Dev Patel (Lion)

by Elisa Leonelli December 20, 2016
Dev Patel

Dev Patel, 26, a British actor raised in London by immigrant Indian parents born in Kenya, was a regular in the TV series Skins (2006-2007) co-starring Nicholas Hoult, when he was cast by director Danny Boyle in Slumdog Millionaire (2008) at age 17, as a poor boy from Mumbai who wins a game show and the love of a girl (played by newcomer Freida Pinto). He started acting as a child, as a way to channel his energy, “I was a naughty kid”, he told the HFPA also saying he practiced karate and Tae Kwon Do, because the “discipline helped me.” He visited India as a 10-year-old for a family wedding in the Western state of Gujarat, but did not enjoy the experience. “I got bitten to death by mosquitos,” he remembers. He did not embrace his Indian culture until he fell in love with his ancestral country while shooting his first movie in Mumbai. He has since gone back several times. “I spent a lot of time growing up in England trying to shun my cultural heritage to fit in, I didn’t want to stick out and get bullied. Then I went to India with Danny Boyle and it was completely that light bulb moment, all those clichés that I had built up in my mind, all those stigmas, were dispersed right away. It pushed me into another level of consciousness.”

Patel played an Internet expert in the television series The Newsroom (2012-2014) written by Aaron Sorkin, with Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Sam Waterston, Alison Pil, Thomas Sadoski, Olivia Munn, John Gallagher. Now “I certainly have a new-found respect for the news.” He was the owner of a dilapidated hotel in Rajasthan who has the idea of inviting British seniors to enjoy India, in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) directed by John Madden from the 2004 novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, co-starring Judy Dench, Bill Night, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, and the sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2014). He played the developer of an attack robot capable of human intelligence in Chappie (2015) directed by Neill Blomkamp, set in Johannesburg, South Africa, co-starring Sharlto Copley, Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver.

In The Man Who Knew Infinity (2016) from a 1991 book by Robert Kanigel, co-starring Jeremy Irons and Toby Jones, Patel portrayed Indian mathematician Ramanujan, who grew up poor and uneducated in Madras, was invited to England by Cambridge University to prove his theories in 1914, faced racial prejudice, but saw his ground-breaking work finally recognized, before dying of tuberculosis in 1920 at age 34. He loved “the idea of this young man who was plucked out of the South of India, then brought over to Cambridge, left his young bride behind, risked so much, but revolutionized the world of mathematics.”

In 2016 Patel played the adult version of a 5-year-old boy who got lost in Calcutta and was adopted by an Australian family in Lion, directed by Garth Davis from the autobiographical book A Long Way Home by Sarro Brierley, co-starring Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara. “For someone that looks like I do, we don’t get roles like this, it’s a true fact. This is an anthem of diversity, of love, and it represents a real evolution for lots of young Asian actors.” He next stars with Armie Hammer in Hotel Mumbai (2107) about the 2008 terrorist attack at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in India.