Last week in New York, the cast of the new film, “Burnt,” gathered for a press conference moderated by celebrity chef Mario Batali. The group talked about food and restaurant life as much as they talked about the movie.
In “Burnt,” Bradley Cooper plays Adam Jones, a disgraced star chef who lost everything when he succumbed to addiction while working in Paris. Now, years later, he’s staging a comeback in London, hellbent on getting a third Michelin star, but has he really conquered his demons?
Sienna Miller plays a sous chef who ends up reluctantly working for Jones, Sam Keeley plays an underling in the kitchen, and Daniel Bruhl plays the restaurant owner who takes a chance on the talented but volatile Jones.
Others in the cast include Uma Thurman as a famed restaurant critic and Emma Thompson as Jones’ therapist mandated by Bruhl’s character. The film was directed by John Wells (“August: Osage County”). “Burnt” opens in theaters Friday, Oct. 30, 2015.
Bradley on how the food tasted on set:
Amazing. We were cooking. In the way that they set it up, [Chef] Marcus [Wareing] created the dishes, and then, we would have recipes…. All of the other cooks were not actually actors. They were cooks that work in Michelin star restaurants around London. So, we were cooking the food, and we were eating the food, too.
On gaining weight during filming:
Sienna: At the same time, you’re working so intensely, and it’s physically so exhausting to be in that environment. It’s boiling hot, so the kind of anxiety and adrenaline and focus that that takes is probably burning off the beef sauce.
Bradley: I was in the process of losing weight to do a play, so I was trying to lose like 40 pounds for “The Elephant Man.” So, it was kind of a nightmare to do a cooking movie in between. But if you do watch the film again, you’ll see scenes where my face is two inches wider than other times because it was shot out of sequence.
On whether they took home the recipes and skills they learned:
Sienna: Yes, turbot. I have eaten much more turbot than I ever thought I would and can filet it, which is exciting. So, I can buy a whole one and take it home. So, that’s a new skill…. It’s a simple and delicious thing but really easy to get wrong, and I now have a pretty solid and well-rehearsed technique as to how to cook fish very well. And it’s impressive at a dinner party…. And I can cook pasta….
Mario: You did an amazing scene where you were rolling it out with such aplomb. I’m like, “She knows how to do that.”
Bradley: She really did that in the scene. That was fantastic. You have no idea how hard that is to act, number one, but to make pasta while you’re acting….
Sam on what he learned about working in kitchens:
Sam: I spent a lot of time in [3-star Michelin chef] Marcus Wareing’s restaurant and studied one chef in particular and kind of watched him and learned his story about where he came from. These guys are in it because they’re so passionate. They work insane hours for very little money because they just want to get it right. They love the food and the whole thing behind it.
I studied this one guy, Jake, who was younger than me but was Marcus’ right-hand man. He would run the kitchen when Marcus wasn’t around, and it was just fascinating to see. He was a really quiet kind of kid, but when he switched it on, he was just this animal in the kitchen. Yeah, they’re all covered in burns and slash marks from knives.
On whether they’ve seen people behaving badly in restaurants:
Bradley: When I was a kid, I remember being at a seafood restaurant. The guy actually did it to me. I was a prep cook, and then he asked me what I put in the crab cakes. And I didn’t understand what he was saying because he really wanted me to say as many ingredients as possible so that he could say my crab cakes weren’t well-made because the more ingredients you put in them, the worse it is. And I thought, “What an asshole….” I didn’t really answer him, and then he just explained how smart he was about food.
Mario: That’s something about New York and London, I imagine.
Bradley: Although this was Somers Point, New Jersey.
The cast on the biggest challenges and joys while making the film:
Daniel: I was attracted by the film because I opened a restaurant of my own five years ago because my cooking skills are so bad…. What I learned is that we are very far away from getting a Michelin star….
Sienna: The biggest challenge for me was the scene where Bradley and I had that confrontation where he called me an “infection.” There was just something about the atmosphere on that day, and I think having worked together so intensely on “American Sniper,” we’d sort of got to a level of trust with each other as actors where we could just kind of get quite deep quite quickly.
It felt very intense, very real, and I think it just really affected the environment. One of those things was it was very cathartic and very interesting and very dark, but hard to go through that with your friend. And we had enough of a good relationship and enough of a good understanding with each other to be able to avoid each other for the rest of the day without having to apologize or explain why. But it was just a pretty real moment.
And then at the end of your day, you’re like, “Oh, that was a great day!” That’s the weird thing about being an actor, like the horrible stuff is what makes you feel good.
But the best part of it for me was the training and learning these skills and being around this incredible cast. We all became really close, and we laughed a lot. We worked in a kitchen. We were chefs. We really did it. And to have that experience of really living another profession is one of the most exciting things of our job, I think.
Bradley: I think the scene with Matthew Rhys [as Adam Jones’ nemesis, Reece] was probably the most shocking one…. It was late at night. We didn’t have much time, and the bag thing just sort of happened in one of the takes. [Bradley as Adam has a meltdown and puts a plastic bag over his face.] It just feels vulnerable when you’re doing something like that in front of 12 people that you don’t know at all – the chefs in Reece’s restaurant.
But ultimately, it was beautiful because Matthew Rhys who plays Reece was just incredible. We didn’t really know each other at all. The next thing you know, he’s caressing me and trying to calm me down. We’re bonded forever. As a matter of fact, I haven’t really seen him since. I look forward to seeing him tonight [at the premiere] because we looked at each other after. Why we both love doing what we do is to be able to put yourself in imaginary circumstances and hope that accidents like putting a bag on your head and realize you could kill yourself happen.
