As people watch their careers turn into a downward spiral and feel as though they’re losing control of their existences, they often take extreme measures to regain command over their life trajectories. That’s certainly the case for actress Aimee Carrero’s character of Felicity in the new dark comedy-thriller, ‘The Menu.’
Felicity, who works as an assistant to an obnoxious, egotistical actor who’s no longer able to secure roles in high profile films, has developed the same sense of entitlement as her boss. With her mother being a big studio executive, she resents that she has to continue working for someone who doesn’t appreciate or respect her as he loses esteem in his career. Her determination to break free from his hold and regain her freedom serves as biting satire on the upper class’ endless sense of entitlement and privilege throughout the film.
‘The Menu’ was written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, and directed by Mark Mylod. The movie was produced by Oscar-winning writer-director, Adam McKay and his frequent collaborator, Will Ferrell.
Searchlight Pictures is distributing the film in theaters tomorrow, November 18. The feature’s official release comes after it had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10.
‘The Menu’ follows a couple, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), as they travel to a coastal island in the Pacific Northwest to eat at an exclusive restaurant, Hawthor. The establishment is run by the reclusive, globally celebrated Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), who has prepared a lavish tasting menu for select special guests.
Joining the couple are three young, already inebriated tech employees, Bryce (Rob Yang), Soren (Arturo Castro) and Dave (Mark St. Cyr); an older wealthy couple and repeat clients, Anne and Richard (Judith Light and Reed Birney); renowned restaurant critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) and her lavish magazine editor, Ted (Paul Adelstein); and the famous middle-aged movie star (John Leguizamo) and Felicity.
Hosted by the immaculately dressed front of house staff led by general Elsa (Hong Chau), the evening unfolds with increasing tension at each of the guest tables as secrets are revealed and unexpected courses are served. With wild and violent events occurring, Slowik’s motivation begins to rattle the diners as it becomes increasingly apparent that his elaborate menu is designed to catalyze to a shocking finale.
Carrero generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘The Menu’ during an exclusive interview over Zoom. Among other things, the actress discussed that she was in part drawn to play Felicity because she wanted to showcase the character’s complicity in accepting everything that occurs in her world of privilege, and doesn’t feel the need to question the injustices that are happening around her that don’t directly affect her. Carrero also mentioned that she enjoyed working with Leguizamo on the dark comedy, as they had a lot of conversations about the backstory between their characters.
The conversation began with Carrero explaining what inspired her to play Felicity in ‘The Menu,’ and how she became attached to the role. “I actually heard about the movie before I auditioned for it. I got the audition normally, through my agent via email. I was talking to my husband (actor Tim Rock) about it, and he said, ‘I think this has been going around,'” she revealed.
“So the script was actually on something called The Black List several years before it was made. So it already had a reputation as being a great script,” the actress added.
“I then read it and agreed” to audition for it,” Carrero continued. “So I sent over a tape through the regular channels. I then did a Zoom chemistry read with John Leguizamo.”
“What I liked about Felicity is the idea that we touch on in ‘The Menu’ – the characters’ complicity in their environment. All of the characters have access to privilege,” so they don’t question what’s going on around them, the actress noted.
“Felicity specifically was born on third base because she comes from a family that’s already in the business. What I liked about it was that she’s an assistant, but what the power dynamic really is is that the assistant has the power over the movie star,” Carrero also pointed out.
Further speaking about that power dynamic, between the assistant and movie star, the actress also noted that the duo play off of each other’s insecurities. The relationship between the two is a way of looking at the power dynamics between actors and their assistants, and it’s eventually revealed that the actress’ character has all of the power in her relationship with her employer, like Carrero just mentioned.
Felicity actually does have a lot of love for her employer, but she doesn’t respect him. The actress then delved into how she and Leguizamo approached playing off all that toxic behavior between actors and their assistants.
“I’ve known John’s work, and have been a really big fan of his, for many years. So when I got to do the chemistry read with him, I felt like I knew his voice, which was really helpful for me,” Carrero shared.
“So once we got started, we had a lot of conversations about the backstory and trying to fill in some of the blanks for ourselves. One of the things that I love about John, other than his immense talent and ability to be an incredible improviser is that he’s really relentless in his pursuit of making something great,” the actress divulged.
“Sometimes he’d call me at 11pm the night before shooting and come up with different bits. So it was really great, and like a master class,” Carrero revealed.
Further speaking about improvising, the actress added how she approached creating her own ideas on her portrayal of Felicity throughout the film’s production. “It was great. Mark Mylod, our director, and the writers, Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, who were also on set with us, which was so lucky for us, were very open to improvisation and having us feel very relaxed in the characters,” she shared.
“So we’d do many takes of every scene, and there would be a freebie at the end. Mark would come out when he knew that we had what was in the script locked in and say, ‘Let’s do a freebie.’ So we’d riff off of each other, which was really fun,” Carrero continued. “It felt really good to have some of our improv make the final cut of the film.”
