Manish Dayal is a down home dude from South Carolina who is approachable and funny in real life– a stark contrast from his serious and studious nature as a chef on-screen.
He’s been largely unknown but now he shines bright as Hassan Kadam in the 100 Foot Journey, out today! I had a chance to talk with Manish during a Disney press trip to Los Angeles. Here’s what he had to say.
How did you get attached to the project?
It was a really funny story actually. I went in for a voiceover audition for an animated feature that DreamWorks is doing. One of the people that sort of first sort of spotted me was Leslie Feldman. She’s the casting executive over at DreamWorks. We ended up having this great conversation the whole time we were in this audition… not auditioning just talking. Then that night I get a phone call asking if I’d come back in and read for a different project. They wouldn’t tell me the name or anything about it. Then I did, of course. I found Steven Spielberg was involved. So I was like holy ****! *LAUGHS* He’s like a childhood hero of mine. I ended up reading a scene I think 38 times. I must’ve read it trying it every different way you can imagine. Then those tapes went to Steven and Oprah. And apparently I found out that they were very excited. Then I went in for more meetings and sort of an interview and then more meetings and more meetings and over the course of four and a half months. Then I met Lasse Hallström in New York who ultimately I think signed off. Then I got a phone call the next day saying that Steven wants to hire you. That’s how it happened. It was a long, long crazy amazing entertaining experience!
Do you cook in real life?
So I’ve been getting that question a lot lately. And this is what I would say is no. [LAUGHTER] But I’ve definitely learned a lot about cooking. And definitely in the movie it wasn’t so much about learning how to cook but more just how to like understand kitchen culture. Because we had to understand how to chop and where to stand and how to move and how to make sure that all of the dishes sort of, uh, were effectively made. And I think like that was sort of the challenge in terms of learning kitchen etiquette and stuff like that for the film.
Did your weight fluctuate at all?
It did, yes. I lost a bit of weight for the India portion. I’m not sure how! I wanted to make sure that he had sort of a youthful presence, innocence presence, one that sort of void of any sort of complications at that point in the movie.
How did you feel about the interracial aspect?
No, it’s very interesting. I would have to say two things about that. One, I have no complaints about kissing Charlotte. [LAUGHTER] She’s a French model for God’s sakes. The second thing– the second part of your question is, you know, it’s funny. I thought about that. But, you know, the one thing that I’ve been really lucky to do in my career is I’ve been able to play, and I don’t know, maybe, I am not sure why this is, but I’ve been able to play an Indian guy in an American experience or in a western experience.
And that’s something really unique for– for south Asians. We’re a very growing, fast growing immigrant community. And I think– one of the fastest actually, economically, socially and so on. But, uh, we haven’t gotten to a point where we are represented in film and TV in– on the mainstream level. So for me it was a real privilege to sort of be a part of that movement because that’s what this is in my opinion that, you know, an Indian and white relationship is something we don’t see all the time.
I did it on 90210. And I don’t know many other storylines on TV or in film on the mainstream level that have that. So I’ve been a part of that twice. And I think that it is a reward, and it is privilege. And it also is something that I hope becomes more common. And so all in all they– it was good. It was great. No complaints, yeah.
Well, you tell me. [LAUGHTER]
There we go. I think it was hot and spicy off too. Like we definitely became good friends. I think we did have very good chemistry because, you know, we were friends. Like we just became friends fast because of her sort of sense of humor, which she– she’ll make any joke and she will say any damn thing you can imagine.
And I love that about her. I thought she was just very like sort of off the cuff. And we just laughed a lot, and we became sort of pranksters. And– and it was fun. And so I think that translated on screen. Also I think what made working with her unique was any time I had a scene with Charlotte I never prepared really. I just knew what I was gonna say. And I understood the tone of the scene and what I need– the objectives and things like that. But I never really– we never worked before shooting because when we were shooting anything it was just like the weirdest things could happen.
And we just had to roll with it. And that’s what made our scenes really alive and I think pumped with energy. With the other actors it was a little more planned. I had to really think about the beats and where things moved and how they ultimately– where we’re starting, where we’re ending. ‘Cause with Charlotte there was nothing. We just sort of did it. But that’s what made it cool.
What’s it like working with Helen Mirren?
She is– well, first I should tell you that she’s hilarious, and she has a very, very, uh, crass sense of humor. And I think that’s something we had a lot in common. So we ended up just laughing all the time. And she was telling me stories about, you know, her– her life and– and how she got started in this business. And, you know and so it was good to learn from her. Also when we were working I could see like how she prepares, what her process was like.
And, that was also really cool. So it was an amazing experience. And she also told me something that I won’t forget, which was when you pick movies to do you should just pick them based on how much fun you’re gonna have. So I thought that was really good advice. So, yeah.
I did meet Oprah. And, yes, she’s really amazing. She’s– all the things that you know about her she’s that much more incredible. She’s, as you know very, uh, giving and– and generous.
But, most specifically, I mean most interesting thing about her is how generous she is with her knowledge and– and her knowledge of the world and how much she did impart and which things that we talked about on set. And yeah, so I did get to spend some time with her. And it’s clear to me, and I think all of you guys, of why she’s connected to this story. I mean this is a story about, you know, a displaced family that has to sort of find their way in this new place and sort of overcome all these obstacles culturally, racially, you know in every way.
And it’s a real– real immigrant story. And I think that that’s why she connected to it. And these are the stories that she wants to tell. And I think I think she did it. Hopefully.
ABOUT THE MOVIE
In “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is a culinary ingénue with the gastronomic equivalent of perfect pitch. Displaced from their native India, the Kadam family, led by Papa (Om Puri), settles in the quaint village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France. Filled with charm, it is both picturesque and elegant – the ideal place to settle down and open an Indian restaurant, Maison Mumbai. That is, until the chilly chef proprietress of Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin-starred, classical French restaurant run by Madame Mallory (Academy Award®-winner Helen Mirren) gets wind of it. Her icy protests against the new Indian restaurant a hundred feet from her own escalate into a heated battle between the two establishments until Hassan’s passion for French haute cuisine — and for Madame Mallory’s enchanting sous chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) — combine with his mysteriously-delicious talent to weave magic between their two cultures and imbue Saint-Antonin with the flavors of life that even Madame Mallory cannot ignore. At first Madame Mallory’s culinary rival, she eventually recognizes Hassan’s gift as a chef and takes him under her wing.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” abounds with flavors that burst across the tongue. A stimulating triumph over exile, blossoming with passion and heart, it is a portrayal of two worlds colliding and one young man’s drive to find the comfort of home, in every pot, wherever he may be.
Directed by Academy Award-nominee Lasse Hallström and starring Academy Award-winner Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is produced by Academy Award-winner Steven Spielberg, Academy Award-nominee Oprah Winfrey and Juliet Blake. The executive producers are Caroline Hewitt, Carla Gardini, Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King. The screenplay is written by Academy Award-nominee Steven Knight, based on the novel “The Hundred-Foot Journey” by Richard C. Morais.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” now showing everywhere!