Dev Patel: “I want there to be people that look like me represented on screen”

Actor Dev Patel in Lion

“There aren’t many roles written for someone that looks like me. It’s slim pickings. It’s difficult, but I try and stay on the optimistic side.” – Dev Patel

Though actor Dev Patel will likely always be associated with Slumdog Millionaire — the international box office hit won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, after all — his performance in the film Lion, which is based on the true story of a man who was adopted from the streets of Calcutta who used Google Earth to search for the mother he lost, is earning rave reviews. However, despite the fact that both Slumdog Millionaire and Lion have roots on the poorest streets of India, Patel explained to the Los Angeles Times that they’re quite different — and how perceptions that they’re too similar hurts the advances that Asian actors are trying to make in Hollywood.

Though Lion has some similarities to Slumdog Millionaire, Patel feels it’s very unfair to compare them and to compare his characters in both films. He says, “Everyone will pigeonhole you into, ‘Oh, he’s playing an Indian guy. The movie is kind of set of India and there’s poverty, so it’s like Slumdog. It’s such a shame. That’s just naiveté to me. It just takes away from all the hard work.”

Part of Patel’s frustration with the comparisons is that even though he has starred in popular films like Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, he still has trouble finding quality roles. He explains, “There aren’t many roles written for someone that looks like me. It’s slim pickings. It’s difficult, but I try and stay on the optimistic side. I want there to be people that look like me represented on screen. Because when I was growing up, the only person that I could look up to that kind of resembled what I looked like was Bruce Lee.”

Patel goes further to compare the rise of Asian actors in Hollywood to the long rise of African American actors in the same industry. He points out, “We’re at the front of something. If you look at the African American struggle in Hollywood, there are so many of these great icons — from Sidney Poitier to Denzel Washington to Samuel L. Jackson to Cuba Gooding to Will Smith. But in terms of being Asian or South Asian — whatever you want to call it — we’re treading new ground.”

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