Dev Patel: “I never went to acting school. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from great directors and my co-stars”

Actor Dev Patel

“I’m 26 and, like most actors my age, hungry to show emotional range.” – Dev Patel

Lion is one of those seemingly “too incredible to be true” film that is, shockingly, based on true events. Dev Patel portrays the real-life Saroo Brierley, who as a child in India was separated from his mother and later adopted by Tasmanian parents. Decades later, he decided to seek out his childhood village with just his fragments of memory and a then brand-new application called Google Earth. Patel spoke with The Guardian about playing the adopted Saroo and what he has learned from working with great actors in his films.

Patel, who is best known for playing a much-thinner character in 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, had to bulk up considerably to play the Westernized adult Saroo. He explains, “I’m 26 and, like most actors my age, hungry to show emotional range. This role enabled me to play a character suffering real pain, a change from the scripts that want you as a funny sidekick. It took eight months to prepare. I wanted to commit every fibre of my being to getting it right. I had to bulk up, grow my hair, learn the accent. At my last audition, where I met the director Garth Davis, I’d been in The Man Who Knew Infinity and was skinny, with a buzzcut. I had to get myself a personal trainer and started eating like a glutton – downing the protein shakes.”

When asked what he has learned about the great actors he’s worked with like Judi Dench, Patel points out, “They have a curiosity about life, a sense of humour and emotional reserve. I never went to acting school. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from great directors and my co-stars. Acting is about honesty. When I began, I was trying to squeeze as much emotion out of roles as I could and get big laughs. Now it’s about doing less, cutting away the fat.”

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