La Cucina: An Alison Hebble/Zed B. Starkovich Film

La Cucina, starring Rachel Hunter, Christina Hendricks and Joaquim de Almeida and directed by Alison Hebble, deals with the relationship complexities of three different couples and how they cope with the reality of impending events.

Joaquim de Almeida with Christina Hendricks.

The interesting aspect of the film is its culinary focus. As each couple faces situations in their lives, from the beginning of romance, flirtation, crisis, the cuisine preparation, ranging from sloppy mess to exquisitely prepared, is an extension of the corresponding emotions and coping mechanisms. Each of the couples are facing degrees of life changes. Pregnancy and the hormone rage are explored as is the egg shell dance of new romance.  The film takes place in three separate kitchens of an apartment complex in Los Angeles.

Scenes from La Cucina.

Rachel Hunter, model, actress and former wife of rocker Rod Stewart, stars in the film as the outwardly together lesbian whom all seek out for suggestions, advice and comfort and is secretly facing her own relationship implosion.

Scenes from La Cucina: Rachel Hunter and Leisha Hailey star.

Christina Hendricks, of Mad Men fame, plays the title character and was paired with Mr. Almeida as they explore the complexities of a relationship that centers on age difference. The two work very well off each other and the dialogue feels genuine.

Scenes from La Cucina: Joaquim de Almeida and Christina Hendricks.

Joaquim de Almeida, with his Latin American allure and smoldering good looks is a constant choice for sexy deceiving lover. He emits heat and is the man of a thousand characters from the deceptive villains in Clear and Present Danger and Desperados to his upcoming release, The Burning Plain, opposite Kim Basinger. His face is very well known and, while his name may not be, he has starred in over seventy films in the US and abroad. He was gracious enough to participate in a telephone interview three days before Christmas. He was forthcoming, revealing and very interesting. We spoke in depth about  this film, his life, his Actors Studio days, and his love of cooking. 

Joaquim de Almeida from Clear and Present Danger.

Janet Walker: “What are your memories from the film La Cucina?”
Joaquim de Almeida: “When I first got the script, obviously, every time I decide to do a film the first impression is the script. I thought A. W. Gryphon did a great job of writing the story. The dialogue was fluid and, even knowing that if I decided to do it we had to shoot like ten pages a day; I liked it. Plus it took place in three different kitchens in an apartment building. I’m a cook, I like to cook. At the moment, I’m in Europe at my house in Europe with my family and love cooking for my family, love cooking for friends. It always happens that the best conversations take place in the Kitchen.  Both my houses in the states and in Europe, of course, have open kitchens. It seems like half of  life takes place in the kitchen.    That’s one of the things I love about the film it reminded me so much, the story reminded me so much about what goes on in my own houses.”

Christina Hendricks from the NBC hit TV Show, Mad Men.

Janet Walker: “Tell me about the experience of working with Christina Hendricks from Mad Men.”
Joaquim de Almeida: “The thing is, when you have a script with such long dialogue you have to rely completely on the person you’re working opposite. There is nothing better than getting a great actress like Christina Hendricks. I didn’t know Christina at the time. We met a few days before just to talk about the script and we started working and we worked for like twelve hours, ten pages a day, and it was very good experience. I think Christina is very talented and she shows it now in the show she’s doing at the moment. I also think the great thing about La Cucina is that I loved the rest of the cast, Leisha Hailey, Rachel Hunter, and everybody else. I thought, for me, it was a great experience.”

From the cult classic Desperados.

Janet Walker: “How different is the preparation process for lover as in La Cucina as opposed to villain?”
Joaquim de Almeida: “Well, the preparation process? It is so much closer for me to play this kind of character as to play a villain. Villain’s are fun to play. For me, it was the long dialogue in a language that is not my original language.  So, I had to work a lot on that and in this film I did work a bit with Christina for an afternoon before we went to shoot but we just ran with the directors, Alison and Zed. Basically, what I loved about the script, and in other characters I played, like with Kim Basinger in The Burning Plain, which is the same kind film, interrelationship with a love interest. What I loved about both films is the dialogue was fluid, you understand it well, you could understand exactly what he was saying, you didn’t have to fight the words, which is very important for the actor. Even though at some times, if I had a problem Alison would allow me to change it.”

A smoldering close up of Joaquim de Almeida.

“Honestly, Janet, the process here was a little strange because my mother died just the day before I started shooting. I got the call that she had died and there was no way I could come back [to Portugal] for the funeral because the film would have been delayed and other issues.  I started the film the day after and asked that no one mention it because I didn’t want to talk about it. I had to deal with that, I had to deal with it and do a romantic comedy, having in mind my mother died the day before. So, it’s hard to talk about because in a way, a lot of what I prepared went down the drain, because I had to deal with this emotional thing and I had to use it. I could tell you I prepared for this or that but everything fell the day before and I had to deal and do my best and I think using all of the emotions ended up working for me.”

Jaoquim de Almeida in Desperados.

