'Slumdog' Actor Dev Patel On 'Living The Dream' The Oscar-nominated film Slumdog Millionaire is a small movie with a big heart, and perhaps no one appreciates its rags-to-riches theme as much as Dev Patel, the 18-year-old Londoner who plays the lead.
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'Slumdog' Actor Dev Patel On 'Living The Dream'

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'Slumdog' Actor Dev Patel On 'Living The Dream'

'Slumdog' Actor Dev Patel On 'Living The Dream'

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The name Dev Patel may not be as familiar as Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, but that's about to change for the 18-year-old Londoner. Thanks to Danny Boyle's Oscar-nominated film, "Slumdog Millionaire."

(Soundbite of "Slumdog Millionaire")

Mr. DEV PATEL: (As Jamal Malik): I'll go for D. (Unintelligible).

Unidentified Man: Computer G, D, lock (unintelligible). Jamal Malik, you're absolutely right.

(Soundbite of applause)

HANSEN: Dev Patel plays the role of Jamal Malik, a Mumbai street kid who becomes a contestant on the Indian version of the television show, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." Each question evokes a memory about Jamal's past, leading to the correct answers. And because he gives the right answers, he's suspected of cheating. Dev Patel joins us from NPR West. Welcome to the program.

Mr. DEV PATEL (Actor): Thank you very much.

HANSEN: Are you at all surprised by the success of this movie?

Mr. PATEL: Certainly, yeah, of course. I mean, if you ever asked me a year ago would I ever be doing a film with Danny Boyle, I would have absolutely laughed in your face and it happened. And, you know, the film was set out to be a very small film, you know. I guess it's a small film with a big heart in other words.

And again, if you asked me whilst we were doing the film would it ever reach the Golden Globes or the SAGs or the Oscars, again, I would have laughed in your face, but it's just happening, you know.

HANSEN: Yeah. I mean, you're becoming a star, and I just wonder, I mean, do you find any parallels between like your own rise now to the spotlight and your character?

Mr. PATEL: Of course. I mean, this is a boy who's come from nothing, and he's gone on to the most watched game show in India, and he's sort of hijacked it. This is a kid who's had no formal education, he's come from the slums, and literally, he just got on to this game show with no knowledge. And I guess it's destiny that's led him there.

And with me, I mean, I've never had no acting experience, you know, no formal acting experience or anything like that. And I've just been a very lucky kid, and I've been meeting celebrities that have inspired me on the red carpet and have been winning Oscars before I'd even tasted my first script.

HANSEN: What do your parents think about your acting ambitions?

Mr. PATEL: They've really accepted that this is what I want to do. And I mean, usually people from our community back in London, they're keen on pushing children to be doctors and accountants and anything medical. You could even be a vet, that's great.

But I remember going to events with my mom, you know, and she would tell everyone, actually, my son's interested in acting, and everyone's face would just drop. They would be like, oh, god. No way. Are you sure? I mean, and they'll just look at us in shock like, how can a lady be allowing her son to pursue such a silly, you know, unattainable dream?

HANSEN: And now you're in an Oscar-nominated film, so who's got the last laugh now?

Mr. PATEL: (Laughing) Yeah, yeah. I guess so.

HANSEN: (Laughing) How did you get the role?

Mr. PATEL: I'd done a small teen drama in London called "Skins," and I played a minor character in that. And I got that because my mother saw an open audition in the newspaper while traveling to work and persuaded me to go to it.

And Danny Boyle's daughter, in fact, saw me in that and persuaded Danny to just give me a go in the audition process because he was having trouble elsewhere casting the role.

HANSEN: Tell me a little bit about "Skins" and the character you play.

Mr. PATEL: I played a boy called Anwar who literally was a very goofy over the top character who - I mean, he's there for comic relief, in other words, and he's a kid who just wants to lose his virginity, in other words.

HANSEN: That's a bit different from the character...

Mr. PATEL: (Laughing) Very different, yeah.

HANSEN: So, you said you had no formal acting training?

Mr. PATEL: Yeah, I mean, I got that because, like I said, my mom saw an audition in the newspaper, and, I mean, I was sort of learning on the job. I didn't really have a clue what I was doing back then. It was like trial and error. I'll do something on the set in front of a camera, and I'd watch it back on national television with all the other audiences and cringe and think, oh, god, I can't believe I've done it like that, and then make a mental might not to do it, again.

But you know, I didn't really have the confidence back then. I didn't really know how to pitch my performance to a camera, and I didn't know the technical side of acting and that's where Danny Boyle came in. And he sort of taught me how to act really. And I really grew in confidence from the start of the film to the end of it.

And I mean, it was a lot of pressure, obviously, because I'm going from literally a very tiny character to a lead in a Danny Boyle film, you know...


Mr. PATEL: Out in Mumbai, which I've never been to before, so I really matured, you know, coping with the pressure, I guess.

