Culture Street

Richard C. Morais is the editor of Barron's Penta. An American raised in Switzerland, Morais was stationed in London for eighteen years, where he was Forbes's European bureau chief. He now lives in New York and is the author of The Hundred-Foot Journey and Buddhaland Brooklyn. The Hundred Foot Journey has been adapted for the screen starring Helen Mirren in the lead role of Madame Mallory.

Have you been involved in the adaptation of your book for the screen?
RCM: Hollywood, when they option your book, basically are purchasing the rights to change and adapt your book as they see fit, without your input. But, in this case, the fantastic producer Juliet Blake kept me informed every step of the way, very unusual for such situations, and because of her I was able to make a few suggestions that were “thrown into the pot” – such as considering Om Puri as Papa, or hiring Chef Floyd Cardoz as the film’s food consultant.

Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey named your book one of their 'Favourite Summer Reads' in 2010. Is this when they began to show interest in a film adaptation?
RCM: Oprah Winfrey’s magazine, O, named the book as a favourite summer read in 2010, but I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, whether that happened before Juliet Blake got Harpo and DreamWorks involved, or after. But the book certainly was on Oprah’s radar at that point.

Director Lasse Hallström has previously directed French foodie film Chocolat. Did you feel your book was in good hands?
RCM: Although I wrote the book for my late friend, the film producer Ismail Merchant, in the back of my head, I kept on thinking, ‘Lasse Hallstrom would be the perfect director.’ His film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is to me the best movie of the 1990s. I was not let down. While the plot is slightly different, the spirit of the book and the spirit of the characters have been perfectly captured by Lasse on the big screen.

Madame Mallory is played by Dame Helen Mirren. Is she how you imagined Madame Mallory when you wrote the book?
RCM: My wife and I visited the film set in France last October. We were in the producer’s tent, talking to Oprah, when I heard this voice. I stopped and looked around, because it was the exact voice of Madame Mallory that I have had in my head for 15 years. The audio readings of my book never captured that voice as I imagined it. But here it was. Well, I looked up and found, on the small monitor of what was being shot that day, I saw Helen Mirren saying lines as Madame Mallory, and she was perfectly channelling my character’s essence. It was quite a moving experience for me.

What is it about food and culture that continues to fascinates us?
RCM: Food is a wonderful way, for brave souls, to travel into a foreign land and a different way of doing things – much like books can transport us into exotic new worlds far from our personal heritage.

Have you seen the film?
RCM: I have. You’re in for a treat. It starts quiet and slowly builds to a deeply satisfying and touching finale. It’s a really lovely film and I am very proud of what this incredible roster of Hollywood talent has created out of my little book.

The Hundred Foot Journey is released in cinemas across Australia on 14 August.

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