Mark Mylod Reveals A 'Chef's Table' Assist For 'The Menu' & Discusses 'Succession' Season 4 [Interview]

He’s an Emmy winner. He’s a DGA Award winner. And, now, it looks like director Mark Mylod is having a big screen comeback with “The Menu.” Twenty years after his initial forway into film directing, the completely different Sacha Baron Cohen comedy “Ali G Indahouse.”

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Of course, Mylod is best known for his contributions to “Succession,” arguably the best show on television (at the moment). But his latest effort, a comedic thriller set in a mysterious destination restaurant, is another example of his talents when it comes to juggling multiple genres. Starring Ralph Fiennes as a stern Chef, Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot, a woman who has no idea what she’s gotten into and an ensemble cast including Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau as Chef’s loyal and harsh no. 2, Janet McTeer, and John Leguizamo, among others, it’s a cavalcade of seemingly comedic twists and turns, until it’s not.

Over the course of our interview, Mylod does a deep dive into working the food world into the film’s story, the assist he received from the creator of “Chef’s Table,” his own relation to upscale cuisine, and the pressures of bringing the fourth season of “Succession” to life. Oh, and all without giving away any significant spoilers for a movie full of them.


The Playlist: This script was on The Black List, it comes your way. What about it appealed to you?

Mark Mylod: First of all, I thought it was absolutely incredible. And secondly, the fact that it was so damn frightening in terms of there were so many ways to not do it justice, and that was terrifying in the best way. The combination of two specific things. How specific the tone was. What I call the triangle, I suppose, of that thriller and comedic element and social comment of satire in there just felt like it had to be just right so that, hopefully, it would not be preachy. It would be a great ride. But my dream was the audience would go away having had a really fun time, and then maybe go and have a burger and a pint and talk about it. And those conversations might be about 10 different things. Then maybe they’d latch onto that, to the anthropological, the folly of ego, the 1%, the emptiness of consumerism, or just the food. The gorgeousness of the food. And there were so many takeaways and so many different forms of emphasis. For me, it felt like a really rich brew and that was incredibly enticing. And then the craft element of delivering that Hawthorne restaurant in a way that felt wholly authentic was a really lovely, scary challenge. That was a long old ride, which started with finding Ethan Tobman, our great production designer. And then, in trying to reflect that world as the old adage of, “Find the right people.”

The Menu

We sent the script to Dominique Crenn, this incredible chef who runs Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. Dominique was the first woman chef in America, and I think still is, to have three Michelin stars. She loved the script, loved the kind of tongue-in-cheek element of it, and she came on board to help us design and present the menu and actually just work with her team. One of her business partners ran this two-week Bootcamp, I suppose you’d call it, on set with all our cooks, all of whom were recruited directly from the industry to make sure that everybody at every stage of the movie was doing exactly the correct thing for preparing the next course. So, there was a very specific authenticity to everything they were doing. That was a huge help. Obviously, with that, we were able to shoot the film almost entirely chronologically so we could really drill everybody for every stage of the evening meal.

Let’s talk about the food for a second. In the script, did it specifically say, “This is the dish that’s being served at this point”? Or was it more nebulous? And when Dominque came on board as the chef, did you guys have to make changes because it just maybe didn’t work or maybe you thought such and such a dish make more sense thematically?

Will Tracy, one of the writers along with Seth [Reiss], was, because the writing of the script, I think, was somewhat kind of cathartic for him and kind of weaning him off [being a foodie]. But yeah, I think 90% of the menu elements were already there for work-time research and writing with Seth. What Dominique bought to it specifically was “Maybe if we did this it would be more aesthetic. The palette would be better. The textures here would be better. The three-dimensional sculpture would be better if we tried this.” So there were influences. One day, Man’s Folly was completely created by Dominique, but mostly it was a lovely collaboration of basically enhancing what we already had on the page.

Is Will no longer a foodie?

Yeah, I don’t want to speak for him too much. But yeah, in an early conversation there was an element of, he’d been on this kind of foodie quest and there was an element of writing the script that was, “O.K., let’s put that obsession to bed for a while.”

In the context of making the film, all those cooks are actually real sous-chefs or chefs that you guys recruited?

They are actors who also have experience [in this field]. And some of them almost entirely. Obviously, in Savannah, Georgia, there isn’t yet a massive food industry. So people wear different hats, don’t they? According to it’s what’s in town at that time.

