Everything about this movie gives me hope in the film industry. Dev Patel, the star of Danny Boyle’s new film Slumdog Millionaire, is a dream success story in the film and out. He managed to get randomly seen by Danny Boyle’s daughter on a TV show and then star his film. In the film, he fights the odds to win his dream. It’s every actors dream come true! Great role and a great opportunity! And not only that, but he does the job well. Without the audience being truly invested in his character the film would have sunk. But he has the heart and honesty to carry the entire film with the best of them.
Dev is probably as un-Hollywood as they come. Open and carefree he was more than willing to open up about his character, how he has gotten to where he is, and even some things he probably shouldn’t mention about the other actors.
Here is Dev Patel, soon to be Hollywood super-star (you just wait) on his upcoming film, Slumdog Millionaire opening in theaters November 14th.
***Update: Want to read what the cast of Slumdog Millionaire is up to now?***
- Dev Patel Replaces McCartney in ‘Airbender’ Role
- EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Freida Pinto Co-Star of Slumdog Millionaire
What was your first impression when you read the heavy emotions and experiences your character would have to go through?
It’s weird, because I remember before I went for the first audition, I caught a small snippet of the script, not the whole thing. It’s the scene with his brother, when they’re talking about destiny and she’s my soul mate and we’re made to be together, and I was like “what the hell!?” This guy’s 17 or 18 and he’s talking about that? And I looked at my sister I was like is this normal? Cause I like computer games. When I read the full thing, after the first 20 pages your just like “whoa.” It’s so endearing you just want to root for this guy, you know. And I was instantly drawn to his innocence. I thought that’s what I could do, that’s what I could bring to him. He’s a kid who’s 18, who has witnessed his mother die at a young age. Where as his brother gets tainted by his environment and enticed by gangs and the power you can get with guns and girls. This boy is still innocent. He lives in a dog eat dog environment, it’s survival of the fittest almost everyday, but he’s got this integrity to him. He takes all this shit from this game show host, he rips him to shreds in front of a live audience, the whole of India, he’s tortured and he doesn’t give up. He’s so endearing, so I thought, I can bring that to him.
How did you end up knowing about the film and auditioning for it?
I’d done this show in London called “Skins” and I was a big character in that. And Danny was having trouble casting the lead guy out in India because all the guys are really butch. They need to be able to take there tops off and get under waterfalls, and obviously that’s not me…I try. Yeah so he came back to London a bit deflated like, uh oh my films not gonna go through. And his daughter was watching TV, and my big gobs on screen and she’s like why don’t you give this guy a go? So I got myself on tape, I got a call from the casting director, cause I didn’t have an agent at the time cause I was really new to it all. And she goes Danny likes you and your going to have a meeting with him. I remember sitting in the spotlight and I hadn’t done many auditions before, so I bring my mom with me cause she’s my lucky charm. And there’s all these good looking dudes with designer stubble ‘n stuff, and I was sitting there with my mom, and was like “oh shit man, this ain’t gonna be good.” Then Danny opens the door and says “Dev your next,” and I was like “uhhhh,” and he’s so warm and such a nice person to be around.
What was it like meeting Danny for the first time?
When I first met him I thought he was really eccentric, when he started talking to me about the love scene, he was going (sighing), with feeling in his hands, and I was like “whoa.” I mean in “Skins” the directors weren’t on that level, and when I worked with him on set for 5 months or so, I realized it’s not eccentricity it’s passion for what he does, and he knows his script. He doesn’t storyboard or nothing, so the way he’s gotta articulate this for everyone on set has to be amazing. With a storyboard you can say look, the lights there, that’s the way it gonna be, but he has to describe the dance sequence that me and Freida were gonna have all these extras; there gonna look like this, and explain it to the actors, how were gonna be feeling and the whole backstory. He’s just great at that, especially in India when the sets so chaotic. Everything was new to me. I would hear a horn or a dog bark I would (jumps up) you know. He just engages you when he’s talking to you, it really helps.
Were you a fan of the “Who Want’s to Be a Millionaire” show?
I didn’t really watch it that much in London to be honest, I’m bad at general knowledge. I’m one of those guys that uses all their life lines on the first question, whittle it down to 50/50 and then get it wrong. It wasn’t my thing.
What was is like working with Anil Kapoor’s who is basically a legend in India?
