The Hundred-Foot Journey opens in theaters everywhere today! This amazing movie is produced by Steven Spielberg & Oprah Winfrey and directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Starring Academy Award-Winner Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, Om Puri, and Charlotte Le Bon.
After our private screening of The Hundred-Foot Journey, we had the pleasure of chatting with one of the stars of the movie ~ Manish Dayal (“Hassan Haji”). We all moved up to the front of the theater and patiently waited for Manish’s arrival. Applause exploded when the young star walked down the isle and took his seat in the “director’s chair” in the front of the theater. This became the most kicked-back, relaxed interview I have ever done…and let me say the “F” bomb was flying wildly (which I totally respected and we all laughed through the entire interview).
Do you cook in real life?
Manish : So I’ve been getting that question a lot lately. And this is what I would say is no. [LAUGHTER] But I’ve definitely learned a lot about cooking. And definitely in the movie it wasn’t so much about learning how to cook but more just how to like understand kitchen culture. Because we had to understand how to chop and where to stand and how to move and how to make sure that all of the dishes sort of were effectively made. And I think like that was sort of the challenge in terms of learning kitchen etiquette and stuff like that for the film.
Though Manish is not a cook in the real world, he turns Hassan into a world renounced chef. Hassan has a natural gift in cooking, with the ability to fuse Indian and French cuisines together in perfect harmony.
How did you get attached to the project?
Manish : It was a really, really funny story actually. I mean I don’t know how much time we have to tell you the whole story. But, so I went in for a voiceover audition for an animated feature that DreamWorks is doing. And then that day I went in and I ended up one of the people that sort of first sort of spotted me was Leslie Feldman. And she’s the casting executive over at DreamWorks. And we ended up having this great conversation the whole time we were in this audition, not auditioning just talking. And then that night I get a phone call sort of asking if I’d come back in and read for a different project. They wouldn’t tell me the name or anything about it. And then I did, of course. I found Steven Spielberg was involved. And so I was like holy shit. [LAUGHTER] He’s like a childhood hero of mine, which I’ll talk to you about later. But, anyway, so I go into this this room. And I ended up reading a scene I think 38 times I must’ve read it trying it every different way you can imagine. And then that– then those tapes went to Steven and Oprah. And apparently I found out that they were very excited. And then I went in for more meetings and sort of an interview and then more meetings and more meetings and over the course of four and a half months. And then I met Lasse Hallström in New York who ultimately I think signed off. And then I got a phone call the next day saying that Steven wants to hire you. And that’s how it happened. It was a long, long crazy amazing entertaining experience.
Holy shit is right! I’d drop everything if I heard the name Steven Spielberg! Oh wait…I kind of did the same thing. Okay so I didn’t get invited to read a part for a movie, but I did get a last minute invite for this event! I had 2 days notice to get my things together and get to Los Angeles. Let me just say it was more than worth it!
It’s such a passionate film. Did Chef Floyd do the actual cooking on set?
Manish : Oh, there were so many chefs on set. We-, I mean there were Indian chefs. There were French chefs all over the place. Like, definitely Floyd was — came in at the– towards the end of the process. But, ultimately it was a combination of many different chefs, many different sort of cooks in the kitchen if you will, you know, especially because we, as you saw, we traveled through about four kitchens in the movie. We begin in India. And then we go to a classic French kitchen in the south of France. And then we move to, you know, a molecular kitchen in Paris. So it definitely travels, you know?
I loved watching the movie and seeing how Hassan and his family fight through rough patches. Life was not easy for the Kadam family, but Hassan helped them by cooking his way to the top!
Where were you when you got the call? Who was around you?
Manish: I was in New York. I was by myself. I’m really glad I was by myself…I think at first, you know, I was speechless. I was shocked. And then the first thing I did was call my mom.
Oh my goodness. It warmed my heart that the first person he called was his mother! I bet his family is extremely proud of his role in The Hundred-Foot Journey!
What’s it like working with Helen Mirren?
Manish : She is– well, first I should tell you that she’s hilarious, and she has a very, very crass sense of humor. And I think that’s something we had a lot in common. So we ended up just laughing all the time. And she was telling me stories about, you know, her life and– and how she got started in this business. And, you know, and so it was good to sort of to learn from her. Also when we were working I could see like how she prepares, what her process was like. And that was also really cool. So it was an amazing experience. And she also told me something that I won’t forget, which was when you pick movies to do you should just pick them based on how much fun you’re gonna have. So I thought that was really good advice.
When I think of Helen Mirren, I think of upper class and pristine… not crass. What an amazing experience being able to work with such a legend!
What scene was the most difficult?
