Dev Patel stars in Lion based on the life of Saroo Brierley, a role for which he earned a Golden Globe nomination.
MiNDFOOD sat down with the 26-year-old London-born actor who starred in the acclaimed hit, Slumdog Millionaire (2008), as well as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) and its sequel in 2015. He also starred in last year’s under-rated drama, The Man who Knew Infinity.
The centre of the film is about Saroo who questions his origin story. Was there ever a quest in your life to find out where you came from and who you are?
This is probably the project that I had the biggest personal connection to. Just as a young 26 year old British-Indian guy, this was a character whose journey really mirrored my own. I spent a lot of time growing up trying to shun my cultural heritage to fit in. I didn’t want to get bullied, I didn’t want to stick out, and I’d do anything I could to just be like everyone else in England. And then I went to India with Danny Boyle to shoot Slumdog Millionaire and it was the first time that I had really been there as a young adult. It was completely that light bulb moment and all those clichés that I had kind of built up in my mind, all those stigmas that I had were dispersed right away. And it kind of pushed me into another level of consciousness. And since then I have gone back and done five films and it’s been a love affair.
You had a lot in common with Saroo.
Yes. You look at Saroo, and he is a young guy that is suppressing part of his history to fit in. He’s trying to hold it down. So he is a really charming young man but actually inside that there is a burden. And we spoke about that when him and I sat down. That is the kind of driving force for this journey, is to reconnect to his roots, his identity and to his mother. And I could really relate to that. I went to India kind of looking like people there but feeling like an alien. And that is what he was like at the end of the movie which is why it’s so beautiful.
You start with this small boy, with the torn clothes cracking rocks with his mother and then all of a sudden it’s a completely different human being, this Australian guy, who even down to the cricket team he supports, is Aussie. And the food he eats and the way he talks, so I could really relate to that basically.
Do you see India with a different perspective now? The tragic lives of these children like Saroo must be overwhelming?
Well, as soon as you step out of the airport and you get in your car, the first traffic light that you see, you see these lost children. And Saroo is in fact one of the lucky ones, that’s what we’ve got to realise. There are thousands of these kids that are prey for these adults throughout those big cities. And they can be used for business and they can be used for the red light district, and there are so many reasons.
If it wasn’t for Google, Saroo would have never found his mother. Has it changed your relationship with technology?
To be honest, I am not very technologically advanced as a human being. (laughs) I have never been on the My Spaces or the Facebooks or whatever you young guys use here. But I spend a lot of my career sitting in front of screens, being the intelligent guy on Newsroom or Chappie or something like that. But this is the first time I have had to sit in front of a screen and troll through a character’s history and past and it’s been the most emotional stuff that I have ever had to do in front of a screen. And it changed my relationship with technology is what I want to say. It’s a way, as much as it sounds like a cliché to connect people, this guy found his mother from space, literally, he did that, a needle in a haystack from space. And I feel that back in the day when Saroo was searching for his mother, the refresh rates, it was a brand new APP and it was slow, it was blurry and pixilated, but now, it’s so much quicker and easier. And if other people can find their parents, that would be incredible. It’s such an amazing APP and I hope more and more people take inspiration from the film. It’s a really ingenious way that he found his mother.
Congrats on the Aussie accent. Did you binge watch Neighbours? What did you do?
I binged watched Saroo. (laughs) He has got a lot of talks on line, so when I was auditioning, I just watched him over and over. I had an incredible dialect coach, Jenny Kent who helped me for eight months. I went over the script with her an hour every day for eight months and she knows the script and she could probably read you the script from her mind now, she knows it so well.
And can you talk a little about Nicole Kidman. In what way was she different from what you expected?
She wasn’t really actually. There is so much good will for her in the industry and I was always told that she is going to be warm and nice and she is that person. When she walks in a room, you can’t ignore her, she has got this presence. But she is so gracious and such a fun, fun person to be around. And she was acting from the gut with this, so it’s nice to be able to share that space with her.