The NS Interview: Rosamund Pike, actor

“Ignorance mixed with politics is a dangerous combination”

Is it true that you didn't have a TV when you were growing up?
We didn't have one. We certainly didn't have a video player.

Why did you want to act?
I saw a lot of operas from backstage and watched a lot of rehearsals -- my parents were singers. It was seeing all the drama, close up.

Is there a character in literature that you would like to play?
I'd like to do Nicole Diver in F Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night, if that ever gets made.

Did you worry about being typecast after playing a Bond girl in Die Another Day?
That character was so different from me -- probably the furthest from me of any character I have played. I was a shaggy student coming out of a gap year. At the time of being cast, I couldn't have looked less like Miranda Frost. I had never even seen a Bond film.

What does film mean to you?
It's like food for me, it's brain food. My appetites are eclectic. My body is pretty good at telling me what I want to eat and my brain is pretty good at telling me what I want to see.

You wear ageing make-up in your new film, Barney's Version. Was it disconcerting?
I felt quite vulnerable. Paul [Giamatti] and I became very close because you feel like you have known someone for longer than you really have, in the life of a film. I saw him old and said: "Oh, I remember when we were young!" It is a very curious thing -- you bank these memories and don't remember that they are not real.

Does acting often play tricks with your memory?
It's happened to me before. I saw a film in which someone comes into a room and sees two people cuddled up on the sofa and feels outside of the situation. I thought, "I remember feeling that" -- and then I remembered it was a character I had played that had felt it. But it had been mixed with my own memories.

How do you shed the identity of a character?
I enjoy the blur. I had an interesting experience when I was preparing for this film. I went around Italy with my dialect coach and spoke in an American accent the whole time and was treated as if I were American. In restaurants, people expected us to be a bit more philistine. I felt bad for Americans.

Are you a political person?
No. When I did a film in Israel, I tried to get inside Israeli politics and understand what is going on -- but I didn't know how to form an opinion that was my own and was authentic.

What about British politics?
My best friend's husband is George Osborne's right-hand man. I do ask him about it: I am interested. But I am also terribly ignorant.

Do you wish you were more engaged?
I long for the day when there are things I feel strongly about politically. I know when I loathe something - when I am in America and I turn on the television, I hate the news reporting. Everyone has an opinion; there is no neutrality. It's scary how ignorance is mixed with politics. It is such a dangerous combination.

Do you vote?
I do but, again, not with any great conviction.

What, for you, would be success?
Freedom. Success is freedom -- scripts coming your way and getting to choose the stories you want to tell. Glenda Jackson is one of my icons; she seemed to have a rather irreverent attitude towards the business.

Do you often feel that sense of freedom?
I got snowed in over Christmas and it was like being in a sanctuary. I look back on that period with such joy. I was cut off. I had a payphone but no car. No one could get hold of me. It was heaven. I don't know how people cope with the amount that's demanded of us when it comes to communication.

What concerns you about those demands?
What must it be like to be the president of the US? Who is texting him? Who is emailing him? Can you imagine what is coming in? I worry about that. Freedom comes at a price.

Is there anything you would like to forget?
No way! If there is ever a movie of my life, it will probably be rather like Barney's Version -- some successes, some disasters. Everything is going into the pot.

Is there a plan?
Now there is. I am getting to understand the business. Before, I was grateful for any job that came along. Our business is not all about luck.

Are we all doomed?
You are a miserable paper, aren't you? But yes, sooner or later, earth is going to bite back. People will tear each other apart, and there are the nuclear bombs. All these things terrify me.

Defining Moments

1979 Born in London
1990 Enters Badminton School, Bristol
1996 Plays Juliet in National Youth Theatre production of Romeo and Juliet
1997 Begins studying English literature at Wadham College, Oxford
2002 Stars as Miranda Frost in the James Bond film Die Another Day
2005 Plays Jane in Pride and Prejudice
2009 Cast in Lone Scherfig's An Education
2010 Appears in Barney's Version

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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The secret anti-capitalist history of McDonald’s

As a new film focuses on the real founder of McDonald’s, his grandson reveals the unlikely story behind his family’s long-lost restaurant.

