Impact of Ideas

How a two-minute tactic from a TED Talk helped Manish Dayal crystallize his character in The Hundred-Foot Journey

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May
Manish Dayal (center) plays a young chef, Hassan, in "The Hundred-Foot Journey." Here, a scene for which he likely power-posed. With co-stars Om Puri, who plays his father, and Helen Mirren, who plays the owner of a fancy French restaurant. Photo: Courtesy of Dreamworks

Manish Dayal (center) plays a young chef, Hassan, in The Hundred-Foot Journey. Here, a scene for which he likely power-posed—with Om Puri, who plays his father, and Helen Mirren, who plays the owner of a fancy French restaurant. Photo: Courtesy of Dreamworks

In The Hundred-Foot Journey, a young chef named Hassan transcends the kitchen of his family’s boisterous Indian restaurant, charms the icy proprietress of the Michelin-starred French restaurant across the street, and tries his hand at becoming a top chef in Paris. The story unfolds over the course of years, and actor Manish Dayal came up with an intriguing way to show his character’s fluctuations in mindset and confidence over time: he power posed.

Power posing is a concept that Dayal lifted from Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk, “Your body language shapes who you are.” In the talk, Cuddy—a social psychologist—reveals how holding a body position associated with power for two minutes is enough to, essentially, trick the mind into feeling confident. Cuddy suggests you use this tactic before a public-speaking engagement or a job interview, but when Dayal saw the talk, he thought of another application: to help with his acting. He says that power posing helped him nail the role of Hassan, his biggest so far.

Juliet Blake produced The Hundred-Foot Journey, alongside Oprah and Steven Spielberg. And because she is also TED’s Curator for Special Projects, she was amused to see her two worlds collide on the set of the movie. “Manish arrived on set one morning having watched Amy Cuddy’s talk on power poses and was excited about putting her ideas to work,” she remembers. “I was so totally thrilled.”

When Blake shared this story with the TED Blog, we asked her to set us up with an interview with Dayal. Below, an edited transcript of the conversation.

What were the biggest challenges in playing Hassan?

One really interesting thing for me was learning about kitchen etiquette, and the differences between an Indian kitchen and a French one. They’re different in atmosphere, and also in how chefs maneuver within them. In an Indian kitchen, the focus is on getting the job or dish done right in whatever way possible; however, in a French kitchen there’s a clear hierarchy, and a chef has to know where their skills are and not go beyond them. But the biggest challenge for me was definitely the large span of time in the film. The film begins with Hassan as a young, carefree boy, and over the course of the film he grows to become an adult with major responsibilities. Being able to show that development involves an understanding of aging, of how speech and maturity evolve over a lifetime. My character’s stance and body language moves around throughout the film. Hopefully, Hassan’s body language shows where he is in the story. Power poses helped me show that evolution.

So how did you discover Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk?

I was surfing the TED app on my phone when we were on set. I ended up watching several talks, including Amy Cuddy’s. When she said, “I’m not supposed to be here,” it resonated. That explains Hassan’s experience in Paris, at the height of his success.

What is your power pose of choice?

The one with your arms above the head. How can you ignore that?

Did power posing help with any specific scenes?

In one scene when my character is in Paris, he is promoted to head chef in the Baleine Grise restaurant. In a moment, he goes from being junior chef to chef-de-cuisine. I wanted Hassan’s physicality to expand in a similar way to how a potential job candidate’s would when awarded the position they’d been after. I power posed during filming to get a taller stance and a proud look.

Have any other TED Talks had a lasting impact on how you go about your everyday life?

I really took to Shekhar Kapur’s talk about creativity and storytelling. I would suggest that one to anyone who is interested in filmmaking or writing. I also love J.J. Abrams’ “The mystery box.” It’s all about the power of the unseen, about how not knowing can be hugely powerful. Abrams says that the imagination can be stronger than what’s tangible—that mystery is more important than knowledge. I like that. That idea has had a big impact on me because it’s ultimately what fuels my passion for film. I want to be a creative thinker, and this TED Talk looks at what it means to “dream it up,” if you will. Nothing is cooler than the idea of an infinite possibility.

The Hundred-Foot Journey opens in the U.S. on Friday, August 8th. Follow the film on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Manish Dayal (near left) and Juliet Blake (near right) at the premiere of The Hundred-Foot Journey in New York last night. With (from left to right): director Lasse Hallstrom, Charlotte Le Bon, Steven Spielberg, Helen Mirren, Om Puri, and Oprah Winfrey. Photo: Courtesy of Juliet Blake

Manish Dayal (near left) and Juliet Blake (near right) at the premiere of The Hundred-Foot Journey in New York last night. With (from left to right): director Lasse Hallstrom, Charlotte Le Bon, Steven Spielberg, Helen Mirren, Om Puri, and Oprah Winfrey. Photo: Courtesy of Juliet Blake