Bradley on whether he could relate to his character:
I did a tremendous amount of research, and being able to speak with people in that world. Then, just the script was fantastic. If I could relate to anything, the idea of trying to have a goal that you’re setting out to do, an obsession to do the best you can at that. I can definitely relate to that.
But I think more than any other character I’ve played, I saw how different I was from this guy because he lost the joy in what he did. And that’s a hell of a thing to lose because food is so joyful. And if you’ve lost joy in cooking then, wow, you’re lost. And that’s where he is for so much of the movie. Then, characters like Helene [Sienna’s character] really sort of reinject him with that thing that he lost back in Paris….
Sienna on how she approached playing her character:
She’s a single mother. She’s doing her best. She’s passionate about cooking, but she’s juggling a lot of balls. And everything seems to be compromised at a certain point. I wanted it to be a very real person. I didn’t want to wear makeup or portray it in any inauthentic way, if possible, because the women that I’ve met that work in these kitchens – it’s a very male-dominated environment – they have to be really tough and strong. She’s got depth, and she’s got pain. I just resonated.
Bradley on the 60 or so oysters he had to shuck for one scene:
I have shucked oysters when I was a prep cook, and if you’re ever going to slice your hand, it’s shucking an oyster. I even said to [director] John Wells, I said, “Bro, if this goes south, you’d better find a lot of other stuff to shoot.”
Mario on how much Michelin stars really count:
You can have a lot of Yelp [reviews], and people are like, “Yeah, those are all your cousins, and we know it.” That doesn’t diminish the value of Yelp to a consumer who’s traveling around the world. But if you have 4 stars here or 3 stars in Michelin, it’s kind of like F-you to anybody who ever challenged you as a critic or a chef. You can say, “Look, whatever you think, here’s the paper of record that says really what matters to us.” So, it’s a really big part of our business.
On sense memory with regard to eating:
Sienna: For me, there’s something really comforting about my mum’s roast chicken.
Sam: Just a classic Sunday roast is always something that reminds you of home and comfort and being a child, I guess, which is lovely.
Bradley: The thing about food is if you throw out any food, I’ll tell you what the memory is. That’s the great thing about food. It really is true.
Mario: Sunday gravy.
Bradley: Oh, yeah, grandmother – pulling it out of the freezer and freezing my hand because it was so cold because we used to freeze the gravy for the week. She’d make it on Sunday. Then, we’d just stack the freezer with it.
Mario on what he eats when he goes home:
I like very simple things, and it’s almost always based on product as opposed to technique. So, a simple duck egg from the farm market over easy with a slice of fontina and, as it is in season right now, some shavings of white truffle.
Mario on the “rock star chef” phenomenon:
Well, when I became a chef in 1978 in New Brunswick, New Jersey at “Stuff Your Face Restaurant,” cooking was what you did after you got out of the army before you went to jail because it was a task that anybody could do. If you could peel potatoes, you could be a part of that world.
In the subsequent 30 years, as we’ve watched, food has become more than just something you ate on your way to the theater or after the game or between something in the opera. Food became the centerpiece. Whether because it’s entertaining to watch people cook or entertaining to go to their restaurants, we’ve elevated the players – whether it’s the winemaker or the chef or the bartender, the mixologist or whatever – they’ve all been elevated because it’s really fun and really relaxing to watch someone who really knows what they’re doing do it, even if you never intend to ever do it just like that.
Like porn – I’ll never do it like that but I’ll probably watch it again. [Laughter] The same thing with food, like the whole fascination with nutrition and satisfaction come together in one place. It’s a fascinating thing.
But I think that the next rock stars are going to be the farmers. Who allows chefs to be the greatest? It’s the one who produces that particular gem lettuce or that kind of oyster or this delicious kind of beef or this magnificent chicken that tastes so much better than all the chicken you ever tasted. Ant their ascendancy, I think, is imminent. That’s because we need to understand that we need to get back to our agriculture a little bit. And that heroism will be remunerated by paying them the proper amount to get a really good chicken.
Bradley on what gives him validation for his work:
Personally, having a good day’s work, I’d say, feeling like I’d given it my all. Being with people like the people up here and feeling that we actually created something together. That gives me great fulfillment.
On equal pay for women in film after someone congratulated Bradley on his recent stand on the issue:
Bradley: Thank you, but there’s nothing to really congratulate. If anybody is to be congratulated, it’s Sienna, who took a very huge stand [when she turned down a Broadway show because she would be paid significantly less than her male costar] – not to put you on the spot….
It’s a tricky thing to talk about money. I’m never aware of what anybody else gets unless you’re approached to give some of your money. To make movies, it’s getting harder and harder, and people are paying less and less. And people are always taking pay cuts. That’s my experience. So, the only time you ever find out about somebody else is if you have to divvy up the pie differently so someone will come on and do it. But you’re not aware of what other people are getting also, so why not just be transparent and say, “OK, here’s the pie. Let’s divvy it up, and let’s talk about it.”
Mario: Wage equality is unassailable just like marriage equality is unassailable. These are things that in 40 years, we’ll look back, and we’ll be like, “Wow, that’s just like not letting people on the bus.” So, inevitably, it’s going to happen.