photos by Yoni Goldberg
Manish Dayal is having a moment. And since this is our annual Sexy Issue, it’s a sexy moment. One involves making an omelette with Helen Mirren in this month’s, The Hundred-Foot Journey. The film adaptation of the bestseller is about an Indian family that opens a restaurant across from a renowned bistro in the South of France. The cross-cultural culinary tale, directed by Lasse Hallström (Chocolat), promises a breakout role for Manish (he’s already been labeled as one of the fresh-faced heartthrobs of summer). Naturally, we had to find out what it was like for this South Carolina native to be handpicked by a couple of Hollywood heavy hitters…and how he managed to mix fine cuisine with Crossfit.
When Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg are attached as producers of a film you’re in, what goes through your mind?
When Steven Spielberg and Oprah hired me, the first thing that went through my mind was, this has gotta be a mistake. Then reality kicked in, and I was just ready to get started and dive in. You don’t always get the opportunity to work with visionaries, let alone your childhood hero, so the pressure was on to contribute to this movie in the best way. I wanted to deliver the goods, bring authenticity to this story, and make them proud for believing in me and this film.
Thematically though, The Hundred-Foot Journey has a specific point of view, and its clear to me why both Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey were drawn to this story. It is about a very unique young man who has a real thirst to understand life and his higher purpose. It is a coming of age story that goes beyond racial and cultural limitations, and I think it will inspire people to welcome life’s uncertainty and destiny…Journey stands for the things we go through in life – in order to achieve greatness or the extraordinary, we have to go a certain distance and risk something to achieve it.
How does a South Carolina boy (like you) find himself acting opposite an Oscar winner?
I’m asking myself the same question. I was the kid who always believed in the most improbable scenario. It’s tough to fully understand my own journey because I think I’m still in the middle of it, but I can speak to how it started. I grew up in a small town in South Carolina. It was an unusual place to grow up, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for different one because it kept me hungry. Opportunities were limited there, and I ended up renting movies at Blockbuster Video every other day. I wanted to learn more, and film pumped my imagination. I didn’t know how to break into this business though. There were some pivotal people early on, like my mother, who encouraged me to take film classes. I wanted to work behind the camera maybe as a director/producer, which I still want to do one day. While I was studying, I got an opportunity to be in front of the camera, and it was an awesome experience because even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I had fun, and I instinctually understood it. After that, I was hooked.
Hundred-Foot started with a voiceover audition for a DreamWorks animation project. I met with DreamWorks’ casting director, Leslee Feldman, and then the same night I got a call asking me to read for another DreamWorks project. I was not given the name of the film, the story, or any character details; I did a few scenes from a film that had already been made as a sample. I didn’t know what I was auditioning for, but knew it was important. A few days later I got another call to say Steven Spielberg watched my tape and was excited about it – That was the “holy shit” moment.
Over the next four months, I was called back into DreamWorks for more meetings. Eventually I learned I was up for the film…I’m told my tapes then went to Oprah Winfrey and Juliet Blake. I met [the director] Lasse Hallström over lunch in New York, and the next day I got a call saying, “Steven Spielberg wants to hire you.” Then a couple months later I’m splitting a ham sandwich with Helen Mirren in France. It is some crazy stuff.
How many mouthwatering moments did you experience on set? (We get hungry every time we watch the trailer)
Too many to count, but in the opening night scene of the Maison Mumbai, there were a hundred different Indian dishes to feast on. In Paris, when my character reaches the height of his success as the chef de cuisine of a top Parisian restaurant, we are taken on a different ride with the food. This restaurant serves molecular cuisine and it’s very different than what you see in the early part of the film – we cooked with liquid nitrogen and centrifuges. There are four main kitchens in the movie, and their food ultimately connects the elements of film.
Besides a full stomach, what did you take away from your experience shooting in France?
The French language. I thought I was good before, but once I got to France, I was able work on it and get around the city.
And just how did you manage to keep your body in check while surrounded by all that food? Any calorie-burning tips?
The food was out of control in France and on set. I ran almost every day before or after the shoot. I also did a lot of body weight strength training. I had to get creative working out with no equipment. I needed to drop some weight for the India portion of the shoot so I did some Crossfit workouts leading up to it.
Finish this sentence: A man who knows his way around a kitchen….?
…better know how to use it wisely. Stan Lee said it best: with great power, comes great responsibility.
What or who do you consider “sexy”?
Aside from frying eggs in slow motion with Helen Mirren, I’d say frying eggs in slow motion with my girl.
photographer YONI GOLDBERG www.yonigoldbergstudio.com
stylist TAYLOR SHERIDAN www.taylorstylist.com
groomer MELISSA DEZARATE at EXCUSIVE ARTISTS using KEVIN MURPHY
Production Bello Media Group | Words by Hiko Mitsuzuka