Helen Mirren plays a woman, Madame Mallory, in The Hundred-Foot Journey who runs a Michelin star-winning restaurant in the south of France. As for the Oscar-winning actress herself, when it comes to cooking, she is not so good!
“In the movie, I run the restaurant. She knows food, and understands food, and employs very, very good chefs. She doesn’t actually cook herself. She tastes, and judges,” Mirren told Movie Fanatic. “But luckily, she doesn’t cook, because I would reveal myself very rapidly to be somewhat inept. The only thing I have to do is to break eggs!”
The film follows Mirren’s Madame Mallory who runs one of the world’s premier restaurants. When an Indian family (that features patriarch Om Puri and his master chef son Manish Dayal) moves across the street to open an Indian restaurant, she does everything in her power to ensure they fail.
The Hundred-Foot Journey showcases Mirren's excellence at playing characters that may be cold on the outside, but discover a heart of gold. Her character is not the nicest, but has a moment of redemption that is truly touching. We wondered if that was a necessary aspect for Mirren in playing people who may not be so nice.
“I think it depends, really. It depends on the nature of the script, and what the script is saying. And if your role, as this awful person, is serving a certain purpose within the script and you approve of that message, then that’s fine, absolutely. One services the script, the best you can,” Mirren said.
One of the things that Mirren clearly adores about being an actress is that screenwriters put words in her mouth that make her sound much more intelligent and savvy than she is in real life! Like playing someone who is an expert about food! “We get our best lines written for us. We look intelligent. We look witty,” Mirren admitted.
She then credits her director, Lasse Hallstrom (watch Chocolat online for another classic foodie movie from him!), for making the entire thing so beautiful and compelling, as teased in The Hundred-Foot Journey trailer.
“As you all know, film is a very cumbersome, technical, heavy medium. It’s very hard to make soufflé of a film, which is hopefully what this is, a well risen soufflé. But it’s very hard to maintain that sort of lightness of touch,” Mirren said. “And Lasse achieved it.”
The Oscar winner admitted, though, that the big draw for The Hundred-Foot Journey was a chance to live a dream that can never be a reality. “I really wanted to play Madam Mallory because she’s French. I’m dying to be a French actress and I’ve never managed it. It was my pathetic attempt at being a French actress,” Mirren said and laughed.
“I’ve lived and worked in Paris. I’ve met with such kindness in Paris, from people that I didn’t know. The Parisians seem on the surface to be so cold and judgmental, and sort of superior. But actually, they’re incredibly kindhearted, and generous.”
Her fascination with all things French came from her time in the City of Lights and Mirren obviously has left her heart there.
“I think that was to do with growing up in England in the early and mid-'60s, when everything French seemed to be so chic and so fabulous, and everything English was so dull. This was just before the Swinging '60s of England,” Mirren said.
“The French, the food was better, the clothes were better, the makeup was better, the hair was better - everything was better in France! And they were suntanned, when we were always white and crinkly! My husband says I’ve got an inferiority complex, as far as the French are concerned. And I think he’s right!”
Since audiences will leave the theater craving French food, Indian food, a fusion of the two -- or something entirely different -- and they clearly will be hungry, we asked Mirren if she had a “last meal,” what would it be?
“A dish that you get in Madrid, called Huevos Estrellados. It’s basically chips, fried potatoes, with egg. It is so delicious, so fantastic!”
Of all the messages of The Hundred-Foot Journey, one resonates more with Mirren than any other.
“Love thy neighbor. And that’s the hardest and much more difficult than do not covet thy neighbor’s wife. That’s easy,” Mirren said and laughed. “Love thy neighbor is difficult. It’s the most important.”
Check out Mirren's most recent work, albeit just with her voice, and watch Monsters University online!