‘The Menu’ Star Paul Adelstein Talks Improv And Culinary Snobs
Mark Mylod’s new film The Menu is a darkly hilarious takedown of culinary culture, both of those who eat food and those who make it. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, Hong Chau, Nicholas Hoult, and a slew of incredible character actors, the film tears down the elitism both inside and outside of the kitchen.
Read the full synopsis:
A couple (Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult) travels to a coastal island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef (Ralph Fiennes) has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises.
Dread Central sat down with one of the stars Paul Adelstein to talk about snobby food culture, Mylod’s unconventional approach to filming, and more.
Dread Central: You are an editor of a magazine in The Menu. What was your experience or thoughts about the culinary world before you came into this movie?
Paul Adelstein: I have a lot of snobby tastes. Like, I’m pretty well acquainted with snob culture. I don’t consider myself snob, but I have snobby music friends. I got snobby movie friends. But I don’t really have foodie friends so I didn’t really know that world much at all. I mean, I love to eat and I love fancy restaurants and stuff, but I had never seen a Chef’s Table.
DC: Oh really? I was curious.
PA: Oh, I’d never done any of that shit. So [when I got the role] I watched an entire season of Chef’s Table, which was great. But the thing that really, really made it hit, I got very invested that really made it hit home was the top chefs. I mean, I think a lot of
The deep dive with [Magnus Nilsson] out on his island in Denmark and Dominique Crenn, who actually did all the food for The Menu. There’s an in-depth [episode] on her. And I understood I think very quickly where the kind of the brilliance of it comes from. Also, it’s very ripe for satire. Not that it’s not genius, but I think you could do the same thing about painters or musicians or anything.
It was a total education. And I think doubly so in that, Janet and I had to know a lot of what we were asked to do is improvise.
We had to know what the heck we were talking about because we’re supposed to know what a Pacojet is. We’re supposed to know the emulsion is da da da da. So Dominique Creen’s sous chef took us through every single course and gave us a list of descriptors and we would call them up before a take. There are words I would never come up with, like hyper-local or all that stuff. I still have it in my phone. So that was super helpful and that made us feel like we were part of that food world. And the specificity of it is so intense.
DC: Well, and especially the dialogue the two of you have at your table, even either in the background or when you’re on camera, it’s very funny. Critic talk, I mean, I’m a film critic, but again, I know how film critics talk about the thing that they are centered around.
I was curious about that improvisation and what was written in the script. There are so many off-the-cuff moments.
PA: Some of them are scripted and a lot of them, Mark really wanted this kind of what he called a Robert Altman vibe of a floating camera. Like Gosford Park, in particular, I think.
But just that Altman thing of if the camera’s over here, you gotta not make noise basically. So you have to pantomime or whatever. [Mylod] didn’t want that most of the time. Sometimes he would have us talking half-volume, but most of it was fully alive everywhere. And he was like, “We’ll figure out the sound later”. So we were just improving our asses off. And some of it was sillier than other times, then he would come in. The writers were there the whole time.
DC: Oh really?
PA: They would come in sometimes if they heard something that’s gonna conflict with this thing later. But it became really a big part of the collaboration. When I went to my first ADR session to replace dialogue and stuff, I wondered what movie they made. The tone was so different take to take and so many different things got said. It was like, “I wonder what they put together”. I mean, you kind of got the sense as you went along what was preferred. But he really wanted us to run the gamut sometimes take to take.
DC: That’s so cool.
PA: So I wondered if this movie’s gonna be totally over the top or if it’s gonna be very subtle. And I think it lands in the middle. I think it’s really scored that way. But doing The Menu was so fun because it was like you just get to kind of go along for the ride.
DC: This is such an ensemble cast movie. What was that like to collaborate as a big group of both actors and improvisers?
PA: It was great because from the very first kind of group meeting with Mark, one of the questions we had was how do we blueprint the arc. You can’t be screaming in terror for two hours. It’s not gonna sustain. But you also can’t go comatose. And I think it’s great direction, but it’s also very brave. [Mark= was like, “I don’t really know. We’re gonna figure it out as we go and we’re gonna figure out what feels natural to each person.”
There were obviously a lot of individual notes and especially in pairs of tables, but there was a lot of group direction. There was a lot of, “this scene we’re going to be going for this and keep your improv in this area verbally and da da da da.”
And then when the physical stuff happened, there was a lot of just figuring it out the first couple takes or in rehearsal, who’s gonna fall to the ground, who’s gonna jump up? A lot of that wasn’t written. And that’s the joy of working [on The Menu]. It’s such an incredible group of actors, especially because almost everybody I think is a theater person. So it brought everybody back to those days of figuring this out as a group. It has to be a hive mind. And it was fun.
DC: Amazing. Okay, so The Menu is satire, but it’s also a little bit like a horror movie. Are you a horror movie person?
PA: I’m kind of a horror movie person. I mean, I’m not a big slasher guy. I’m definitely a thriller person. Funny Games is sort of a horror movie, I guess
DC: The word horror is so flexible. I feel like horror means different things to people. But Funny Games to me is definitely a horror movie to me. It’s cliche, but the people-based horror movies are scarier to me.
PA: I love Alien. But you’d call that a sci-fi movie? Probably. I mean it’s cliche, but The Shining and Jaws are two of my favorite movies. And those are definitely horror movies.
DC: Oh yeah. Yeah. I saw Jaws at the age of four. Ruined me.
PA: <laugh>. That was my daughter’s, I think it was her ninth birthday present was getting to see Jaws. We were like, Yeah, no, you’re not seeing this movie. She was so obsessed with seeing it for some reason. I don’t know why. So she saw it at nine and it somehow didn’t ruin the ocean for her. I don’t know how.
DC: Is she a horror person?
PA: As a young she’s, she’s 12 now, but when she was little she wanted to see scary. Sometimes she couldn’t take it and she’d like look at you during your scary scenes. But she wanted to see that stuff. I think it’s a Wizard of Oz effect, I think.
DC: What was your personal favorite moment to film in The Menu?
PA: Oh wow. When the cop comes in and points the gun, we all go totally ape shit. That was particularly fun because it was, I feel like the one time where, as a group, we got to kind of explode, not just in terror but in desperation and relief. That whole moment of tension, explosion, and then relief that the guy puts down the gun and then total devastation that it was a fake, was so sad. We would all die laughing at the end of every single time because it was such a journey. Such a quick, brutal mind fuck.
So that was really fun to do. It was always a little different each time. And we all started screaming at Judith [Light] for some reason, cuz Judith is the one freaking out. We all just started screaming for her to shut up, which it was hilarious to us.
The Menu is out now in theaters.