolin's character.

“It was more exposing for me than I've ever felt,” he says.

What most intrigued him about Maynard's novel, he says, was that the menacing convict was elusive.

“There was always this feeling that this guy could turn around at any moment, that it's all been a manipulation. Thinking about things like that (while in character) is important, especially if you're not doing anything. Otherwise, it's dead eyes and you're thinking about lunch. What's it going to be today, lobster or steak?”

Colin Covert writes about movies for the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

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