Manish : Most difficult scene to film for me was the scene when we’re cooking for the [Maise] of Mumbai. Around the boning knife. I don’t know if you remember that line. But that scene had to be sort of choreographed in a way because so much is happening in that scene. The stakes are so high. You know, this is a family that this is their one shot.Papa’s coming here, and he’s having to sort of make a life for these– for his family. The stakes for him are through the roof. These are new immigrants coming to this foreign place. And for me I felt like my character should feel the weight of the world on his shoulders in combination with Papa. And I thought that the scene needed to be very quiet and still. And what made it challenging was the environment around me. You know, we have a huge boisterous family in this kitchen and so much going on and lines and things just flying all over the place. And I just have to really be kind of still and silent and observant in that scene. So I thought that that was pretty– pretty challenging, yeah.
Did you meet Oprah? And where are you from and how did you start acting?
Manish : Ok, wow, these are great questions. [A few of the bloggers answered “South Carolina” for Manish and LAUGHTER erupted in the theater] Dang! South Carolina is right! That’s where I’m from…. Oh, ok. Oh, you guys did research! Oh, ok. [LAUGHTER] All right. You’re far smarter than me.
I did meet Oprah. And, yes, she’s really amazing. She’s– all the things that you know about her she’s that much more incredible. She’s, as you know very giving and generous. But, most specifically, I mean most interesting thing about her is how generous she is with her knowledge and her knowledge of the world and how much she did impart and which things that we talked about on set. And so I did get to spend some time with her. And it’s clear to me, and I think all of you guys, of why she’s connected to this story. I mean this is a story about, you know a displaced family that has to sort of find their way in this new place and sort of overcome all these obstacles culturally, racially, you know in every way. And it’s a real immigrant story. And I think that that’s why she connected to it. And these are the stories that she wants to tell. And I think she did it.
I’m from South Carolina… And then how did I start acting? Well, I didn’t go to drama school or anything like that. Helen didn’t go to drama school either. So that’s something we– we sort of connected on…I knew I wanted to be in the business. [LAUGHTER] I saw Jurassic Park, and that was it. And the minute I saw that movie a light switch went on for me in my head. And my life has never been the same since. And then I was just sort of obsessed with that movie and the movies. And I grew up in South Carolina, so literally there was nothing for me else— nothing for me to do but watch movies. That’s what I did. And my mom sort of– my mom, she has a lot to do with my life. But she sort of picked up on my interest and an unwavering support my whole life. And she said– she encouraged me to take a film class ’cause I wanted to be a director and producer at that point. I thought I still want to do that. But I took a film class, and I was just jazzed. And I just was in love with it. And there’s nothing else I wanted to do until someone asked me to be in front of the camera really quickly for a project a favor for a friend. And I did that. And it was a really surreal experience, one I won’t forget because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was confused as hell. I felt like I was nervous. And I was– I felt like I was like falling off a cliff or something. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I understood it. And I felt like I was– I definitely understood it if that makes any sense but also didn’t know what I was doing. And I was having a lot of fun. And so after that I was hooked. And that’s where I sort of started, you know, on the whole path to be an actor.
What was most surprising about food culture? What do you hope audiences will take from this?
Manish : Ok, that’s a good question. I think that the most interesting thing– ok, I went into it thinking that the French culture and the Indian culture are completely different. There’s nothing about these two cultures that are similar, until I started working on the movie and really sort of, you know, living with these people who were making the movie. And I realized they’re actually distinctly similar unlike any other culture in the world because of their appreciation for food. They both have this sort of like razor sharp appreciation for it that I don’t think any other culture has that. I’ve been a part of, and I think that the interesting part about that is that a French– a French kitchen is really structured. It’s very formulaic. There’s a formula for everything. There’s a way to do everything. And there’s a way to stand. And everyone has a skill in the kitchen. And you know your skill by not going beyond your skill. Whereas– so there’s a hierarchy there that’s really respected. And it’s really quite amazing to watch these how everyone follows the rules. And it’s like sort of perfect. And the level of respect you have chef, it’s really insane. Then in an Indian kitchen, it’s not like that at all. It’s about who’s ever, however you’re gonna get this thing cooked, and how are we gonna make it happen? And both, you know, yield great tasting food. But there– the cultures in these kitchens is so different. And that’s one of the most interesting things I learned. But they still have the same sort of razor sharp appreciation for cooking and food. It’s just done in a very different way, yeah.
How was the chemistry between you and Marguerite?
Manish : Well, you tell me. [LAUGHTER — one blogger said, “It was hot and spicy.”] There we go. I think it was hot and spicy off too. Like we definitely became good friends– no, no, no, no, no. [LAUGHTER — He knew we were all thinking maybe there was something more off screen…but they are just friends] What? I think we did have very good chemistry because, you know, we were friends. Like we just became friends fast because of her sort of sense of humor, which she’ll make any joke and she will say any damn thing you can imagine. And I love that about her. I thought she was just very like sort of off the cuff. And we just laughed a lot, and we became sort of pranksters. And it was fun. And so I think that that translated into, on screen. Also I think what made working with her unique was any time I had a scene with Charlotte I never prepared really. I just knew what I was gonna say. And I understood the tone of the scene and what I need–the objectives and things like that. But, I never really– we never worked before shooting because when we were shooting anything it was just like the weirdest things could happen. And it– we just had to roll with it. And that’s what made our scenes really alive and I think pumped with energy. And with the other actors it was a little more planned. I had to really think about the beats and where things moved and how they ultimately– where we’re starting, where we’re ending. ‘Cause with Charlotte it was just– we– there was no– there was nothing. You just sort of– we just sort of did it. But that’s what made it cool.
