We all enjoyed Helen Mirren's performance as Madame Mallory in The Hundred Foot Journey, a French restaurateur whose heckles are raised by the arrival of an Indian family's rival restaurant. Here she chats film and food...
What about the film appealed to you?
Many things. It was a charming story and I loved the fact that it was going to be shot in France. I’ve always secretly wanted to be a French actress, so it gave me an opportunity to pretend to be a French actress as well as a Frenchwoman.
Are you any good at cooking?
I do an incredible baked beans on toast [said with a twinkle in her eye]. Marmite on toast, marmalade on toast; and my cheese on toast is excellent. No, I’m not much of a cook. I love food and I love to eat, but I’ve never been a great cook.
Is it true that you stayed at a hotel run by a Madame almost as formidable as Madame Mallory?
I certainly did. And I met another ‘Madame Mallory’, an English woman running a small but wonderful restaurant in a tiny town called Puycelsi. It was wonderful to meet these people, just to understand their level of commitment. It's a lifelong thing, to run a restaurant or a small hotel in that way. To realise what very forceful people these women are absolutely helped me with the portrayal of my character.
There’s a line in the film, “food is memory.” Is it?
Yes, it is extraordinary. They say the sense of smell and taste are by far the strongest markers for memory; much more powerful than anything else. For me it’s the smell of a certain kind of chocolate, because I actually hadn’t tasted chocolate at all when I was young. I was a post-Second World War child, and there was rationing, with absolutely no sugar. I didn’t taste chocolate until I was four or five.
That first time was an incredible experience. I’m not a chocoholic at all, but just occasionally I get the smell of chocolate that takes me right back to being four years old and experiencing it for the first time.
Everyone, I’m sure, has a particular smell or taste that’ll bring them back to a time in their youth, whether it’s something their mother cooked, or the first time they had fish and chips. It is a very, very powerful thing.
Food is such a strong indicator of home, too. Interestingly, when I go abroad now, I crave Indian food. I’ve never been to India, but in my experience it’s very difficult to find good Indian food in any other country except for Britain. So Indian food, for me, has become British food; the marker of my home, my country and my culture. And I think that’s true for a lot of British people now.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is available on Blu-Ray, DVD and for download on March 9, courtesy of Entertainment One
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