One afternoon in about the year 1988, an 11-year-old boy was eating at McDonald’s with his family in the city of Manchester, New Hampshire. During the meal, he noticed a plaque on the wall bearing a man’s face and declaring him the founder of McDonald’s. These plaques were prevalent in McDonald’s restaurants across the US at the time. The face – gleaming with pride – belonged to Ray Kroc, a businessman and former travelling salesman long hailed as the creator of the fast food franchise.

Flickr/Phillip Pessar

But this wasn’t the man the young boy munching on fries expected to see. That man was in the restaurant alongside him. “I looked at my grandfather and said, ‘But I thought you were the founder?’” he recalls. “And that’s when, in the late Eighties, early Nineties, my grandfather went back on the [McDonald’s] Corporation to set the history straight.”

Jason McDonald French, now a 40-year-old registered nurse with four children, is the grandson of Dick McDonald – the real founder of McDonald’s. When he turned to his grandfather as a confused child all those years ago, he spurred him on to correct decades of misinformation about the mysterious McDonald’s history. A story now being brought to mainstream attention by a new film, The Founder.


Jason McDonald French

“They [McDonald’s Corporation] seemed to forget where the name actually did come from,” says McDonald French, speaking on the phone from his home just outside Springfield, Massachusetts.

His grandfather Dick was one half of the McDonald brothers, an entrepreneurial duo of restaurateurs who started out with a standard drive-in hotdog stand in California, 1937.

Dick's father, an Irish immigrant, worked in a shoe factory in New Hampshire. He and his brother made their success from scratch. They founded a unique burger restaurant in San Bernardino, around 50 miles east of where they had been flogging hotdogs. It would become the first McDonald’s restaurant.

Most takeout restaurants back then were drive-ins, where you would park, order food from your car, and wait for a “carhop” server to bring you your meal on a plate, with cutlery. The McDonald brothers noticed that this was a slow, disorganised process with pointless costly overheads.

So they invented fast food.

***

In 1948, they built what came to be known as the “speedy system” for a fast food kitchen from scratch. Dick was the inventor out of the two brothers - as well as the bespoke kitchen design, he came up with both the iconic giant yellow “M” and its nickname, the “Golden Arches”.

“My grandfather was an innovator, a man ahead of his time,” McDonald French tells me. “For someone who was [only] high school-educated to come up with the ideas and have the foresight to see where the food service business was going, is pretty remarkable.”


The McDonald brothers with a milkshake machine.

McDonald French is still amazed at his grandfather’s contraptions. “He was inventing machines to do this automated system, just off-the-cuff,” he recalls. “They were using heat lamps to keep food warm beforehand, before anyone had ever thought of such a thing. They customised their grills to whip the grease away to cook the burgers more efficiently. It was six-feet-long, which was just unheard of.”

Dick even custom-made ketchup and mustard dispensers – like metal fireplace bellows – to speed up the process of garnishing each burger. The brothers’ system, which also cut out waiting staff and the cost of buying and washing crockery and cutlery, brought customers hamburgers from grill to counter in 30 seconds.


The McDonald brothers as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

McDonald French recounts a story of the McDonald brothers working late into the night, drafting and redrafting a blueprint for the perfect speedy kitchen in chalk on their tennis court for hours. By 3am, when they finally had it all mapped out, they went to bed – deciding to put it all to paper the next day. The dry, desert climate of San Bernardino meant it hadn’t rained in months.

 “And, of course, it rained that night in San Bernardino – washed it all away. And they had to redo it all over again,” chuckles McDonald French.

In another hiccup when starting out, a swarm of flies attracted by the light descended on an evening event they put on to drum up interest in their restaurant, driving customers away.