How is working on a movie like this different than on a TV set?
Manish : Most of my experience is in TV. And I’d say that the coolest thing about working on a movie like this is that I really got to evolve this character myself with the help of Lasse of course. And, you know, really understand where he is in the beginning of the movie as a young man with very few responsibilities, you know, with not much going on except this sort of love or interest in cooking to this grown man in Paris who’s, you know, over the span of many years who has these huge conflicts and these really major responsibilities and so much on his shoulders. I think that’s what make it very different that you can reallyexperience that, work through it, figure out how this person changes, evolves mentally, physically, verbally, everything. And that is– that, you don’t get to do on TV as much. And in this movie I got to really sort of see this– see this young man from– from a boy to– to a man and how– and how that really evolves.
Did you read the book?
Manish : I read it before. I read it twice before. And I always had it under my arm when I was shooting because there were certain times when, like Lasse– Lasse’s directing style is the best because it’s– his vision’s always moving, organic. It’s evolving. Things change. Lines get added. Lines get cut. It’s just like this thing that moves all the time. And I wanted to have the book because sometimes if I was unsure about something that I was doing in the movie I would refer to the book. And there was this one line that I remember when I was, I don’t know if you remember the scene where I go to the window and I say, “We’re not visitors anymore. If you can’t beat them, join them.” It’s a huge turning point for my character because he’s starting to sort of play the game if you will because he has to do that at several points in the movie in order to reach his point of realization. And at that point I knew that– that something needed to be said. And the line that was in the script just didn’t make sense. To me it was not– it wasn’t poignant enough. I flipped open the book, and I saw that line. We’re not visitors anymore. And it spoke to me in a real way because that’s not– that’s exactly what they’re trying to achieve. They’re trying not to be nomadic anymore. They are trying to settle down. They’re trying to find a life for themselves to survive. And that line completely said it to me. And so I was like– I went to Lasse, said this is what I want to say. He said do it. And those are the things that the book brought to me.
Every bite takes you home…What foods evoked memories of home?
Manish : Well, two things, of my mom, grilled cheese sandwiches. Nobody can make a grilled cheese sandwich like my mother. It’s this one thing. She didn’t do it often growing up. But I remember when she did it it was always late at night for me and my siblings. If we were hungry she would make grilled cheese sandwiches. And she makes them perfectly. And it is something that she does that I really sort of love. And then also, Indian-wise, she makes rice and daal, which is a very simple thing. But everybody makes it differently. That thing about daal is that it is, depending on where you’re from in India where your family originates, daal is one– a uniform dish. But everybody cooks it differently. Like where I’m from, where we’re raised, which is also where the Hagi’s are also– originate in the movie, they put sugar in it. So to me daal should be sweet. But to a north Indian it shouldn’t be, you know? And for us it’s runnier. And in the north it’s thicker. It just depends. You know, everyone makes it differently. But that’s something that my mom makes. I’m actually going home tonight. I haven’t been home in a while.
What was your favorite dish on set?
Manish : The beef bourguignon. That was good. I killed it. [LAUGHTER] I ate so much of it that day. And I remember it was a scene that I was shooting before lunch broke. Afterwards, I was… I couldn’t even eat lunch I ate so much of it. It was really good.
What’s the message you want everyone to walk away with?
Manish : I would say that this movie, the message that I want– I hope people feel or walk away with is that in order to achieve something great you have to go after life’s uncertainty. And I think that– and I think that that is what I believe this movie is about. It’s about going into the unknown and not knowing what the fuck’s gonna happen because like then that– that’s what’s so– oh, sorry, can I not say that? [LAUGHTER] My publicist, she’s walking out of the room now. [LAUGHTER] Don’t say fuck. Sorry, Disney, Disney, Disney. Going after life’s uncertainty and committing yourself to a higher purpose. That’s what I think this movie’s about. For everyone in the movie, not just my character, it’s that way for Om Puri who when he arrives in France, you know, this guy with four kids to feed. Like wow! And, you know, Helen Mirren really trying to sort bring–sort of do away with years and years of culture and experience that she knows. And she’s hardened to it and then sort of loosening that up. That’s tough. So I think everyone has a little bit of a journey. And I think, you know, like I said, my character really does go after something that is difficult and challenging and not knowing what the result. And that is real fuck– no, sorry–That is real– that is real courage in my opinion. So that’s what I think the movie’s about. And sorry for the f-word.
LOL…all the “F” bombs actually made us like Manish even better. He was true to himself and honest about his part in The Hundred-Foot Journey