The actor of Slumdog Millionaire fame highlights his rise to stardom and discusses two new projects: the star vehicle The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and the new HBO series The Newsroom.
Actor Dev Patel
Tavis Smiley: Dev Patel is a talented actor who of course stared in the Oscar winning film “Slumdog Millionaire.” This summer you can catch him in the much anticipated HBO series The Newsroom. More on that in a moment. He’s out now though with a new film called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The film also stars Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith and more. Here now a scene from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. [Video Clip] I don’t know whether to ask you about how hard it was to get the accent right, or whether I’m going to start by asking you about that all-star cast. I’ll let you choose.
Dev Patel: I know. That scene in particular was terrifying because it was my big, Sonny the character I play, the young hotel owner. He, you know, he’s a showman. And there’s many scenes where he’s, you know, trying to win over the crowd and the crowd in this scene consisted of Judi Dench, famed Judi Dench. You know, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, these greats that I’ve grown up watching. And you know, I remember just doing it and looking around and just absolutely just terrified. You know, ‘cause everyone staring and intently listening. And I just feel like they’ve got x-ray vision on you and they can see right through me. But it was so much fun. They were just so graceful, so much fun and it’s a funny movie. And we had a great time.
Tavis Smiley: So I think my producer Lenny was doing some, just playing around as Lenny does all the time. So I think he did some calculation and, I think he wrote this down for me as a matter of fact, he did. So you have like you’re barely 22 years old.
Patel: Yeah, I just turned 22.
Tavis: Okay. Happy birthday, belated.
Patel: Thank you.
Tavis: So you have, you basically have five years of acting.
Patel: Maybe, yeah just about, just about. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Tavis: Almost five years of acting.
Patel: Almost five years of acting.
Tavis: And all those, all those experts you just mentioned.
Tavis: 283 years total acting experience.
Patel: Oh my God, that’s crazy.
Tavis: Yeah, 283.
Patel: And it’s weird because it hasn’t even quite sunk in that I’m actor, you know. I sit here and it’s all a big blur. And you think, God, actually I’m making stuff that thousands, millions of people are going to see.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. So, but obviously that scene was pretty good. You obviously got past the intimidation.
Patel: I did. You know what it was, what was even more scary is when you get cast for a role like this. And then you realize that in a week’s time you’re going to be surrounded by these phenomenal actors. And all of a sudden you feel, you know, so nervous, you feel that you haven’t got what it takes. You can picture a thousand other actors that could take your role. And as soon as you get out there and meet these guys, you know, they were just excited as I was to meet, you know, meet these guys. And everyone just wanted to stuck in and there was kind of intrigue. You know, everyone was so willing to learn about India and the sets and it just was fun. It was like a workshop. It was really amazing.
Tavis: Yeah. You get a chance to spend any time in India, or were you working the entire time?
Patel: I go a lot.
Tavis: Yeah, you go a lot to India.
Patel: I visit India a lot. It was weird because it was, the movie was, it was such a pleasant experience. And you know on our days off on the weekends I would be walking down this beautiful hotel that we were staying in. And I would see, you know, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench holding hands walking to the spa. And peacocks running by. And it was just bizarre. You know, this kid from like a rock fair in the UK to be seeing these, you know, it’s just, it was just, it was crazy.
Tavis: How would you describe this journey to your point now about this kid from London? This journey from “Slumdog Millionaire” until now? It’s been quite a charmed journey.
Patel: It has. And you know, and I always feel like I’m falling into a deep end and I’m having to like to swim out. Because you know, I got “Slumdog” because Danny Boyle’s daughter saw me on this tiny TV show.
Tavis: He told that story in that very chair when he came out. Yeah.
Patel: Yeah, yeah. And I owe a lot to her. And I got this amazing role. But no one knew how big the movie was going to be. And it came out and it swept the Oscars. And you know, it was, I was on front pages of newspapers. And you know, it was a real whirlwind of an experience and then, you know, straight after that I, you know, I did so many other things. I came to work on a cast like this. And it’s been a real amazing process. You know, I’ve learned tons, you know. I really have.
Tavis: So there a couple different ways to start your career. I mean you start and you build up to that big moment.
Tavis: Or in your case, the first thing you do is the big moment.
Patel: Yes, yes.
Tavis: And then you got to navigate your way beyond that big moment. Not that you could change it, ‘cause you can’t. But are you okay with that? That it started so big and so fast out the blocks?
