Synopsis : A couple (Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult) travels to a coastal island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef (Ralph Fiennes) has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises.
Rating:R (Strong Violent Content|Some Sexual References |Language Throughout)
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Q: What did you find fascinating about the script that made you want to be in this film?
HC: Oh gosh, there’s a lot about this script that I liked. I was in Portland, Oregon shooting another movie called “Showing Up” when I got the script for “The Menu.” It was so wildly different from what I was working on at the time but what was interesting was that the restaurant was set in the Pacific Northwest. I was like, “Oh, this is so great! I’m in Portland right now, I feel like I’m in the right setting for that story.” So I pictured the restaurant in the environment, and was inspired by the funky people that I saw in Portland. When I met with Mark [Mylod, the director,] about the script, one of the things I talked about was that my character, Elsa, doesn’t have a lot on the page in terms of her biography. We don’t know much about her as a person or who she was outside of the restaurant or how she came to start working for Chef Slowik [Ralph Fiennes]. So we talked a bit about that and tried to flesh that out a little bit more.
The script was so wild and bonkers. It’s definitely a roller coaster ride. It made me laugh, it was disturbing. I think what ultimately drew me to it and made me want to do the film was the poignant moments in it. It definitely had a lot of issues that we have going on in terms of class, consumerism, and who gets to do the consuming and why and how, and how that has a ripple or a domino effect on other people. It’s amazing that a movie like this that has a very boisterous and wild exterior can contain so much subtlety and sensitivity towards people and ideas.
Q: Your character is weird, strange, but humble to Chef. Even though she keeps a straight face, she’s quite a complicated character. How did you approach that? What kind of background did Mark feed you so you could tap into your character?
HC: Well, I think Mark just had a lot of trust in me and allowed me to come up with that. I talked with him about it. We had a little bit of disagreement about how the character should look, but I explained to him why, and what my thought process was for that and eventually he came around to it. Luckily, our amazing costume designer Amy Westcott also happens to be married to Mark, so she was happy to conspire with me against Mark [laughs]. We [veered away] from what he was envisioning. She came up with that really amazing costume for Elsa that’s visually very strong — there’s something about it that feels very Victorian and stern. That helped feed the character and it helps me as an actor to stay in that energy and that space. It’s important for me as an actor to come up with a background and a history for my character if it’s not apparent from the script. You’re not just there to say lines, you have to be the character even in the moments of silence. There’s a lot of silence for Elsa, but she has to be communicating a thought process, or something — that was very important.
Elsa walking around and observing people [is] not just an empty sort of look. There’s definitely an opinion and a certain facade that she has to put on that’s professional but also has to reveal something about her and what she’s actually thinking. That was a little tricky to do because she does have to be — not super-friendly — but show an acceptable level of professional warmth for that type of setting. We had Chef Dominique Crenn come and serve as a consultant for the film. I got a very nice compliment from her. She pulled me aside and said, “I love what you’re doing. It’s absolutely spot-on for a restaurant of this caliber. I want you to come and work for me.” That meant more to me than anything [director] Mark Mylod could say because I thought, “Oh, okay, she really knows.” It was fun and a great challenge to stay in that character because of the way that Mark was shooting. He and Peter [Deming, the cinematographer], were doing 360 [degree] takes around the tables to get all the different conversations that were going on. So even though most of it’s scripted, a lot of it had to be improvised. We were all there together the entire time and had to stay in the theme.
Q: Chef Slowik, who’s played by Ralph Fiennes, has a certain success but feels a bit like he sold out. How did you collaborate with Fiennes in creating such a dynamic response to each other?
HC: I knew that Ralph Fiennes was going to play Chef Slowik and to get to work with him was definitely one reason that I signed on. I’m a huge admirer of him as an actor. I think he’s one of our finest actors and a living legend. It was a tremendous honor to get to do scenes with him and watch him work. He’s truly dazzling — truly. Because of the way the story is, it felt like we were getting treated to a very intimate one-man show while we were working. I had never had that experience and I don’t think I will again. Ralph would come out and do his monologues as Chef Slowik and afterwards we would all whisper to each other, [whispers] “Wow, that was really good!” We felt like we were sitting in a theatre watching a play. Because For Elsa is such an acolyte and a devoted servant to Chef Slowik, I thought she’d try to emulate him in some way. So it was helpful for me to see Ralph do his monologues and a couple of scenes as Chef Slowik before I had to do anything major as Elsa. I could pick up and sort of steal little bits from him and what his character was doing. I definitely think Elsa would try to emulate him and have that regal energy in the way that Chef Slowik does.
Q: Take us through the difficult fighting scenes with Margot, Anya Taylor-Joy’s character ?
HC: I love action movies, but I’ve never had an opportunity to do any. That was also another reason I wanted to do the movie. It was a great learning experience for me. Anya had had a ton of training from prior movies so this was like “old hat” to her. We had a stunt team, who do all the big comic book movies so they were really great and took care of us. They knew what they were doing, so I felt really safe the entire time. But I was surprised by how much of it we had to do ourselves — you have to see our faces and reactions. You can’t just do that cold, you have to be actually doing the fight sequence. We rehearsed with a stunt team throughout the filming on our days and hours that we had off. That particular scene was saved for the very last day of filming — we wrapped at 3 am. My body was buzzing from all of the adrenalin afterwards. I felt like I had been in a minor car accident the next day but it was totally worth it. It was so much fun to have two women grappling with each other. I felt like I was boxing outside of my weight class because Anya’s much younger, and taller, than I am. I had also just had a baby, so it was a laugh for me but I’m really proud of myself and I loved how it turned out.
Q: Chef Dominique Crenn is the first woman chef in America to get three Michelin stars, She brought her signature touch to the dishes there. What was it like on set with all those ravishing foods?
HC: She came and brought her team with her — basically her Elsas. They were so incredibly helpful to the process, from the cleaning of the food to how it was delivered because it had to be so precise, elegant and clean. They worked a lot with the kitchen staff. We probably spent more time and did more takes on just delivering the plates to the table, because it had to look beautiful and as elegant as what was on the plate. It gave me such an appreciation for that level of dining experience. It’s not just about what you’re eating, it’s about the whole experience.
Q: If you were a customer at the restaurant, which character would you really relate to?
HC: I don’t think I’d envy any of the other characters. They’re all played by wonderful actors who are awesome people in real life. It was really entertaining to see them play doofuses [throughout]. All of the characters are unlikeable in certain ways. There’s no other word that I can think of other than “doofus” — especially with [Tyler], Nicholas Hoult’s character. What a doofus! Hopefully I’m not like any of those characters. But I guess [if I had to pick one], it would have to be Margot.
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Here’s the trailer of the film.