Fifteen-year-old Gattlin Griffith, the eldest of four sons of a stay-at-home mom and a stuntman, said he owes a big debt to Kate Winslet.
He stars with Winslet and Josh Brolin in “Labor Day,” based on the Joyce Maynard novel and set in 1987.
It’s about a pivotal Labor Day weekend for a divorced mother, her lonely 13-year-old son and the escaped convict they shelter — and how he changes all of their lives in the process.
Gattlin, who was 13 during filming, is Henry Wheeler. Winslet plays his mom, Adele, and Brolin is Frank, the uninvited house guest. The story is told through Henry’s eyes.
This wasn’t Gattlin’s first film. At age 7 he portrayed Angelina Jolie’s son in “Changeling,” directed by Clint Eastwood and based on actual events.
Gattlin, who also played the younger version of Ryan Reynolds’ character in “Green Lantern” and has commercials and TV guest appearances to his credit, had an inauspicious start with “Labor Day.”
He was at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo when he received selected lines for Henry, which he read only once or twice before filming them at the show’s media center.
“There were people opening Coke in the background and people on their laptops looking straight in the camera, all this crazy stuff,” he recalled.
He and his family sent the early audition anyway and were surprised when someone phoned two weeks later for a callback. “Are you sure?” they asked. Gattlin tracked down the novel and did three or four callbacks before winning the job from director Jason Reitman.
The first couple of takes were intimidating, and in between Gattlin walked over to Winslet and whispered, “He’s so scary.” She assured him, “Don’t worry. Don’t worry. He’s just acting. Use that for the scene.”
She was making good on her promise that she would support him through the project.
Gattlin had been a “nervous wreck” when he first met the “Titanic” star, stuttering a bit and trying to disguise his jitters with his customary impeccable manners. He calls adults Miss or Mrs. or Mister.
“It’s Kate, first of all. You seem a little nervous,” she said to him. “I’m going to be here for you throughout the whole movie. You can count on me for anything,” she promised.
“From then on, I knew that. She was kind of like a mother on set,” the teen said.
“Most of the time, I could have gotten away with being cute in the other movies I’d done,” he acknowledged, but this time he had to convey what Henry was thinking and feeling.
Reitman advised underacting rather than overacting and said he wanted to see his performance in his eyes and facial expressions.
The movie includes the book’s signature scene in which Frank takes a bucket of juicy late-season peaches and shows Adele and Henry how to make a pie just like his late grandmother did. Although it took only a day to shoot (probably thanks to Brolin’s daily practice of pie baking), it was described in the script as “the greatest pie-making scene in cinema history.”