Patel: No definitely. The thing I think about a lot, I think you know, I wouldn’t change it for the world because it was just an amazing experience. And it was so beautiful I think it happened at the right time, you know, the movie came, it was just kind of movie, you know, exuding hope. And it was a time of hope, you know, Obama was coming around in the U.S. And you know, it was just, it just came at the right moment. For me personally I almost wish that it happened a little bit later. ‘Cause I came out with my first ever movie where I was, you know, cast in this role. And I was immediately in the, you know, in the public eye. And you know, being escorted to all these award shows. And everyone thought of me as this kind of esteemed actor, when actually I’m, you know, I hadn’t done. I’m really inexperienced. It’s a blessing and a curse. I don’t think you can ever look at it as a negative. But I think you know, you feel pressured straight away. You feel like everyone’s staring at you. And it’s a scary experience, but you know, you just, you take a step back once the whole whirlwind tour was over. You take a step back and you let it soak in and reevaluate and try and mix it up. You know, you try, I’m trying to, you know, as soon as I did “Slumdog” and wherever I went people were screaming, hey slumdog, hey, hey, hey. And it was wonderful but there was a point when I’m saying, I’m going to always be remembered as that kid.
Patel: Jamal, the “Slumdog Millionaire” sitting in that hot seat. And as an actor you want to be able to be a comedian. So it’s been a challenge as well.
Tavis: Since you were so young then. Do you feel yourself growing and getting better as an actor?
Patel: I do, I do. And that’s another thing. You always wish you could go back and do the performance now when you’re more…
Tavis: Say, if I do that now. Yeah, I be much better now.
Patel: But the whole point was, I was nervous when I was a lot more nervous. And it kind of translated great on camera. ‘Cause I was this kid who, you know, the whole of India was watching on this game show. And you know, there’s just all this kind of nervous energy kind of worked for the character I guess. So yeah.
Tavis: So talk about Sonny in this new project.
Patel: Yeah, I play a character called Sonny Kapoor who you just saw. And he’s this young chap whose father has passed away. And he’s left him this wonderful property, which needs a little TLC. And he has this brainwave.
Tavis: And that’s an understatement. A little TLC.
Patel: I say, it’s a massive understatement, you’re right.
Tavis: It needs a whole lot of work.
Patel: I know, it needs a ton of work. It needs extreme makeover it’s actually to become a… But he has this idea to use it, turn it into this old age home for the elderly. And he describes it as outsourcing old age to his mother. But basically he ropes in all these people from the UK. With a great use of Photo Shop, he makes these leaflets and this website, you know, and makes this awful place look like the Taj Mahal and they all end up there. And he’s got paint all over his face and he wasn’t expecting them to come this early. And obviously madness ensues. Yeah, that’s really the story.
Tavis: It was a funny 180 because instead of you going to London, the Brits are coming to you. Yeah.
Patel: I know. And it was funny in the film, because everyone kind of looked at me as the kind of experienced one after doing “Slumdog” and you know, being, going to India quite a lot. And once I went there I was kind of put to shame by these, you know, these veteran cast members of mine. Because they, you know, I was struggling with the heat. I was playing such a high energy character. And these guys were just troopers, you know. And I’m the one who got the bad tummy the, you know, first. And it was funny. But they did, it was weird me being the guy whose introducing them into the country. I’ve never been to that part of India before. In “Slumdog,” we shot in Bombay which was, you know, it’s you know, it’s a maximum city. It’s full of people, you know, tides of humanity. And you go to Rajasthan where we shot this and it’s, you know, really picturesque, vast, and just really beautiful and quiet. Yeah.
Tavis: You are a busy guy. Before I let you go, tell me about this HBO series. It’s Aaron Sorkin here.
Patel: Aaron Sorkin’s new TV show. It’s called The Newsroom. It should be out soon in a couple of months or so. And yeah, it’s based on a Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer lead us younger actors. And it’s set in the whole world of news anchoring and news reporting. And it’s been a really interesting experience for me. Yeah.
Tavis: Well, you are busy. And that’s, it’s better than being unbusy in this business.
Patel: Yes, exactly, yeah.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah, it’s good to have you on.
Patel: Thank you very much.
Tavis: So nice to meet you Dev.
Patel: Thank you.
Tavis: Two big projects staring Dev Patel. That’s our show for tonight.
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