There are certainly more arduous ways of preparing for a film role than watching several episodes of a popular cooking show or eating at one of the world's fanciest restaurants – but that was the task that awaited Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult ahead of filming The Menu, the new movie from Succession director Mark Mylod.

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"I love being able to lie down in joggers and watch Chef's Table and say that I'm doing research," Taylor-Joy jokes during an exclusive chat with RadioTimes.com, shortly after Hoult has regaled us with a tale of an unusual dining experience he had while preparing for his role. To give him a sense of the world his character operated in, the former Skins star had been offered the chance to eat at Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck Restaurant in Oxford – and he found himself greatly enjoying "the theatre" of the experience.

The meal involved an array of unorthodox dishes, such as one in which diners were encouraged to wear headphones so they could listen to sea sounds whilst they ate, and another that involved the work of a "font expert."

"There was a dish they brought out and they were like, 'Read these words in these different fonts whilst you take bites, and the food will taste different.'" he explains. "And the words weren't, like, 'more mustardy' or whatever, it was just unrelated words. But I swear to you, I took a bite whilst reading one and then took another bite and I was like 'That does taste more mustardy!' But I'm like, I'm not going to say it because I think that's insane.

"And then my little sister was with me and she was like, 'It tastes more mustardy when you read this!' and I was like, 'Yeah!' So there's something weird going on with that, which was interesting. I like that experimental side of it, I guess."

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Hoult might have enjoyed that particular fine dining experience, but it's also an example of exactly the sort of food world pretension which The Menu sets out to viciously satirise. The film follows young couple Margot (Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Hoult) as they head to an exclusive island restaurant run by the eccentric Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Along with their fellow diners – including a washed-up movie star, a snobbish food critic and an unbearable group of tech bros – they are to enjoy a lavish "molecular gastronomy" tasting menu, comprised of all manner of bizarre concoctions.

But naturally, things don't quite go according to plan for the restaurant's eclectic clientele. As the courses served up to the guests grow steadily more deranged, we peel back the layers on the characters and learn – among other things – that the precise nature of the relationship between Margot and Tyler might not be exactly what it first seemed.

The Menu
Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult in THE MENU. Searchlight

"I think something that attracted both of us to it is how original it is," Taylor-Joy says when asked about her first reaction to the script. "I think you kind of go in not just as an audience member, but as a reader thinking, 'Oh, I know where this is going to go.' And then – especially towards the end – you keep turning the pages and going. 'No! Really? Okay, I guess we're doing this!' And there were a couple of scenes where I just thought 'I want to be in the room when that happens – I just want to see how this is gonna go down.'"

The film certainly plays well with a crowd – it was chosen to be the surprise film at this year's London Film Festival and went down a treat with the sizeable Royal Festival Hall audience, inducing laughs and gasps in near equal measure. And it was the chance to star in this type of film, one which has the ability to make cinemagoers feel several contradictory emotions simultaneously, that was especially appealing to Hoult.

"The thing that I really love, and what I've been trying to do somewhat in Yorgos [Lanthimos'] work or this script with Mark at the helm, is threading that needle of it being all things at once – where it's funny, tragic and cringe-worthy and scary and eerie," he says.

"So it's fun to watch in an audience because yes, you get permission to laugh if people are laughing, but also at the same time your reaction might be quite the opposite of that. So I think those are like the fun movies for me to watch – I felt like that watching [Lanthimos' film] The Killing of a Sacred Deer or something, like ah, this is making my stomach hurt a little bit. So, hopefully this does a similar thing to that."

Hoult's character is – to put it bluntly – not a particularly likable one. Some of Tyler's choices, the actor notes, are "obviously horrible" while Taylor-Joy points out his incessant neediness and declares that "everything is deplorable". Nevertheless, it was vital for Hoult to find a way into the character without making him a total caricature, and he says that through conversations with Mylod it was possible to get a good handle on his motivations.

"Talking to Mark, we figured out what the relationship between Tyler and Slowik has been – how he adores him, and then it just kind of all stems from that, his desperation to be accepted. Have you ever been in a kind of fancy restaurant with people and you can tell that they're on edge because of it? I think there's like a little bit of that in the relationship between Margo and Tyler as well. It's almost like even though the relationship hasn't been going for long, he's so nervous to be embarrassed and that brings out the worst in him."

Margo is a different proposition to her partner entirely – she is "incredibly comfortable in her own skin" says Taylor-Joy, and isn't afraid to say things as she sees them rather than automatically falling over herself to lavish praise at the feet of Chef Slowik.

"It's quite refreshing because it's a total juxtaposition to Tyler," Taylor-Joy continues. "She comes into this very pretentious environment where she definitely does not belong in terms of quote, unquote class. And she's just like, I'm not impressed by any of this. Like, why is no one having a good time? Why is everyone on edge? Why is everyone trying to, you know, I don't even know if this is an expression, but like, outdo each other on pretentiousness? She – pardon my French – kind of calls bulls**t on the whole situation."

One of the hardest things about being the film's straight woman was trying to keep a straight face amid the "really funny" people that surrounded her.

"Sometimes it's very difficult to look at Nick with just like, absolute disgust when all I wanna do is howl," she says. "But, I loved her, and I loved the fact that she felt comfortable, and I think the big difference is are you there to prove that you are worthy of your environment, or are you there as a paying customer to have a good experience? And what is the relationship between those two things?"

The Menu
The Menu Searchlight

The film's impressive ensemble cast – which includes the likes of Hong Chau, John Leguizamo, Reed Birney, Rob Yang, and Janet McTeer – is one of The Menu's greatest strengths, and Mylod made the decision to keep every cast member on set for each scene, regardless of whether they were involved in a particular shot or not. This was a new way of working for both Taylor-Joy and Hoult, but it was one which allowed them to go even deeper into their characters and gave them room for all sorts of improvisation. So what changed from the original script through this process?

"The physicality I guess, of certain moments between Margo and Tyler," Taylor-Joy responds. "I think as we kept going on, my Margo got more and more pissed off and certain scenes were changed."

"It wasn't scripted for me to get hit!" Hoult adds, through joking gritted teeth.

Being on the receiving end of a slap wasn't the only time Hoult had to suffer during production. More than any other star, he had to eat a lot of food on set, and although that might sound like some people's idea of a perfect job, it wasn't quite as luxurious an experience as it sounds.

"It sounds silly, but he is like a genuinely deeply committed actor because there's a point where eating becomes painful," Taylor-Joy says of her co-star. "And Nick just never wavered. Just kept going. It was pretty impressive. You were like a Hyde Park pigeon!"

"I feel like I saw Daniel Craig in a scene once, maybe in Layer Cake, where he's eating. And I was like, 'That's really eating' I need to do it like that," he says. "The bread course was especially difficult because it was just all day, basically just eating bread. And I had to like be stuffing my mouth at that point as well, trying to get words out to Ralph in amongst that and swallowing it. And it's quite chewy, the bread. My jaw was hurting!"

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The Menu is showing in UK cinemas from Friday 18th November 2022. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide or Streaming Guide, or visit our Film hub for more news and features.

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