HANSEN: What was your first impression of Mumbai?

Mr. PATEL: It's, I mean, as soon as you step off that plane, it's a shock to all senses. And you can't just dip your elbow in and test the temperature. You're just thrown straight into the deep end with the place, you know. As soon as you step off the plane, bang. You're hit by this wall of heat, and your clothes become sweaty all of a sudden.

And the air smells different. It's got the smell of sweat to it because there's so many people around. I think someone called it the smell of sweat in dreams which I really loved, and it's this massive tide of humanity. Everyone is speaking in a different language, and you're just engulfed by all these people.

It's very crazy, but from an actor's point of view and just a kid going to a country like that, I was so stimulated and engrossed by everything and intrigued by all the small things, like the stray dogs walking on the streets and, you know, the amount of rickshaws everywhere and just everything.

HANSEN: Well, what did you do anything there to prepare for the role?

Mr. PATEL: Yeah, of course. I mean, I've never been there prior to the film, and I'm playing a kid who's - I mean, he's grown up in the slums all his life. There is no real parallel to who I am and who this kid is and what he's experienced, you know, except for we are the same age. I mean, the kid, the character, Jamal Malik, is around about 17, 18, and I was 17 at the time.

And so Danny took me with him to - when they were searching for locations to shoot the film with a small crew before they started filming, and I witnessed some of the slums. I got to see a slum called Dharavi, which has a population of, I think, two million people and it's still growing, and it's such a real eye opener.

I worked for a day in a call center. I wasn't very good so they literally had me delivering tea like my character does to all the other operators. And I worked in a hotel, actually, as well, just scrubbing dishes and stuff like that.

HANSEN: Yeah, so you became a tea server or as they say, the chaiwalla.

Mr. PATEL: Chaiwalla, yeah.

HANSEN: Chaiwalla. You spent four months filming "Slumdog Millionaire" in Mumbai, and then we had the horrific attacks there.

Mr. PATEL: Yes, yes.

HANSEN: Well, how did you react to that? What was your first thought?

Mr. PATEL: You know, I didn't expect it to hit me like it did. It physically hit me, and that's probably because when I was also filming there, I literally fell in love with the place, Mumbai.

I'm in no situation to even comprehend what the people out there who were affected by it even feel. You know, I can't begin to understand what they went through.

The final dance sequence for the film is in a place called VT Station, which is where some of the attacks happened. And I saw pictures of it on the news and things like that. We stayed up all night, and just to see the aftermath was - it was devastating, you know.

But one thing I know from filming there for a good four, five months is that it's a place of, you know, everyone is so opportunistic there, you know, and optimists.

HANSEN: Hmm(ph).

Mr. PATEL: So I know that they're going to bounce back from it.

HANSEN: Yeah. That last scene that's filmed at the train station - a great, you know, homage to Bollywood. I mean, first of all, are you a fan of Bollywood movies?

Mr. PATEL: I mean, I've grown up around it. My parents watched loads of Bollywood films and whenever I go to my grandparent's house, it's on the TV. But I mean, as a kid I used to love it. I can never understand Hindi. I can't speak it now. But you know, they do such - there's so many colors in the films and big dance sequences and fight scenes and it's very over the top. And you always get the gist of what's happening.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Were you a dancer before you filmed this scene?

Mr. PATEL: No, no. Not at all. I can't dance for the life of me. I can't express that everyone noted (ph) me for dancing in the film. And Danny came up to me on set one day saying, you know what? You're going to be actually dancing in one of India's most crowded stations, and I was horrified.

And they got this choreographer called Longji(ph), who's almost like the Indian version of Prince. He's so small and dainty and extravagant, and he used to call me Jago Maxin(ph), all the time for encouragement, and I didn't understand what that meant, Jago Maxin. And he's like, you're not quite Michael Jackson. You're a cross between Jim Carrey and Michael Jackson dancing.

And I was like, you know what, that's good enough. I can do that. And it was great. We had four sessions, and we had to pick up this dance routine. It was pretty hard core, and I'd injured my foot before that so I had this sort of - they had to cut my left shoe open so my foot would fit in.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. PATEL: And it was just, you know, you have to smile like you're having the time of your life, and I was in such pain. It was really hard.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Do you have any idea where you want to be in like five years or 10 years?

Mr. PATEL: At the moment, I'm literally living a dream, and I feel so blessed, I really do feel blessed. And I'm not thinking too far ahead of - at the moment, you know. I'm just trying to enjoy each moment right now and just go with the flow like I've been doing so far and see where the tide takes me.

HANSEN: Dev Patel stars in the Oscar-nominated film "Slumdog Millionaire." Dev Patel joined us from NPR West, and I hope you do get to go to the Oscars, and I hope you have a really good time.

Mr. PATEL: Thank you. Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You can read a review of "Slumdog Millionaire" or watch clips from the film on our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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