An original McDonald's restaurant, as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

***

These turned out to be the least of their setbacks. As depicted in painful detail in John Lee Hancock’s film, Ray Kroc – then a milkshake machine salesman – took interest in their restaurant after they purchased six of his “multi-mixers”. It was then that the three men drew up a fateful contract. This signed Kroc as the franchising agent for McDonald’s, who was tasked with rolling out other McDonald’s restaurants (the McDonalds already had a handful of restaurants in their franchise). 

Kroc soon became frustrated at having little influence. He was bound by the McDonalds’ inflexibility and stubborn standards (they wouldn’t allow him to cut costs by purchasing powdered milkshake, for example). The film also suggests he was fed up with the lack of money he was making from the deal. In the end, he wriggled his way around the contract by setting up the property company “McDonald’s Corporation” and buying up the land on which the franchises were built.


Ray Kroc, as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

Kroc ended up buying McDonald’s in 1961, for $2.7m. He gave the brothers $1m each and agreeing to an annual royalty of half a per cent, which the McDonald family says they never received.

“My father told us about the handshake deal [for a stake in the company] and how Kroc had gone back on his word. That was very upsetting to my grandfather, and he never publicly spoke about it,” McDonald French says. “It’s probably billions of dollars. But if my grandfather was never upset about it enough to go after the Corporation, why would we?”

They lost the rights to their own name, and had to rebrand their original restaurant “The Big M”. It was soon put out of business by a McDonald’s that sprang up close by.


An original McDonald restaurant in Arizona. Photo: Flickr/George

Soon after that meal when the 11-year-old Jason saw Kroc smiling down from the plaque for the first time, he learned the true story of what had happened to his grandfather. “It’s upsetting to hear that your family member was kind of duped,” he says. “But my grandfather always had a great respect for the McDonald’s Corporation as a whole. He never badmouthed the Corporation publicly, because he just wasn’t that type of man.”

Today, McDonalds' corporate website acknowledges the McDonalds brothers as the founders of the original restaurant, and credits Kroc with expanding the franchise. The McDonald’s Corporation was not involved with the making of The Founder, which outlines this story. I have contacted it for a response to this story, but it does not wish to comment.

***

Dick McDonald’s principles jar with the modern connotations of McDonald’s – now a garish symbol of global capitalism. The film shows Dick’s attention to the quality of the food, and commitment to ethics. In one scene, he refuses a lucrative deal to advertise Coca Cola in stores. “It’s a concept that goes beyond our core beliefs,” he rants. “It’s distasteful . . . crass commercialism.”

Kroc, enraged, curses going into business with “a beatnik”.


Photo: The Founder

Dick’s grandson agrees that McDonald’s has strayed from his family’s values. He talks of his grandfather’s generosity and desire to share his wealth – the McDonald brothers gave their restaurant to its employees, and when Dick returned to New Hampshire after the sale, he used some of the money to buy new Cadillacs with air conditioning for his old friends back home.

“[McDonald’s] is definitely a symbol of capitalism, and it definitely sometimes has a negative connotation in society,” McDonald French says. “If it was still under what my grandfather had started, I imagine it would be more like In'N'Out Burger [a fast food chain in the US known for its ethical standards] is now, where they pay their employees very well, where they stick to the simple menu and the quality.”

He adds: “I don’t think it would’ve ever blossomed into this, doing salads and everything else. It would’ve stayed simple, had quality products that were great all the time.

“I believe that he [my grandfather] wasn’t too unhappy that he wasn’t involved with it anymore.”


The McDonald’s Museum, Ray Kroc’s first franchised restaurant in the chain. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Despite his history, Dick still took his children and grandchildren to eat at McDonald’s together – “all the time” – as does Jason McDonald French with his own children now. He’s a cheeseburger enthusiast, while his seven-year-old youngest child loves the chicken nuggets. But there was always a supersize elephant in the room.

“My grandfather never really spoke of Ray Kroc,” he says. “That was always kind of a touchy subject. It wasn’t until years later that my father told us about how Kroc was not a very nice man. And it was the only one time I ever remember my grandfather talking about Kroc, when he said: ‘Boy, that guy really got me.’”

The Founder is in UK cinemas from today.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.