The filmmakers of The Menu share the ingredients of food thriller – SFGATE | Episode Movies

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A group of 11 guests gather one evening on a private island in the Pacific Northwest for a once-in-a-lifetime meal from a renowned chef in new thriller The Menu.

At $1,200 a head, it promises to be a one-of-a-kind experience, but no one but the movie star, the tech brothers, the foodie fanboy, the restaurant critic, the wealthy regular, or the wildcard dater is ready for this intensity, and dangerous things become as the food unfolds under the direction of Ralph Fiennes brilliant and tormented chef Slowik.

The film comes from the minds of Will Tracy and Seth Reiss, both graduates of The Onion and HBO’s “Succession.” The idea to satirize the iconic world of fine dining was born after an experience Tracy had at a fancy restaurant on a private island in Norway. They sent their script to director Mark Mylod, who directed the big, torturous dinner party episode in the second season of “Succession,” and they all set out to create one of the most exciting and unexpected films of the year — funny, twisted, and even a little heartbreaking. It opens in cinemas nationwide on Friday.

To create a dynamic dining room experience, Mylod took a page from Robert Altman’s script in which all of the characters were on set, acting, and talking to each other all the time, even if the script was technically directed at someone else.

“I wanted everyone to stay in character the whole time and improvise way beyond what we wrote on the page,” said Mylod. “So I recruited this incredibly intelligent and clever and brave cast. No two takes were the same. It was all an exploration.”

The ensemble cast includes Hong Chau as the austere and stylish facade of the House of Elsa, Nicholas Hoult as the foodie who saved up for the night, Anya Taylor-Joy as his skeptical date, John Leguizamo as the movie star, Janet McTeer as the food critic, and Reed Birney and Judith Light as regulars.

“If you put 12, 15, 20 actors in a room, it could be a recipe for disaster where egos and everything bounces and people want to do their best,” Hoult said. “But Mark set a great tone in rehearsal time.”

Since there was always a camera around, there was a lot to do, but there were also opportunities to just watch and admire the performances of others. During scenes where Fiennes is holding court in front of the guests, Chau said they often had to stop to clap for him. It felt like they had just been invited to a private performance.

“He has a way of looking right into your soul. And I enjoy it because Tyler, the character I play, is supposed to be brainwashed by Chef Slowik and adores him,” Hoult said. “So I have all the feelings that I would have as someone who is in awe of what Ralph is doing and has done, I just have to be kind of a fanboy on set and capitalize on that.”

Mylod, who considers his tastes “limited,” knew that his behind-the-scenes collaborators would be just as important in creating this deceptively complex world as those in front of the camera, including finding “Mulholland Drive” cinematographer Peter Deming, who the tension could find in the frame. Chef’s Table creator David Gelb helped direct some of the Food Porn shots. And Dominique Crenn, the chef and owner of a three-Michelin-star restaurant in San Francisco, came on board to advise on all aspects of the environment, from food to the behavior of certain people in a restaurant.

“I was a bit nervous around (Dominque) and I didn’t talk to her that much,” Chau said. “But somehow she snuck up next to me one day and said, ‘I love what you do. What you are doing is spot on. I love how clean, sharp and elegant you are and I want you to come and work for me.’”

A key architect of her character, Chau was a little limited on the side and drew inspiration from all the “funky people” she saw in Portland, Oregon while filming Showing Up there. Originally, Elsa was supposed to look very simple, very beige, and basically blend into the landscape.

“I was like, ‘Oh, that sucks. That’s a real bummer,” Chau said. “I was stubborn and kind of pushed my ass off and just explained the biography I came up with for her.”

The film’s costume designer, Amy Westcott, who is married to Mylod, loved Chaus’s vision and helped develop her eye-catching outfit, which felt Victorian and statement-making, but also clean and professional.

“They totally ambushed me, and I’m really glad they did,” said Mylod. “They were both absolutely right.”

Accustomed to the class dynamics of the restaurant workers and their obscenely wealthy patrons, some who’ve seen The Menu have compared Eat the Rich to films like the Oscar-winning Parasite and this year’s Cannes-winning Triangle. instead of sadness.” Mylod finds that a bit reductive, though.

“A direct ‘let’s gore the rich’ is a low-hanging fruit, I think,” he said. “I tend to approach things from a character perspective rather than necessarily sociologically as a whole. These diners, most of them are horrible characters and deeply flawed characters, but it’s their flaws that I find really interesting because how did they get there? How do their egos denature their more vulnerable, innocent selves to get to this point? And what does it take to get rid of that? This is the journey she wants to take the chef’s work on tonight.”

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Follow AP film writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr.

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