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Conversations with Helen Mirren
By Evy Baehr, Executive Managing Editor
Immigrating to France, the Kadam family must build up their Indian Restaurant in the midst of stiff competition in THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY. THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is a pro-family movie with a moral message. THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is coming out August 8th, staring Helen Mirren and Om Puri, plus some newcomers.
Movieguide® had the chance to speak with Mirren on her role as the competing restaurant owner. Make sure to check out the full review of THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY on www.movieguide.org.
Question: Your character in the movie has an amazing capacity for le moujuos, the perfect thing to say. Is it nice when a script makes you that little bit cooler than you are in real life?
Helen Mirren: Of course! Why do you think we become actors? For that very reason! We get our best lines written for us, and you know, we look intelligent, and we look witty, and we don’t really have to do anything but say the words. But, having said that, that line was absolutely scripted, as you rightfully pointed out, a wonderful line. In fact, we did improvise quite a lot in this film as well, because Lasse (the director) likes to, and I think that’s his magic as a film director. As you all know, film is a very cumbersome, technical, heavy medium. It’s very hard to make a soufflé of a film, which is hopefully what this is, a well-risen soufflé. It is very hard to maintain the lightness of touch. He achieved it by. . . we would shoot the script, and then we would always improvise mess around a bit. So, the set was a very improvisational set, which was lovely.
Question: To what degree was it a pleasure for you to work with Mr. Puri, who is so renowned in a different cultural tradition?
Helen: Yes, different but irreversible. The interesting thing is, especially of the generation that Om is from, there was a great appreciation of English, British because of the connection, but there was always a great tradition of classical theater. I think it’s partly why the Brits and the Indians on certain levels got along very well together. Especially in the world of theater there is this classical tradition. Both of us have done a lot of theater. So, in many ways, Om and I had more in common with each other than maybe I had with Manish or Charlotte, because they come from a sort of very different acting background. Having said that, I have to say you know they were both just so wonderful to work with, but Om and I just naturally feel into it. That was very easy for both of us because we knew of each other’s work. We had enormous respect for each other, and … it’s a shame Om isn’t here because you would fall in love with him. He has this wonderful warmth. . .. He was the guy who would cook these big feasts. He would cook Indian food for everyone, and make a family feeling on the set. Om created his family off the set. It was brilliant.
Question: Just curious, your character in this movie really has a moment of redemption that kind of carries through.
Question: Now, when you tackle somebody and you read the first part of the script, and they can kind of be cold or icy or mean or whatever is it important for you that they have that moment of redemption or is it just kind of a nice plus for this one per se?”
Mirren: In this case, yes. I really wanted to play Madame Mallory because she’s French, and I’m dying to be a French actress, and my pathetic attempt at being a French actress, but if she’d just been a mean French person I don’t think I would’ve gone along with it. Also, because I think it’s one-dimensional. You know we’re all a bit paranoid about the French, aren’t we? I know a lot of Americans are, and they feel just so intimated by the French. Although I do speak good French so it’s easier for me, but you know the French can be very, very intimidating and so this sort of cliché of the cold judgmental, nasty, uptight French person. I wouldn’t be happy with just playing that at all. I have lived and worked in Paris and have met such kindness in Paris with people 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 kind-hearted and generous, and I learned that in Paris.
Question: Can you actually cook? Or, are you just a tremendously engaging fake?
Mirren: I’m the engaging fake. Well, actually I don’t cook in the movie. I run the restaurant. She knows food and understands food and employs very good chefs. She doesn’t actually cook herself. She tastes and judges, 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 break eggs.
Question: What should viewers take away as the message of this movie in your opinion?
Mirren: Well, love thy neighbor. That’s the hardest much more difficult than do not covet thy neighbor’s wife. That’s easy. Love thy neighbor is difficult, that’s why there are wars. It’s the hardest and the most important.
Question: You’ve worked with some of the great directors of all time. What is it are you looking from a director when you are actually acting on set?
Mirren: I think what you want is a comfortable environment that you feel you can invent. Again, because film is such a cumbersome, technical, huge thing, it’s hard to create that little space of peace, calm, creativity and ease, and that’s what you want the director create for you. So, when you walk onto the set, you forget all of that and the fact that it’s costing so much money, but here, you are on your little playground, and you can invent and be free. Encouragement really is simple and I know it’s pathetic we need to be encouraged, but we do. I’m in the middle of working on a film called WOMEN IN GOLD. The film is directed by Simon Curtis, who worked as my assistant many years ago. He was getting my fan mail and now he is my director.
Question: What’s that dynamic like working with him now?
Mirren: He’s not my assistant; he is my director. If my director is a 16-year-old girl or boy, my director is my director, and I give them all my respect and my attention. It doesn’t matter what age they are or anything. If you sign up, then you sign up to this director, and my feeling is that you should just say, okay, this is your project. How can I serve your project. That’s what the relationship is. Of course, within that you contribute hugely with your ideas and your inventions and that’s your job. I think film is the director’s median, surely. So, he is my director.