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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Toast – being Nigel

When asked what attracted him to the role of Nigel, Freddie Highmore doesn't hesitate in showing his excitement for the subject matter and the chance to work with Helena Bonham Carter again – with whom he begin his acting career in Women Talking Dirty and starred with again in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

"I guess there were a couple of attractions," he says, smiling. "It's a new, fresh script, an idea that hasn't been done too much on film, with food driving it. It was also a chance to work with SJ. I met her before and she seemed wonderful – incredibly enthusiastic about it and then, of course, I would be working with Helena again who's brilliant."

Highmore's main concern was to make sure he did justice to Nigel's story as a teenager. He was grateful for Slater's support during production and for being given the opportunity to bring his own interpretation of Nigel to the screen based on the script and the book.

"I think Nigel's been brilliant in letting everyone get on with it and not coming in too much and saying: 'This isn't how it was.' There's always going to be a certain amount of personal interpretation that everyone brings to his character. It's great that he's allowed us to make it our own."

"The cooking was quite a big thing to work on. I wasn't, and I'm still not, a very good cook, so I had a few lessons with food stylist Katharine Tidy, who did all the food for Toast. Helena and I had a little cook off – almost replicating the lemon meringue scene in the film. We went round to her house and both made lemon meringues."

"I think Helena's was maybe better on average. I think my top was a little better because I had the easier job of doing rosettes rather than the sort of 'S' shape, baroque style, I think Helena had to work on. But her crust was better than mine. Mine ended up a bit like a muffin because it sort of shrunk too much at the side and it went over. But on balance it was a good old contest. And Nigel tasted it at the end. He said it brought back the memories."

"I think that's what fantastic about the film. Food does enable you to tap into memories that perhaps you had forgotten in the back of your mind. You know, I don't remember Cadbury's Smash or Angel Delight or other things that are mentioned in the book and the film, but I think definitely people who were alive at the time will see that, remember those foods and remember events in their own lives that have stemmed from that experience."

Working with Helena Bonham Carter enabled Highmore to switch from loving son as he played in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, to mortal enemies in Toast. "She's been a lovely mother," he laughs. "So it was funny to be pitted against her this time."

Did working with Nigel and the crew on Toast increase his interest in cooking? "Yeah, a bit," he shrugs. "What I have learned that I didn't realise before is that you can make certain foods in such little time. I mean, scones you can do in 20 minutes from the time you put out the ingredients until the time they come out of the oven.

"So, yeah, I guess it is something I could do. It's not something that needs the whole afternoon either. I mean, lemon meringue takes a little bit longer but apart from that, there are lots of things you can do that don't take up your time and can still be fun."

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