Several years ago, Dev Patel burst into Hollywood with the movie Slumdog Millionaire. The London-based performer was also a part of Skins, a teen drama that aired in E4 for several seasons. But despite the recognition his projects got, Patel was always placed in the backseat. Over the years that followed, he had to work hard to build a career in Hollywood.
Now in his new film feature, Lion, critics are finally seeing Dev Patel in a new light. He has picked up nominations for Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes and another for the same category at the upcoming BAFTA Awards.
In the movie Lion, Dev Patel plays Saroo, the real-life boy who got lost in India after being separated from his mother at just 5 years old. Patel shares the screen with child actor Sunny Pawar and Academy Award–winning actress Nicole Kidman. He recently sat down with The Guardian to discuss his experience while filming, diversity in Hollywood, as well as his future projects. Here are the highlights.
Dev Patel: “There should not be any limitation to playing my culture”
The Guardian: Congratulations on your Golden Globe nomination for Lion. Is Saroo the most demanding role you’ve played?
Dev Patel: I’m 26 and, like most actors my age, hungry to show emotional range. This role enabled me to play a character suffering real pain, a change from the scripts that want you as a funny sidekick. It took eight months to prepare. I wanted to commit every fiber of my being to getting it right. I had to bulk up, grow my hair, learn the accent. At my last audition, where I met the director, Garth Davis, I’d been in The Man Who Knew Infinity and was skinny, with a buzzcut. I had to get myself a personal trainer and started eating like a glutton, downing the protein shakes.
The Guardian: You used to worry that the roles on offer for you were limited. Do you still?
Dev Patel: Yes and no. There should not be any limitation to playing my culture. I’m a British Asian, it is part of the fabric of who I am. My grandparents are from India and Nairobi. So what I’m trying to say is that Lion and Marigold and The Man Who Knew Infinity are completely different. Journalists sometimes label them as “Indian guys” as if this were an umbrella term.
The Guardian: What have you learned from working with great actors such as Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Nicole Kidman? And what do they have in common?
Dev Patel: They have a curiosity about life, a sense of humor and emotional reserve. I never went to acting school. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from great directors and my co-stars. Acting is about honesty. When I began, I was trying to squeeze as much emotion out of roles as I could and get big laughs. Now it’s about doing less, cutting away the fat.
The Guardian: Do you ever feel your life is a dream?
Dev Patel: All the time. I’m just this guy from Rayners Lane, how the hell did this happen? I’ve a friend, Sam, who tells me a story about perspective: think about living even two doors down from where you started – imagine how drastically different your life would have been. I’m lucky to have incredible parents. It takes a lot to let your son go at 16 to chase his dream. I’m excited to be bringing them to LA for the first time to stay in my new house.
Next up for Dev Patel is another Australian film by director Anthony Maras entitled Hotel Mumbai. It will center around the terrorist attacks in Mumbai back in 2008. He is also writing screenplays based in Hindu culture to create more diversity in Hollywood.