He admits feeling “undeserving” of the fame that came with the box office hit Slumdog Millionaire in 2009. And he sometimes feels like a fish out of water in Hollywood.
Dev Patel, who came to fame with his gala performance in Slumdog Millionaire said in a recent interview that: “I am ambitious but I hope my work can do the talking and I can go out without having massive, burly bodyguards like Kim Kardashian. That must be hard. What actors try to do is portray authentic humanity. Living a life through all these filters, like having a big team of protection, makes your job as an actor harder. People find it hard to relate to you.”
Dev found his fame as the big money-winning orphan in Slumdog overwhelming at first. “We were all so young. It was a blessing but part of me always felt undeserving, like I hadn’t put in the time or something,” he recalled. “I wouldn’t call myself a movie star. It’s too frazzling for me, that kind of twilight level or whatever. I want to be recognised for doing good work – but I like being able to live a life.”
After Slumdog, he turned down dozens of unsuitable roles and became worried about finding work. He said: “You’ve got to keep the lights on, pay the rent. There have been times when I looked out and there wasn’t a sea of roles. I wasn’t working. I had just stepped off this red carpet, surrounded by all these amazing actors and Oscar winners – and there was nothing.”
But work did come with movies such as the fantasy adventure Last Airbender in 2010 and comedy drama The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in 2012. In Lion, a true life story, Dev plays adopted Australian Saroo Brierley who went on a mission to find his real Indian family.
He revealed he had to fight hard to convince the director, Garth Davies, he should get the lead in Lion: “I had to jump through a lot of hoops. After the last audition, Garth was like, ‘I want you to really change’. It was the look, growing the beard and the hair. I went to the gym, had a dialect coach. Then I went to India and I travelled the trains. I wrote diaries, visited orphanages. It was a process of trying to create genuine memories we could key into the scenes. I wanted to commit every fibre of my being to getting this right. The script demands it and Saroo deserves it.”
Dev was also concerned about getting his Aussie accent right following jibes about his Anglo-Indian voice for the part of hotel manager Sonny Kapoor in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: “I got a bit of flak for that – but that character is a comedic creation, so he’s an amalgam of loads of weird uncles of mine and this person and that person.”
Best Marigold proved to be another hit.
But despite the years of critical praise, Dev said still does not feel part of the Tinseltown establishment: “I do gravitate towards the idea of a fish out of the water, I can relate to that. At school, I was never really popular and I always felt like a bit of an outsider looking in at times.”
He certainly never expected to become an A-list star and gives thanks to his mum Anita for his first big break. Anita, a carer for the elderly, made him skip school to audition for his role as Anwar in the Channel 4 teen drama series Skins. “While going to work on the train she saw an advert in a newspaper for an open casting call for a TV show,” he said. “She tore it out and didn’t tell me until the day before. Then she said, ‘By the way, we’re bunking school tomorrow. I’m going to take you to this thing’.
“It was for Skins. We turned up and queued outside the National Youth Theatre in London. There were all these drama students doing vocal warm ups and I’m in my uniform and with my mum. That’s how I got into it. I’d always wanted to do it but where I came from it felt like a very indulgent kind of dream. “I never went to a drama school or some kind of esteemedwhy this movie Lion is important to me. It’s a mother and son story and my mum is so pivotal in whatever success I have.”