You may best remember Dev Patel from the Oscar-winning, critically-acclaimed film Slumdog Millionaire, but the English actor has plenty of other critical and commercial successes under his belt, making him one of the most sought-after South Asian actors in Hollywood today.
London-born Patel spent his childhood getting trained in martial arts, earning a black belt in taekwondo and a bronze medal in the 2004 World Championships, and eventually becoming an assistant instructor at his academy. His first acting role was playing a British-Pakistani teen on the British cult classic TV series Skins. Patel’s big break came with Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, where he starred opposite acting heavyweights Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan.
I never went to acting school. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from great directors and my co-stars.
Dev Patel/ The Guardian
The role turned him into a household name overnight and earned him many accolades and awards including a British Independent Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer, National Board Of Review Award for Best Breakthrough Performance and a Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Young Performer. He also received a nomination along with the cast for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Patel received such unprecedented fame for a South Asian actor in Hollywood that he wasn’t even considered for the lead role in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi for fear that he was overexposed.
Even his critically panned role in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender didn’t drag his career down and he bounced back with a lead role in the successful The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, starring opposite British legends Dame Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson among others. The film’s success led to a sequel, and Patel returned with his portrayal of the quirky hotel manager, Sonny. This was followed by a 22-episode supporting role in HBO’s hit drama series The Newsroom, where he acted alongside Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer.
The highlight of Patel’s career, to date, is his very well-received lead role in the Oscar-nominated Lion. Patel plays the role of Saroo Brierley, essaying the real-life story of this man’s quest for his birth family in India with the help of Google maps. With a supporting cast that includes Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara, the film received numerous Oscar nominations, including a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Patel. Patel also collected nominations from the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards and The Golden Globe Awards. He took home the BAFTA Award for Best Actor In A Supporting Role.
[My mother] is a big inspiration. She is a social butterfly, jovial, a real character. I’m far more introverted. She is the one made to go on screen, not me. The reason I’m in the industry is because of her. She saw an advert for the Skins audition in Metro, tore it out and dragged me along to the National Youth Theatre in London. I had to bunk off school.
Dev Patel/ The Guardian
Patel played the lead role of mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan in The Man Who Knew Infinity, co-starring Jeremy Irons; he starred in Chappie, alongside Hugh Jackman; in About Cherry, alongside James Franco and Heather Graham; and he lent his voice to The Last Airbender video game.
He is, undoubtedly, one of the most successful South Asian Hollywood actors today, having starred in, and received accolades for, many big-budget films as well as having worked with some of Hollywood’s top actors. His more recent films include Hotel Mumbai and The Wedding Guest (both which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September) and he will be seen playing the titular role in The Personal History of David Copperfield alongside Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie set to come out in 2019.
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