Dev Patel on his new film, Dubai and his future plans
British actor Dev Patel strolled the red carpet at the Dubai International Film Festival on December 11 at the regional premiere of biopic The Man Who Knew Infinity, in which he delivers a studied performance of Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan. We caught up with the Slumdog Millionaire star to find out more about the film, his future plans and his trip to Dubai.
Enjoying your stay in Dubai?
We’ve been here a couple of days, it’s pretty overwhelming – I wish I could have spent more. We went to an [Old Dubai] souk yesterday and got a few nicknacks – it’s been nice. The main thing on my bucket list is that the film’s well received [in Dubai]. I’m kind of a bit nervous, so we’ll see.
Before Dubai you presented the film at Goa’s International Film Festival of India. How was it screening in Ramanujan’s homeland?
Compared with all the other festivals, in Goa people were just so thankful that we’d breathed life into this man’s journey, and that was a different feeling – the appreciation that we’d told this story from India really made it all worthwhile.
You’re a star anywhere, but in India you must be a superstar.
No, no, no, of course not – that word star is something I’m really not comfortable with – it doesn’t work with my low self-esteem.
You can’t have low self esteem after being in Slumdog Millionaire, surely, one of the biggest and best films of the millennium.
I don’t know – I think that’s all down to the great Danny Boyle [the film’s director].
You’ve said it was that film which helped you embrace your Indian roots for the first time.
When I was in school [in London] you get those terms, like “fresh off the boat,” and you try to shun your heritage so that you can fit in. That’s something I did, like lots of kids try to do – dress cool and be “normal” – but embracing your originality is something I find I’m learning as I grow up. And going to India and filming and really being connected to India like that – that was life-altering, a tectonic shift. It made me incredibly proud of something I wasn’t before.
Your whole life must have turned upside down.
It’s weird – I used to travel on the train a lot and you get that free newspaper Metro. One day I was going to the city meet a friend and I was on the front page. And I remember one by one everybody just started looking at each other, going “who is that guy?” – and we’re all stuck in this sardine can. It was pretty crazy.
You were also on the front of The National last week, taking selfies with rows of adoring fans on the red carpet.
Oh thank you for that – I tore that out and I’m going to take it to my mum, she’ll be very happy.
In The Man Who Knew Infinity you play a genius mathematician. How was your maths in school?
Terrible, terrible – it was my worst subject. It’s ironic to be sitting here but it makes my dad happy, because he’s an accountant – so this is his favourite film.
A central theme is the prejudice Ramanujan faces moving to Cambridge University. That was 100 years ago. How much racism is there in contemporary Britain?
I’m really lucky. That scene where I get got called a “wog”, it really hit me hard that day, because I’ve never experienced that racism before. The Britain I know, in Harrow, is very multicultural. My great grandparents moved to London when they were very old, they didn’t speak English and they still managed to flourish in England. That shows how generous Britain can be.
Would you be up for doing a third Marigold Hotel film with Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and the gang?
I think we all would – but you don’t want to milk a good story dry. The second one was a continuum – it felt organic to make that single hotel bigger, people moving on, me getting married – it made sense. To go for a third one might be a strong-armed.
The second didn’t get great reviews...
The audience we aimed for really loved it. When the critics gets involved there’s a slight tinge of cynicism. We’re whooping and hollering, we made a film that on paper shouldn’t have done so well – for me it’s The Avengers for the over-sixties.
Would you ever consider taking a Bollywood role?
Maybe... yeah, maybe – it depends if the story is right. There’s enough talented guys out there doing their thing. For me, I like the element of escapism involved, but I lean towards the other filmmaking, watching the Western directors do their thing, and I’m not a very good dancer either – so that’s very intimidating.
• The Man Who Knew Infinity is due to go on general release in April 2016
Updated: December 14, 2015 04:00 AM