Breaking the Mold: Dev Patel Spills His Guts On "Slumdog Millionaire"
By Cole Smithey
Director Danny Boyle has made a cross-cultural cinematic milestone that plays with the edgy energy of "Trainspotting," albeit with considerable influence from its vibrant Mumbai (formerly Bombay) locations and talented cast. Based on a novel by Vikas Swarup, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy's terse script pedals between the set of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," a hugely popular Indian television game show, and the past life of 18-year-old "slumdog" orphan Jamal Malik (played to perfection by newcomer Dev Patel) as it informs his correct answers to multiple choice questions that have won him 10 million rupees so far. On the eve of Jamal's return to the show, where he will answer one last question that could double his winnings, the show's suspicious host Prem (Anil Kapoor) sends the boy to be interrogated by a local police inspector (Irrfan Khan - "The Namesake") to discover if and how the uneducated boy cheated. Flashbacks reveal Jamal's troubled childhood that saw his mother brutally murdered during a random attack against Muslims inside their impoverished ghetto. The vastly different trajectory of Jamal and his criminal brother Salim finds uncomfortable unity in the boys' mutual attraction for a girl named Latika.
I had the unique pleasure of interviewing the spirited Dev Patel in the Midtown Manhattan offices of Fox, where Dev's excitement at visiting New York for the first time was infectious to say the least. His guileless attitude and passion supports his impressive feature film debut. Dev Patel is the hottest newcomer of the year, and well on his way to an illustrious and varied acting career.
CS: How did you get the role of Jamal Malik?
DP: My mum saw an advert in the paper. It said, "New teen drama--no acting experience necessary." I was doing my GCSE exams at the time, and I'd always wanted to be an actor, but it's one of those things that you think you can never get into it. She took me down there and there was all these drama students doing their warm-ups outside and there was this long que. I'd just done my thing, and everyone started smiling and I got it within the second audition. From there, the casting director Gayle Stephens saw me for "Slumdog" and that was a much more grueling auditioning process. I went for a screen-test, and five or six auditions.
CS: You live in London, but what's your background?
DP: My parents are actually born in Nairobi, Kenya and then they moved to London at a young age. But my heritage is in India--so they call us British Asian because I was born and bred in London.
CS: What's it like being a leading actor in your feature film debut?
DP: Man, being plucked from a really minor character in a teen [television] show where he's not the most in-depth character in the world--to being put in the center of Mumbai with Danny Boyle and his great film crew--it kept on daunting on me. I had this recurring nightmare where if I'm bad the film's going to be bad. There was a lot of pressure, but it really made me grow up. I tell everyone that I matured five years in the space of five months being in India. It's a place where you can actually reflect. I had some time to reflect, and I did. I had this pressure on my shoulders that I've never had before but saying that, I'd never been passionate about anything in my life like I did in this film. I was so eager to impress Danny and the crew who had worked on wicked films. I was like I'm this kid from "Skins," I'm not going to mess up. I'm going to show people what I can really do.
CS: What was it like working with such well-respected actors as Anil Kapoor and Irfan Khan?
DP: Walking around with Anil is something else man. I didn't see that much of him. He was in his trailer for most of the time. On set, both Irfan and Anil have got this affinity with the camera. They've done so many films. It's great to watch them. I was in awe most of the time. Going into the scenes with them, they really set the atmosphere. I was like, "Yeah, I've got bring my A-game to this."
While sitting in the police station after my interrogation, and we're doing all those scenes where I'm handcuffed to the chair, Irrfan Khan is one of those guys who really sets the scene. He's barely not even acting when you look at him. It's all in the eyes. It's the subtlety that makes the performance. When you watch it on the screen, the smallest movements make such a big difference. I learned from that, because in "Skins" I wasn't subtle. That wasn't my thing. But I really learned that on this set.
I was still finding my confidence in front of the camera during "Skins." The most experience I'd had prior to that was doing school plays in front of my parents. There is an art to pitching your performance to the camera. When you've got a wide shot you can be louder, when you've got a small shot you've got to tone it down a bit. And I learned that on the set of "Slumdog Millionaire." I really learned how to do it.
CS: Had you watched many of Danny Boyle's movies before you auditioned for him?
