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Bringing Richard Morais’ Novel The Hundred-Foot Journey to Life

We attended the interview as a guest of Disney

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

A hundred-foot journey begins that moment when you bravely drop what is familiar and cross over into a new realm that is far out of your comfort zone. It is a profound journey, however small in physical distance, that materially changes the course of your life for the better. ~ Richard C Morais

These words could easily describe Juliet Blake’s journey that began six years ago when she read, Richard Morais’ novel, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” for the first time. At the time Blake was an executive with National Geographic Channel and though she has produced hundreds of episodes for TV and won awards as a Producer, this was her first film endeavor.

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

We spoke with Juliet Blake and Director Lasse Hallström about how they brought this novel to life and learned it all started after Blake fell in love with the story and as she puts it “it’s wonderful landscape and the notion of how food brings people together at its heart”. She set about turning the book into a movie and began by meeting with the author and securing the film rights, which in her words “was an expensive process” because it took her own option money plus three years of legal fees before anything happened. Says Blake, “I had no idea that I would be sharing film credits with Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey and that Lasse Hallström would be directing this film. I mean the whole way this has happened has been really a magical experience.”

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

As Blake tells it, though she initially took it to a young executive at DreamWorks who also loved the book, DreamWorks initially passed, saying if she could get interest in the project she should bring it back. So Blake then considered Harpo specifically thinking Oprah could make it one of her magazine’s summer reading books… and Oprah did and then came on board as a Co-Producer and together they went back to DreamWorks. Even then however it was still not certain.

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

But, as they say timing is everything and as it so happens, this time the timing was perfect because DreamWorks was looking for “passion projects” and one of its development executives, Kira Goldberg had this one in mind as her personal “passion project”. Thank you Kira.

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

Blake already had Mirren and Puri in mind for their parts upon first reading the book. “I had always loved Om Puri as an actor I knew that they both had this extraordinary range. I didn’t want to have a very obvious Indian actor opposite Helen. I wanted to go for somebody that had the best acting chops rather than somebody who had a particular look. So for me, I always felt that those were the two. And I couldn’t wait to see them together.”

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

When it came time to select a Screenwriter, Blake knew she wanted an English writer “because they understand the Indian immigrant experience and the first part of the book is about the family coming to England and a third of the book is the family being in England and having a terrible experience. And so Steve (Steven Knight) and I had grown up 125 miles away from each other. We all grew up with Indian pockets around us and used to eat curries every Sunday night, so that was a part of me.”

As for landing Academy Award nominated Director, Lasse Hallström, whose films include “Chocolat”, “My Life as a Dog”, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, and “Cider House Rules” Juliet says, “bringing Lasse on was a dream come true.”

100FootJourney53cea4aa5a970

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

Though “The Hundred-Foot Journey” deals with some very dark moments and serious issues, the movie manages to maintain a lightness and about this Hallström draws a comparison to his film Chocolat saying for him a big consideration in the project was how to make it different at least visually. Ultimately though he says, “I’m fascinated by the character in the stories and the mix of the dramatic and comedic really because that’s life for me. I’m so interested in real life and trying to observe behavior in real life.” He adds “I am so convinced that going smaller with expressions, going more real and toned down with performances brings you in as an audience and I think the responses so far have proven that it’s the right direction to go with a comedy. That you want to make it as real as you possibly can despite the fact that it has sort of a fairytale feel to it.” Blake adds, “I don’t think other Directors would have quite managed to get the balance right.”

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

And it’s this combination that resonates. A beautiful fairytale like scenery with people whom you can empathize with and feel you know, who can be ridiculous, as real people are, and still make you laugh, and whom ultimately you really pull for.

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

In bringing these characters to life one of the things we learned in talking with the cast was that Hallström gives his actors great latitude in how they play their scenes. Blake echoed this citing his “one more for fun” practice once he had the shot. Of this says Hallström, “I think most of the scenes and the dialogue opened up possibilities for ad-libbing and adding last minute ideas from the actors from me from whomever had a good idea so I wanted to keep it loose and improvisational… to make it come alive on screen.”

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

Hallström’s magic works. You can imagine stepping into the movie and though it’s dark in places, you somehow still want to.

You can step into The Hundred-Foot Journey yourself beginning August 8. Rated PG.

Dana Wilde grew up playing “sous chef” for her father as he churned out one amazing meal after the next for family and friends. She inherited her father’s life long passion for cooking and has spent the past two decades studying, reading, practicing, experimenting, and creating in the kitchen. Together, she and her sister, Shan are Simply Wilde, a small boutique catering business focusing on in-home entertaining.
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