Was there a difficulty in having to shoot, and waiting to get the food done? Did that affect the production schedule more than you thought?

Back in a previous life, I used to shoot a lot of commercials and some of those would involve food. And having been in that world, I was pretty well versed in what to expect. And we worked very carefully with our whole food team led by Kendall [Gensler], our [main chef] and food stylist, , particularly with my assistant director team, that we would schedule things very specifically so that the hero plates would be ready at quite a specific time. Yes, it was huge for production and we wanted the food to look so good. It was really important to actually build certain elements of the day around those moments. But Kendall made that really easy for me because my natural inclination is performance, performance, performance. And yet I knew I needed this food porn. In fact, to be honest, I got into the cut and I was starting to get to the point where I thought, “O.K., we’re getting the balance right here.” But I really felt, even with the stuff that we’d done that we still just weren’t quite nailing it with those food elements. So we called David Gelb, of course, who created “Chef’s Table,” and created this whole beautifully incredible and vibrant way of shooting food. And he had a gap in his schedule. So, we went out to LA and shot 4, 5, 6, maybe very specific food shots.


The way that they would approach the food. It seems so incredibly simple that they went, “O.K., the light is there, the food just goes there.” Bam! And they’ve done it. And then out of that comes this extraordinary image that’s so burst with life and color. I was just really watching, probably one of the best food photographers on the planet work was really, that was amazing and kind of humbling. I went back to the edit and dropped these shots in and then watched it with Chris, the editor, with this stupid smile creeping on my face. Talk about punching above your weight. There was maybe, I don’t know, 40 seconds of screen time in there of the entire movie. But the difference it made in terms of just finding the right kind of…like the soufflé really rose in that moment. It was fantastic.

Out of all the dishes, first of all, what was your favorite, and I know you’re getting asked this by every person who’s interviewing, but there’s no way that the cast ate all that food during filmming. What happened to all the food?

There was a lot of foraging going on. I’m quite proud of this, because on a food film, you’d expect there to be so much waste, but there genuinely wasn’t. We’re using expensive ingredients, but Kendall was so forensic about what we’d need and when we’d need it, there was actually very little waste. So, I don’t carry a kind of heavy heart around that. If I’m really honest, I came into the production not really knowing a massive lot about the [food world], just being fascinated by it. And back when I was working on “Game of Thrones,” for instance, whenever I was in Europe, I’d always hit up David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], the writers, for some expensive restaurant on expenses hopefully. And they were always obviously delightful and hilarious company. But I always felt really awkward. I was the Margot in the restaurant, so I’d always feel intimidated by it. So, I was never going to be the one that was going to all, “Can I please taste that caviar?” That was never me. When there’s chocolate or fries involved, I’m a lot more at home, to be honest. I’ve come at it with this massive respect for the humans that work in that industry for the incredible work ethic, the obsession, and just that relentlessness of having to deliver such an incredibly ever-evolving high-quality piece of art night after night on mass, 50 weeks a year. At least in my industry, you get to say “wrap” and go home and have a pint.

Without giving spoilers away, was there one sequence or scene that you can talk about that you were most concerned about pulling off?

One was the kind of collection of scenes, and that was really actually from a technical point of view, not probably the easiest actually, which were the two-handers between Anya and Ralph. And not because they were difficult, it was just because for me, that was the nucleus of the film for me. The competence. They’re in conflict and yet there’s this deep connection between them, which is obviously a paradox. And so I needed the chemistry between the two actors to work to any emotional connection to the film because they’re kind of twin protagonists. They’re coming at it from very different points of view, opposing points of view. And yet, both are persuasive on a certain level and both needed to be kind of beguiling. Margot’s character, Anya, is so much the eyes of the audience. And Chef is this artist in pain and with a very different take on humanity. So, in a certain sense, it was a darkness versus light element to their two-hander scenes. So, I went into the first of those very trepidatious and to see it come to life with the pair of them and to build a connection between them was a huge relief, because I needed a real connection for the audience and for me as an audience member to latch onto emotionally. And they gave me that and built on that throughout the film. And that was massively satisfying to watch those two actors evolve that.

When we were talking in the spring you said you worked more traditionally with this cast than how when you were shooting “Succession.” Was that harder for you? Did you feel constrained in a way that you couldn’t just sort let the actors go free?

