Brit's teen charm elevates buzzworthy 'Slumdog'
Dev Patel is poised to attract Oscar’s attention. How did he get here?
A) He listened to his mother.
B) He was on the right TV show at the right time.
C) He did his research.
D) He weathered a beating.
It’s not every day a London teen with no prior film experience lands the title role in a movie from one of today’s most exhilarating directors. Yet that’s precisely what happened to 18-year-old Patel, who stars in “Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle’s critically hailed tale of a boy from the slums of India who captures the country’s collective imagination as a multiple choice-nailing gameshow contestant.
“When I got cast,” says the actor, who plays underdog Jamal as both world-weary warrior and idealistic romantic, “I felt like the luckiest guy in the world.”
Flash back to less than three years ago, when Patel felt more like one very annoyed son. His mom was insisting he attend an open casting call for a new British TV show called “Skins.” Patel, who had never acted professionally, was more interested in cramming for an upcoming science exam.
“Thank God she was stubborn,” says Patel, who quickly won the role of Anwar Kharral.
“Skins” has since attracted a devoted following that includes Boyle’s teen daughter. She was the one who first suggested Patel to her father after the director failed to find a suitable Jamal during a trip to India.
Relative newcomer though he may be, Patel prepped for “Slumdog” like an old pro. He read “Q&A,” the novel the film’s based on, and traveled to Mumbai before shooting to soak up nuances. Later, he toured the city’s slums with Boyle.
“I had a preconceived notion of what it was going to be like,” Patel says. “I remember waking up in the morning thinking it was going to be really depressing, but the main thing you get is an overwhelming feeling of community. They don’t pity themselves; they’re survivors.”
By the end of filming, Patel felt like something of a survivor himself. At one point in the movie, Jamal — suspected of cheating, thanks to his unbelievable winning streak — is questioned and brutalized by the authorities.
“The guy who was slapping me is big, and he’s got little torpedoes for hands,” the actor remembers. “I got like 30 or 40 slaps. It was crazy. ”
These days, all he’s hearing is praise for turning in one of this year’s breakthrough performances.
“I know it sounds cheesy,” Patel says, “but it almost feels like destiny.”
There’s that. Along with E) All of the above.
Favorite film this year
“The Dark Knight.” “Mr. Heath Ledger had so much
confidence to just do his thing. It’s great for someone new like me to see.”
“My mum always says, ‘Keep your feet on the ground.'”
“Working with Danny Boyle. He’s so passionate, it’s infectious. And his work ethic … I mean, the guy never bloody sleeps.”