DP: Of course. I was born and bred in London so Danny Boyle is big. I watched "Trainspotting" guerilla, sneaking out with my friends. It was the thing to watch at sleepovers and stuff. "Let's watch "28 Days Later" and get really scared shitless." I'm bad with horror movies and I decided to watch it again at 17 before I worked with Danny. I bought loads of DVDs of his films to watch the directors cut and all that. He's a big influential director all around the world, and it was a pleasure to work with him. I remember from my second audition I was sitting there with my mum and there was a good looking guy with his girlfriend. Then Danny opened the door and said, "Dev you're next." He has this aura about him. When I first met him and we'd done the first audition he was talking to me about the scene with so much passion it was almost eccentric. I was like, "This guy's a bit kooky actually." He was explaining this love scene to me, and he was doing this thing with his mouth and he was really feeling it and I could see him sweat and his eyes were welling up when he was talking. I'd never witnessed that before, and then being on set with him, you could call it eccentricity or you could call it passion. He's read the script and he knows it like the back of his hand and he's just so passionate about that it rubs off on you which really helps.
CS: How did you come to acting initially?
DP: I'm really energetic as you can see now I can't sit still. I was a classroom joker and my teachers were just having trouble keeping me entertained. I wasn't listening so my mum needed to focus my energy so she tried musical instruments--it didn't work. Then I got into martial arts and I'd done karate for a bit, then I'd done Tai Kwon Do and I've been doing that eight years. I found that was brilliant. I could express myself and I learned discipline. Then teachers were telling me, " You know you should try out for the school play because you're really funny and there's no lack of confidence." And I did. I went for this school play. I was 10-years-old and it was the big end-of-year production. It was Twelfth Night and there was a standing ovation afterwards and everyone came up to me and mum afterwards. "What acting school does he go to? He's great." And my mum's like, "No, no, no, he doesn't [go to acting school]. This is what he does." I won a best-actor award for that performance and that was the day I knew I want to do this. I want to be an actor. And then you don't pursue it because you don't know how to and then luckily, thanks to my mom pushing me, I stumbled upon it.
CS: What are some actors that inspire you?
DP: As a kid I used to stay up well past my bedtime watching "Enter the Dragon." So at first I was like, "Yeah, I wanna be that Bruce Lee. I'm going to be an action hero. And then, getting older, I went through this phase about Jim Carrey. He's such an over-the-top guy, the way he acts, but then you still manage to empathize with his characters. It's crazy because they're so un-naturalistic sometimes but he's amazing. Now I'm Leonardo DiCaprio's biggest fan. I love his films and the way he acts and the intensity about his performance. I'm a big fan of Will Smith as well because I met him in Lester Square. I was walking to meet some friends and it was the premiere of "Hancock" and I remember I needed to go to the toilet and I was like, "God no I'm going to meet Will Smith." So I had to hold it for like three hours just to shake his hand. I was so star-struck. I just like his personality and the way he comes across in interviews. He's cool.
CS: Your character plays against the intimidation of the game show host and the police interrogator. Did you know going into to those scenes how much you would have to play against those strong personalities that were really out to get you?
DP: I did know. Obviously Danny was always there. I was immersed in Mumbai--in the people and the atmosphere and the culture.
On "Skins" if I didn't agree with someone or something, I'd still do it because I was new and nervous. But in this film it was the first time I felt like I could talk and improvise on a character. It was like I was going to war in that game show. Watching the little kids with their big eyes, I knew that I was going to play it subtle and I was going to really use my eyes to generate this emotion and these feelings. I wanted there to be a contrast because I wanted my character to the be total opposite to the host of the show. From the way he's dressed to everything, Prem Kamar is out there and massive. I wanted to defeat him with subtlety. I was a soft-spoken kid who goes on to the game show. My character goes through all this shit to find this girl. He gets made a fool of on national TV. He gets interrogated and tortured by these officers. It's so endearing. He's a great character to play to play.
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I liked the the story of the film alot specially the romance of it ,the fighting for love and how the life could be the school that we can learn from it more than any another schools.
Posted by: alaa shareef | Jan 10, 2010 2:01:15 PM