Sienna Miller Learned a Secret About Fancy Restaurants While Filming Burnt

Photo: Alex Bailey/The Weinstein Company

To prepare for her role as sous-chef Helene in the new Bradley Cooper film Burnt, Sienna Miller did tons of tasty research. “I’m a huge foodie,” she said in a recent conversation with Vulture. “I could waste hours watching cooking programs, so this was not a difficult thing for me to want to explore!”  Since her character and Cooper’s labor at a British eatery gunning for a three-star review from Michelin, Miller got to watch and train at some of the greatest restaurants on Earth. “To have access like that was fascinating,” she said. “I learned things that I’d never really taken into account before, because at that level of dining, you’re supposed to be unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes.”

Such as?

“Well, if you’re in a Michelin-starred restaurant and you’re at a table where everybody’s ordered different things, the cooks have timed it so that everyone at that table will have their dishes ready at the same time,” said Miller, before adding the horrifying kicker: “But just before they’re about to come out from the kitchen with your food, if someone at your table stands up and goes to the bathroom for more than two minutes, then everybody’s plates have to be thrown away because you’ve affected the timing of the kitchen.”

What? All that incredible, expensive food … wasted? “I know!” Miller laughed. “You don’t take something like that into consideration when you’re in a restaurant.”

The chance to pull back the curtain on high-class food preparation wasn’t the only thing that appealed to Miller about playing Helene. “The compromise that she’s under in terms of balancing work and single motherhood, and the guilt that comes with that, was something that resonated with me,” she explained. "She’s in a male-dominated world, and she has to stand up for herself.” That goes double for a Hollywood actress like Miller, who recently praised Jennifer Lawrence for seeking pay equal to her male colleagues. “I think we’ve all undervalued ourselves for so long,” said Miller. “You think, Why am I walking into this rehearsal room feeling insignificant and insecure? And a lot of that comes from people saying you are not equal to the other person.”

At age 33, Miller’s no longer willing to stand for that. She says she recently turned down the chance to star in a high-profile New York play because her pay would be a mere fraction of her male co-star’s. “I imagine the conversations the producers had after I turned down that part were, ‘Who does she think she is?’ They probably thought I was being outrageous,” said Miller. “But ultimately, it wasn’t about the money. It was two people who were turning up to do the same job every day, and I think the quote was that I would not be paid within 100 miles of what they would pay him. That was just a really hard thing to stomach. It hurt enormously because it was something I wanted to do. And I do believe that if it were two men, they would be paid the same.”

At least Miller can now point to an enormous success like American Sniper, which first teamed her with Bradley Cooper and became last year’s highest-grossing movie. “I don’t think anyone could fathom that an R-rated drama could do business on the level of Harry Potter. It’s never happened before!” she said. “It was baffling, and really wonderful for the first time to be a part of something that resonated with people so deeply.” Has it caused Hollywood executives to reconsider an actress whose presence they sometimes considered decorative? “It’s not something where it’s like, ‘Wow, she did that, and now she’s immensely bankable,’” admitted Miller. “I don’t know that it’s had that kind of effect yet. But it is wonderful for the first time in my life to have those numbers behind me, and it’s really nice to be in something people enjoyed seeing. That’s the point.”