Janet Walker: “I was told you are a gourmet chef and that you have a restaurant.” 
Joaquim de Almeida: “I had a restaurant. I sold it three years ago. I had it for seven years.”

Janet Walker: “Did you study Classic Culinary Arts or any type of Culinary Education?”
Joaquim de Almeida: “No, I left home at a very early age and started traveling all over Europe before  I landed in New York at nineteen. I started acting to make a living so I got work like everyone else in restaurant. When I left home, my father wasn’t so, even though I came from a family that had their own business and money. All my brothers had gone to take classes and he wasn’t so sure [about the acting] and I left home and started to work in the  kitchen and I learned a lot when I worked in the kitchen of a hotel. When I got to New York I worked in kitchens and worked in restaurants and that’s why maybe I love restaurants. I decided at some point when I made money to open a restaurant with a partner.  Then, I decided it was too hard for me to have a restaurant and then after I had it for seven years and jumping back and forth from the states to Europe, which I do anyway, but I found out a restaurant isn’t that easy. It’s just love that I have for the culinary. I just think it’s great for your mind; and in a way it’s like Zen, instead of going to yoga you just prepare the food and cook and today in three days we are going to have Christmas and I am preparing a lot of the food and I have a big family, I’m number six of eight,  so you can imagine the amount of grand kids and it’s a big family. And it’s a lot of fun. Its Zen. I don’t do yoga; I do cooking.  Culinary, I think that’s the great thing about the film. Is that everybody’s cooking and going through whatever emotions they are going  and in the different apartments and I thought it was lovely.”

The face in over seventy films.

Janet Walker: “I understand you studied at The Actors Studio. Describe those days.”
Joaquim de Almeida: “When I first arrived in New York, I spoke many languages but English wasn’t my strongest one so I went to Columbia University to study English. For six hours a day because I wanted to make sure, I could study, because in Europe I had heard about Lee Strasburg and I wanted to study with him. After one year at The Lee Strasburg Theater Institute I began working with him and then I worked with him for four years. Then, I auditioned for The Actors Studio and things went well and then I was very lucky to have people like Nicolas Ray, one of the great directors, he directed Rebel Without a Cause, Bigger Than Life, Hot Blood , a great American director. He gave me a scholarship to NYU.”

“I studied script interpretation with Stella Adler. I was lucky all those big people, the great teachers were still alive. I guess it worked because seventy movies later I’m still here. I love living between Europe and the States. I keep jumping back and forth, and January 11, I’m back in LA again with the pilot season and have some projects there. It helps to speak different languages and jump from one country to another. Instead of waiting in LA for the next project.”

On the red carpet.

Janet Walker: “I’ve read that you’ve worked throughout the world in film and stage. Do you find you’re more recognized or well known in one part of the world as opposed to another?”

Joaquim de Almeida: “Well, you know, a lot of the films I’ve done, let's see, I’ve done twenty films in Spain, I’ve done about fifteen in Portugal,  I’ve done a few in France, quite a few in Italy, and then I’ve shot all over the world. But the films that really travel and travel the most are the American films. People recognize me all over for a bunch of American films, studio films, because they’re well traveled. Desperados became a cult film, Clear and Present Danger with Harrison Ford. The films that I play the bad guy I’m recognized a lot. But in Europe I’m recognized for the things I’ve shot locally. Unfortunately, the Spanish films, the Portuguese and French films don’t travel as much as the American films. It’s great to be in TV, when I did 24, it traveled all over the world. A lot of other TV shows travel all over the world. I’m happy to travel, to work, to do films, anywhere where there is a good script in any language that I can master. I hope Japan will be good and Alison has another script that she wrote this time for a Portuguese and I hope we are lucky enough to put it on. To be able to do it and be happy to be on the stage working.”

One the red carpet and spokesperson.

Janet Walker: “What are the rewards, other than financial, about working on stage or film and which brings you the most satisfaction and why?”

Joaquim de Almeida: “Well, I did stage. I haven’t done stage in a long time. Stage was my way, like everybody else, some love the stage and some love the film. I used the stage to get to film. I always wanted to do film, I always thought I would that’s what I enjoy doing. That’s what I wanted to do. I like to do a scene and finish it in the next day and do another one. And the process of film making, I love it. The theater, I cannot separate when I do plays. Because I get up in the morning and the play is at night I spend the day preparing and the only free time I have, in my head, is when I am done with the play and leave the theater. And then I have to live at night because the moment I get up in the morning my head is on the play and what’s going to happen that night. So, I am really a film actor. I love doing films, I love the process and I enjoy so much more doing film. I understand a lot of people, I have to admit when I see my friends in a play or when I see a good play, I think twice if I shouldn’t go back to the stage but I don’t know. I’ve been lucky not to be too long without work so I really don’t have a lot of time to think about it.”

Scenes from The Burning Plain with Kim Basinger.

La Cucina is available on DVD. The release date for The Burning Plain, also starring Kim Basinger, Charlize Theron, is slated for later this month.

Photos, where noted, courtesy of Anthem Pictures.

Interview arranged through Sharon Kahn and Kahn Media Strategies, Inc.

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