By Thomas Shambler
Dev Patel talks weird performance homework, his latest film 'Lion' and why he's called Crorepati in India
What attracted you to the film? Why did you want to do it?
I read about it and just liked the idea of a guy finding his mother from space – using Google Maps. He was separated from his family, adopted in another country, and so finding her was very much a needle in a haystack, but he did. The story was almost too good to be true, but the more you read into the situation of how it came about, was also quite heart breaking at the same time.
I heard Garth Davis gave you homework before you started?
He had me doing loads of very strange exercises. He had me travel across India on a train, and then write a diary of my experiences each evening. I saw some beautiful things, but also some shocking things as I visited orphanages around the country. He also made us do lots of weird performance type things. Like when I met my co-star Rooney Mara for the first time, he had us lie down on this big canvas and draw around each other, and then paint what we saw afterwards. That was a chemistry-building exercise, I guest. I had never done anything like that before.
When you visit India, how are you treated? As a foreign movie star or a home-grown hero?
A bit of both. The Indian media has gotten behind the concept of me, and the films that I star in. When they see me out and about they yell 'Crorepati' – which means millionaire. Slumdog Millionaire was titled Slumdog Crorepati when it came out in India.
Lion brings up some big important issues. For millions of people, this film is their first introduction to India's abandoned children. Does that responsibility add pressure to your performance?
No. You don't think of it like that when you begin shooting. I didn't start the film thinking, "Oh, I'm going to change the world". I was just thinking about Saroo, the boy who got lost on a train and the man he became. As production goes on, the film starts to grow and take a life of its own. None of us knew what the final product was going to be, and it was only after we sat and watched the film did we understand the sheer magnitude and scale of it. Of course, then you go out and talk to the press and start seeing how people respond to it.
Do you think there is a certain stigma around successful actors getting involved in these type of causes? The old, "well, it's okay for that millionaire artist to care, he's already so well off". What would you say to those naysayers?
I don't think it matters. The proof is in the figures. And for every naysayer, there is someone else willing to be generous and dig into their pockets to help someone else. So who cares what those people have to say.
As someone with a decent level of success, do you think it's important to give back?
I can't speak on every actor's behalf. I believe there are some people who do what they do just to provide themselves and their families a better life. But sometimes, you'll step into a film or a scenario that changes your life, and changes your career. I shot for two months and went to some dark emotional places personally. You will see it on the screen, hopefully. It's hard to not feel genuine pain at that. When I was shooting Slumdog, I stepped out of the airport and was just engulfed by these children. I grew up in Northwest London, and I'd never seen poverty like that. You see it at every traffic light you stop at. All these kids are knocking on the window asking for food or money. It's a complex situation. I just feel very lucky that I'm one of the people who get to tell their story to an international audience.