Fuse is celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future Asian and Pacific History before our eyes. Today we are honoring Dev Patel, whose dashing personality and keen acting skills are helping to push the limits of what it means to be a British-Indian actor in Hollywood.
Of course we all know Patel as the toxic, hard partying Anwar Kharral in teen drama Skins and from his breakout role as Jamal Malik in 2008's Slumdog Millionaire. But he has progressed even more as an established actor that the industry and movie fans have fallen hard for. Patel later went on to star in 2010's The Last Airbender, the comedy-drama The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel alongside big names Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton, its sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and 2015's political sci-fi film Chappie.
With a few bumps and struggles along the way (the movie adaptation of The Last Airbender wasn't his finest work), Patel fine-tuned his strategies towards acting while simultaneously growing into an admirable and dapper young man. This journey led to his strongest work to date in last November's Lion. Directed by Garth Davis, the movie follows Saroo's (Patel) search for his long-lost Australian family, who adopted him at age five. It is based on a true story, and also stars Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman.
Along with the role helping to push Patel's limits as an actor, it was also a test for him to depict a genuine Indian character—something that isn't seen enough on Hollywood. There were no stereotypes or cheesy film tropes. The role was pure and ended up changing both his professional and personal life. Speaking with The National last week, Patel said:
"I think what it does is it pushes you out of your comfort zone and you’re colliding with people you’ve never met before and it broadens your perspective of the world and makes you a more conscious human being, a more sensitive human being. Even just meeting the actual family, I met Kumla, who is Saroo’s Indian mother. I don’t speak Hindi, so we don’t share the same language but we sat there and held hands for awhile while her and Priyanka [Bose], the woman playing her on the screen spoke, and we just cried together at one point and moments like that, they really instil you with a determination. Same with Sue [Brierly, Saroo’s adopted mother, played by Kidman], she is a beautiful, beautiful soul. Just going around the world and listening to her talk, she’s special."
And yes, he's well aware that his Indian accent isn't the greatest, but he is always working on it:
"Actually my worst Indian accent was Slumdog. I worked really hard on it and we finished it and then I get a call from Danny so many months later, I’ve been in London and he’s like ‘we can’t hear a single thing. There’s cows mooing, there’s rickshaws buzzing by, trains going by, we need to re-record it all’. So I went in and re-recorded North West London over all my work. And then Marigold [Best Exotic Marigold Hotel] I’ll defend. It’s a comedic creation. I’m hitting certain phrases harder for comedic effect. I have this amazing dialect coach ... he changed the way I sound in the last couple of films I’ve done. We worked on Infinity together and Hotel Mumbai. And they’re just real life stories that are a lot more grounded. So it has improved but it also has to do with the story and character."
Patel's role in Lion helped him land his first Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actor. But this is only the beginning! He's starring in the upcoming thriller Hotel Mumbai (which is also executive produced) and working on his own movie script. As he continues to blossom in Hollywood and help give other Indian actors a platform, Dev Patel will make strides in securing his spot in the future of Asian/Pacific American history.