There’s this very specific grammar to the way we shoot “Succession,” which is the camera’s barely trying to keep up. So, that requires a kind of looseness and a very subtle shaping. But actually, even though the camera structure was, for the most part, more kind of classically cinematic somewhat on “The Menu.” There was an episode, in fact, where Will Tracy, the co-writer and I first met and worked together, was on a season two episode of “Succession” called “Tern Haven,” which was effectively one large dinner party. And apart from the fact that Will and I absolutely loved working together and made a great team, which was a key reason why we teamed up for “The Menu.” I did what turned out to be a kind of dress run. And the way that I worked, particularly with the sound team and the actors is we basically mic’d everybody. And one sound mixer would cover with the mixing deck, the scripted dialogue. The other one would be getting everything else, all this other stuff that the table would be offering. So I extended this. It’s basically an homage to Robert Altman, who worked like this all the time and specifically on “Gosford Park,” which was a big touchstone for me in the making of “The Menu.”


And I was very clear with the cast that I wanted to work this way so that everybody would be on set every day the whole time, along with all the cooking staff, the camera, there would never be a, “This is your close up moment.” The cameras would always be looking and finding and reacting. And the sound team working with two sound mixers would always be isolating and finding, so that if you have a moment of inspiration or an extended, I’ll never say “cut.” It would just to keep going. And we would have those moments which we could sprinkle in. And the kind of modus operandi. When you sat down all day in a restaurant, cause so much is in that restaurant, there was a danger of the kind of mid-morning slump. And I wanted to keep them alive creatively and to reflect this heightened sense of privilege that these characters feel. And so, when they’re on all the time, that translates into a lovely sense of buoyancy to whether it be fear or joy or just a sense of their own status, that these characters were really alive for me. And knowing that I would be there and if there was something happening to them, we would find it. And some great moments of improv came out of that. Some of the biggest laughs actually in the film, despite the brilliance of the script, actually came from lovely inspirational improv moments in the cast there.

That sounds like it deserves at some point a post-release interview so you can spoil what those were. So we don’t give it away now, but I have two last questions for you. This first is, you know, you hadn’t made a movie in a while, you’ve been very busy with Succession.” Has this made you want to try and work in more film work now? And is there anything that you’re talking about or is there room in your schedule to do another film anytime soon?

Well, for me, that without being disparaging about any past work, because everything’s a stepping stone. I got to work on “Game of Thrones” because David and Dan, the writers, had seen the pilot of the British “Shameless” I’d done whic on the surface, you know, you think couldn’t be more different. But everything is a stepping stone. But I certainly did make a conscious decision about 10 years ago to try to do things that were more frightening to me, more challenging. And that particularly applied to moving more towards drama and specifically towards staying away from features until I got something I could really get my teeth into. And this was it, really. This beautiful script that arrived and was so challenging, but also something that I felt that I could really deliver on and played into my directorial strengths, if there are any. And going forward, yes, I want to do it again. It was such a happy, creative process and I’m proud of the results. So I do want to move forward, of course. And yes, I am reading and developing projects, nothing that I would go public with yet, but yeah, that’s my ambition now. The lovely thing is now television drama and cinema, you can run them together in a way that used to be that big division between the two worlds, isn’t there? And that seems to have melted in a good way.

That ties into my last question. I think you’re still working on the current season of “Succession” and you might be shooting in LA or you were shooting in LA a little bit this season. Is there anything you can tease? And also, after all the success and winning the Emmy for Best Drama Series again, how do you guys deal with the pressure to top yourselves? I would be petrified. How do you not let that get you down?

The answer to that is you don’t. [Laughs.] I’m absolutely beside myself with paranoia every season, and so is Jesse [Armstrong]. There’s become a standing joke when season one was reasonably well received. It was, “Oh man, how do we do that again?” We’re both really proud of where we got to the finale there. And then season two, “Oh my god, it’s done really well. How do we do season three?” And then, “Oh God.” And so the level of the kind of weight that you feel going to season four, which we’re shooting at the moment. I don’t know how to compartmentalize that. I’m sure much more successful people than me are good at it. I’m not. I feel a real burden. I certainly did going into shooting, but we’re a good chunky way into production now and I’m starting to spend more time in post production, getting the [cut] together. And I’m not going to give you any spoilers, but I’m really proud of where we’re at. I feel that burden of thinking, “Have we reached the bar of where we got to at the end of season three?” I feel really good about where we are and to the point where I’m really excited for audiences to see it when it comes out.

“The Menu” opens nationwide on Friday