I grew up around Bollywood films and stuff. I didn’t understand Hindi, but I used to watch all the films, they were really animated. And those big fight sequences I used to get into it, into the gist of it, then Anil came to me one day, I was late for the rehearsal and he walks into the hotel and says “hi I’m Anil,” and he has this hat, this camouflage on so no one would see him and I was like “woww!” It was funny, it was me and him, me in a room, a 17-year-old, [who] should be in school in Mumbai, with Anil Kapoor to my right, and Danny Boyle to my left.
Since Danny never storyboards, was there any room for improv?
With big actors like Irfan, Anil and Shruti Seth — these guys never bloody learned their lines, so they were like (catches himself) — hell I shouldn’t be saying this — but I mean they wouldn’t, and that’s the awesome thing! Especially with Irfan and Sahrub, there’s loads of stuff that has been cut out which is great cause they got this funny comedy duo thing. And even when I was getting beaten the shit out of by this guy — he’s got torpedo hands — Sahrub, actually manages to make like laugh while I’m crying in one take. The thing is they were fresh all the time, where as if your just saying lines, your saying lines. But these guys wouldn’t learn it and get the gist of what were saying, and maybe say this word in Hindi, or give me a clip around the ear, and it’d just be wicked, it was really creative. Anil Kapoor’s done 300-400 films, and he does so many a year, so he’s great. Even when he has to turn his back to the camera and take a leak, he does it in a stylized way so it looks cool, and for a new actor like me its brilliant to see this stuff.
Do you think this film will make you more recognizable in India?
I doubt it will tobe honest. Freida is recognizable because she’s beautiful, the outline of her character is that most beautiful woman in the world. But I’m just an average Joe with a big dream in the film, I’m nothing special, so don’t know if people will recognize me, (flips his ears) maybe the ears.
How old were you when you made this?
I was 17, I’m 18 now.
How familiar were you with Danny’s previous work?
Oh yeah man I grew up in London, so when I watched 28 Days Later it was the worst thing cause I live in London…. I get scared of that sorta shit, can you believe it? Even Batman as a kid, cause of my conscience. When I watched 28 Days Later, I couldn’t sleep, plus it was all happening in London, and I was like “god they could be….” He made it so real and I watched it too young as well.
Did you take anything from the other younger actors playing your role?
They’re awesome. Two of the kids, the guy that plays my brother at the youngest age and Freida are actually from the slums. The guy playing me is great, but he’s not from the slums. All the kids have this truth about them, cause they’re not lying. If they’re from the slums, they’re playing out of truth. It’s like watching a documentary. Like watching an animal in its real habitat. It’s gold, hanging around these kids. I’m great with kids, I love them, I’m a kid myself. So they all came to me all day, they couldn’t do my makeup or their makeup because we were playing tag all day. And it was great. Cause when they cast it, they didn’t go 100% on the looks, it was about our aura. And especially Ayush, the youngest guy playing me, we’re like firecrackers, were so energetic. So we were the same. And the only thing I got, especially from Rubina, the youngest Latika, was these eyes. She’s got these massive eyes, and they’re so pleading and they tell the truth no matter what. I was like Rubina are you hiding that lollipop behind you, and she’s like “no.” And you just see these big eyes. If I’m gonna make it half, even a quarter right to what these kids are doing, then I’m gonna have to tone down the whole melodrama and what I did in “Skins,” and do it with the eyes.
Was this your first trip to India?
I went when I was ten for a family wedding, but that was in Gujarat, which is like a village-y area where my family is.
When you went back and spent some more time there, what did you learn about the people?
They took me to the slums to get into character. When they were doing location scouts, I went to one slum called Tal Aviv, which has got a population of 2 million and still growing. Coming from London, I had this stupid preconceived notion, a stereotype of what a slum would be, sitting at home on my couch eating freakin’ popcorn, and then you see these health aid adverts on TV, you see this malnourished kid holding up an empty bottle of food and they’re depressed. The day I woke up to go on this location scout, I thought, damn it’s gonna be a bloody hard day, I’m gonna be depressed. And I was so glad to be proved wrong when I was there, that shaped my character. When they’re there, all you get is an overwhelming sense of community. They call them slums, but they are colonies. Everyone knows everyone and they’re all working together in unison, like one molecule, like on cell. I remember there was this kid walking down the slum, he had this vest on, licking an icelolly and it’s all dripping down his top and there’s a group of three burly men. And one guy saw the boy and picked him up, put him next to him, and pulled out a handkerchief, cleaned him up, and pushed him along back on his journey. And I was like wow. He didn’t know that kid. In London you can’t do that. Here they all look after each other.
