Published: December 15, 2016
The actor discusses his new film, Lion, his career, and his family, and models retro-futurist colors and patterns.
In October, Dev Patel, 26, strolled into the Odeon Theater in London with his mother, father, sister, and grandparents in tow. Patel’s face (“my goofy mug”) was on posters all over Leicester Square. Just eight years earlier, a pre–Slumdog Millionaire Patel had waited in the same square for Will Smith to emerge after the premiere of Hancock. He was hoping to catch a glimpse of Smith, or maybe even score an autograph.
Patel was at the Odeon for the London premiere of his new film, Lion, based on the true story of Saroo Brierley. Brierley was raised by an Australian couple after being separated from his mother and brother in a small village in India as a young boy. As an adult, Brierly became consumed by a desire to find his family, spending hours searching huge swaths of India on Google Earth to see if he recognized any landmarks. It’s tempting to compare Lion to Slumdog Millionaire—both begin with a child, lost and alone on the streets of India, who grows up to be Dev Patel—but the parallels stop there. “It’s an easy, unique selling point if you can put a tag on it like, ‘It’s this meets that,’” Patel says. “In one way, [the comparison is] a compliment, but I think it also restricts it and puts it into a box. I feel that this film is completely unique.”
Lion is a 21st-century Odyssey, and the ending is a cocktail of elation and misery that left all but the true stoics teary-eyed at the London screening. “My mum, she was a wreck,” Patel recalls, but he was especially touched by his grandfather’s reaction to the premiere. “‘My boy! I was pinching myself watching you. You, talking to everybody outside! I was so proud!’” says Patel, laughing. “He was just overwhelmed with pride that there were all these people there, shouting my name and having these pictures taken. I had to get him a whiskey afterwards to calm his nerves.”
Did Patel cry the first time he saw the ending? “Sometimes you watch a piece of work, and it’s bigger than yourself, or any single part of it. And I watched it, and I was overwhelmed. By the cinematography and the scope of it. Its humanity… It hit a chord with me, hard. It did.” (Yes, Patel cried.)
Patel is a little more blasé about the attention. He likes that his presence in the industry gives hope to other people who don’t look like Zac Efron (“Poor guy, everyone just rains down on him because he’s handsome, but he’s incredibly talented, too”). He likes the lighter that Dave Chappelle gave him after last year’s Oscars, which says “Chappelle’s Lighter.” He likes that he gets to work with people like Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), and he likes that he gets to have a house in Los Angeles with a garden full of drought-sensible plants. Beyond that, he’s pretty ambivalent about the blessings and trials of fame, with one caveat: “I don’t want to end up naked in a Kanye West video.”
© 2016 GQ | Written Lauren Larson | No copyright infringment intended