Following up on her experience working with Mylod as ‘The Menu’s director, the actress added what her experience was like working with him to build her character’s arc throughout the production. “I’ve also been a really big fan of his for a long time. I followed his work on ‘Succession’ and ‘Game of Thrones,’ and he’s also done a lot of comedy before he made that pivot into drama. He then went into dark comedy and satire later,” she shared.
“He’s very collaborative. I think he likes the feeling of looseness on a set, as well as the feeling of realism of how people speak to each other; they speak over each other, which is how people would actually react in this type of situation,” Carrero added.
“So he was the dream director because he really valued everyone’s opinion. It really felt like a collaborative team effort,” the actress also noted.
Further speaking of the dark humor that Mylod includes in his projects, his latest movie combines humor and satire about the realities of the higher class and exclusive culture in a slightly heightened reality. Carrero further explained why she feels that that satire was so vital to include this type of story
“This is what I like to watch as an audience member. I think that it’s important that art is a reflection in what’s happening in our society. I think it’s a bonus when art also gets to be entertaining and funny, and holds up a mirror to the issues of the day,” the actress continued.
“So I love that what we’re seeing in this political climate is an inspection into how we consume things as a society. So as far as that satire and dark humor goes, that’s exactly what I want to be doing, so starring in this movie was a dream come true,” Carrero admitted.
“As far as the tone, it was hard to hit, but you have to trust that the director really knows what he’s doing,” the actress also revealed. “So when we did the various takes, he’d say, ‘Let’s go all out on this one,’ or ‘Let’s pull it back,’ so that we would have options.
“I think the end result is really masterful, and we dance on that line of being really over the top. But we also wanted to be subtle enough so that people are like, what am I watching?,'” Carrero added.
Throughout ‘The Menu’s story, the evening unfolds with increasing tension at each of the guest tables has secrets are revealed as unexpected courses are served. Carrero then delved what the experience was like of working with the rest of the cast to build their characters’ relationships.
“What’s cool about the way we shot it is that we did it in order and shot it in sequence, which is really unusual for a film,” the actress divulged. “That was really helpful in getting to know one other, like the diners would over the course of the evening, so that we could get more comfortable with each other. Of course, as things happen, the facade of high class melts away,” the actress shared.
“It was fun for me because I was working with so many people that I’ve been a fan of for so long. So having that natural progression was really helpful because when we first walked in, (the characters were) really quiet and polite. But then it got rowdier as the film goes on, and that’s certainly what happened on set, too,” Carrero revealed.
“It kind of felt like summer camp because we were all together in one room for long periods of time. We all had a good time together,” the actress added.
Further speaking of the characters being all together in one location for the majority of the thriller, Carrero delved into what her experience was like of filming on location. “It was really close to my experience when I did stage. Obviously, we didn’t have an audience – we had a camera,” she noted.
“But being in one location for a long period of time is a challenge for any performer,” the actress admitted. “I would imagine that it’s the same for any filmmaker because you have to make the same room look interesting, light or foreboding, depending on where you are in the narrative.
“So for me, some of the days were pretty exhausting because you don’t leave. You’re in this one room to film everything, and sometimes we’d take a break to go outside, and we’d say, ‘Oh, the sun’s still out!,'” Carrero shared. “So it was a challenge in that regard.
“But I think so many of us in the cast have experience doing live theater, so that was the ultimate primer for this experience. You get used to the idea that you’re always on (camera) because with the way that Mark shot the film, you never really knew when you’re on camera or where it even was,” the actress revealed.
“So you get an authentic feeling of how people are interacting by filming that way. But at the same time, you have to be on all of the time, which can be exhausting,” Carrero admitted. “But ultimately, I think it was worth it because it really helps with the tone of the film.”
The unique camera that was utilized throughout the shoot not only influenced the cast’s emotional performances, but also their physicality. Carrero then shared what her experience was like of working on creating the physicality for her portrayal of Felicity.
“I’m sure no one’s going to notice, but I made this choice with Felicity that she’s a society girl and would know her etiquette, so she would never put her hands on the table. In the beginning, she was sitting straight up,” the actress revealed.
“It was then about 15 days into filming that things began to unravel in the script. So for the first two weeks, I had this back pain because I was sitting straight up and not having any support by not touching the table,” Carrero also divulged.
“But since the camera’s always on, since the film was shot like a play, you always had to be on. If you drop character for even a minute, you don’t know if you’re going to be seen in the background,” the actress pointed out.
“At least for me, I didn’t want to be the one who screwed up a take. So I always made sure that whenever I heard action, I was sitting up straight, which isn’t my natural physicality. So I had to have a few massages, but other than that, it was a cool education about always being present in the moment,” Carrero concluded.