A great meal starts with a first course designed to tantalize and awaken the senses to what is to come. The strength of a menu depends on each course standing on its own while at the same time flowing seamlessly into the next.
Great movies must take the same route. The only problem is unlike a meal where it is almost unthinkable for the dessert to be served before the salad, a motion picture is traditionally shot out of order. In the case of the dark comedy/ horror film/ social commentary film “The Menu,” opening in theaters Nov. 18, the actors didn’t have that problem.
Director Mark Mylod (“Succession”) wanted to have more of a fluid feeling to the film. That started with sitting down with small groups of his actors to discuss their characters. And then, he shot the film in chronological order.
This approach made it easier for the cast – that includes Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Reed Birney, Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, Hong Chau, Judith Light, John Leguizamo and Aimee Carrero – to play their characters as events go from mundane to murderous.
Fiennes plays Chef Slowik, the artistic force behind one of the most prestigious and exclusive restaurants on the planet. He hand picks a group of patrons for a menu that can never be repeated. The diners don’t realize until they are several courses of chaos into their meal that this Chef is building to a big finish.
Taylor-Joy, who plays Margot, says of the way the film was shot, “I think it helped us immensely because there’s a very specific turning point in the film where things do start to get dramatically darker. And up until that point we’d all been having quite a nice, if odd dinner party.
“And then the way that this scene was shot was so visceral, I think it kind of shocked all of us when it happened. That led us down the new tone of the film. Less of the laughs, more of the gasps really. So I think it really helped us carry that through.”
The film features an all-star cast of diners but Taylor-Joy’s character gets extra attention from the Chef. His interest is triggered because she is not the person he expected to be at the dinner.
This mysterious attraction by the Chef resulted in Fiennes and Taylor-Joy sharing several scenes together. She describes Fiennes as a phenomenal actor.
“As an audience member you will feel this formidable presence and this fear, whenever he’s there,” Taylor-Joy says. “Maybe it was our characters, maybe it’s the way that we both approach acting. All of our scenes together felt so warm and intimate even when we were being quite rude to each other, when the stakes were pretty high.
“I always just felt really comfortable with him and I felt like I had a very generous dance partner and that we were both enjoying that bizarre intimacy. We had a great time together.”
Every dinner patron was designed by Mylod to be distinctly different. Nicholas Hoult plays a food junkie who is certain after watching every cooking show and eating at the best restaurants that he is on the same level as any chef.
Janet McTeer is a food critic who has never shown any remorse from closing down restaurants with her scathing words. Then there is Judith Light who with Reed Birney plays a married couple who have become so complacent with each other and life they have no idea what is happening around them.
John Leguizamo plays a washed up action film star who offended the Chef with one of his bad movies. Leguizamo is quick to point out that he is neither washed up nor an action film star but he knew exactly who should be the model for his character.
“I’ve worked with a lot of action stars who became washed up and I modeled it after one person in particular who was a bit of an [expletive deleted] and a bully,” Leguizamo says. “Okay, Steven Seagal. I modeled after Steven Seagal because I did a movie with him and in rehearsals he knocked me out and he didn’t care.
“Hit me with an elbow in my solar plexus and knocked me against the wall, because I was laughing at him. I forgot to mention that part. Sorry, I had to give that fact. So that’s who I was modeling after. I’d seen these privileged guys, and these guys who come into a room with so much narcissism and self-it’s like they suck the oxygen out of the room because they want all the attention and everything’s got to be on them, otherwise they turn negative. So that’s what I was trying to create, because it doesn’t naturally come to me.”