How did you use that for your role in the film?
They don’t pity themselves. With my character, I thought, everything’s going wrong, I can’t find the girl, I’m getting tortured, I’m going commit suicide, I’m gonna cry. But I didn’t. When I went to the slums, I was like he’s not gonna pity himself now after seeing these people. If it’s raining and if you find a plastic bag you can cover up that hole in your roof. They’re opportunists. They’re soldiers. They’re normal really, like us. They’re parents, they just want to get their kids out of the slums and they just want to get food on he table every night. I didn’t want him to feel sorry for himself in the end of it, I just wanted him to pursue his dream, not really care about himself.
You were saying that your character find himself in a kind of a dog eat dog environment, but that’s kind of what you’ve found yourself in now that your in Hollywood.
I’m not well, yeah ummm….I’m not in Hollywood really, I’m nobody at the moment, but I don’t know, it’s been cool, I’ve got to go to Paramount and stuff like that. And there’s been a buzz around the film, and I worked my flippin’ butt off so it’s nice for people to be like that pretty nice mate, that’s pretty good.
Where do you live now?
In Harro with my parents still.
You really have to carry this movie, without your character there is no heart to the story. This being your first role, how did you tackle it?
It was crazy, cause how I got into “Skins” was cause my mom found an open audition and I’d just done school plays in front of parents prior to that. It was because I was so energetic in school. I was the class joker. I’d done the school play when I was 10, and I won the best actor of the year award in school. Everyone went up to my mom at the end of the play and said wow does he go to drama school? And my moms like “nope!” And I remember doing the rehearsal for that play and I took on every role, and everyone wanted to be in my group, I played the director and I played this character and that character and everyone loved being in my group. I knew from that day on I wanted to do it, but then its an industry where you don’t know how to get into it, it’s that thing of dreams. So when I got “Skins,” I was so excited that I didn’t know what I was doing. The first day on set, were sitting on the grass and where having a spliff, like this group of kids…
For American’s that’s a joint…
Yes, yes a joint, not a real one, obviously, the scene would’ve been a bit (spins around like he’s dizzy). It was a weird environment, people were touching me up and stuff. I didn’t like that, invading my private space, and all of a sudden someone said “speed,” and l was like “what’s that?” and then “rolling,” and I didn’t know what any of this was, and then someone said “action” and I was like “Ahhh! When I watch TV, I know when they say action I say my lines,” but my line had gone by then. And that was my experience. On “Skins” I was finding my feet. When I watch it back I cringe sometimes. But that was a part of my life, I was growing back then. And he wasn’t the most in depth character, he just wanted to get laid, just a horny guy. Then when I got this film, it was certainly different. I knew I did improve myself in “Skins,” my potential, I knew I could do a different side to my acting, something really subtle and intent in the eyes. So this was my chance and I got Danny Boyle as a mentor, so I was like “fuck it, lets do it.” So I really, really worked hard. I was so eager to impress him.
How much of you came through in the character?
I haven’t had any acting training, so when we’d do takes, I knew and even Danny knew, if I didn’t feel it inside, I would think this is scary, then I would be like Danny that was shit. He used to hate it sometimes, cause I was never happy, even when it was a good take. But he knew if I was acting as well, and I had to do it out of emotion, I had to go down, and he’s great at getting you to find that deep place, that parallel. So you can act these things.
Can you tell us about the dance scene at the end?
That’s crazy, I can’t dance right? I thought it was a metaphor. Danny came up to me one day and was like we’ve got a choreographer for you here, and were doing a dance, in the most packed station in the world. I literally started swearing and went crazy. Freida’s great. At the start of it, the choreographer, told us to “walk from one side of the room to the other clicking your fingers,” just to see how good we were. Freida busts out all the moves (he imitates) and then it was my turn, and I’m all reserved. And the choreographer looks at all his helpers, and he’s like “we’ve got out work cut out for us.” By the end of it I was proper into it. The hardest thing is we’d done that at 3 in the morning for three nights. I had injured my foot, it was like elephant foot. They had to cut my show open so it would fit in. The hardest thing is selling it with your face after that. You’ve got a whole station and everyone watching you, and you have to act like your having the time of your life doing these cheesy moves like In my mind I kept on saying the numbers like, sky, sky, sky, point, point…