'EastEnders' actor Himesh Patel's long and winding road to rock stardom
In 'Yesterday', the stars aligned to allow the British institutions of Curtis, Boyle, an EastEnders actor and The Beatles to work in tandem
New Richard Curtis film Yesterday is a high-concept movie in which a struggling singer discovers he is the only entertainer in the world who remembers the music of The Beatles. But it doesn’t take Jack long to realise that by singing Yesterday, Back in the USSR and I Saw Her Standing There, he will finally have audiences clapping and cheering as he belts out the Fab Four’s hits.
Jack is played by Himesh Patel, 28, a British actor best-known for appearing in long-running British soap EastEnders, a job the Cambridgeshire-born star landed when he was 16 years old. He played studious Tamwar Masood – who incidentally also dreamt of a career in entertainment – for almost a decade.
But Patel says it was appearing in 2014 comedic short film, Two Dosas, about a date that goes awry in an Indian restaurant, which led him to this role. “Danny Boyle saw it at a film festival, gave it an award and that was the first time his team was sort of aware of me.”
Lancashire-born Boyle directed the London Olympics opening ceremony and is considered a British national treasure in his own right. His movie directorial credits include 1996’s Trainspotting, 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire and 2010’s 127 Hours, although most recently he made headlines when he left the Bond 25 project. Boyle sent Patel the script for Yesterday, which had been written by fellow British national treasure Curtis. It was a match made in cinematic heaven.
Recently, at the European premiere for the film, Curtis joked: “I didn’t like the director of my last two movies, which was me, so I asked someone better to do it.”
The actual truth was more to do with serendipity and the stars aligning to get the three British institutions of Curtis, Boyle and The Beatles working in tandem.
Firstly, Curtis didn’t come up with the idea. He was told of the concept and asked if he could write his own script based it.
As fate would have it, Boyle had just written a letter to Working Title co-founder Tim Bevan saying how odd it was that they had both been working in parallel in the film industry for so many years and that they had never worked together. Boyle asked to be considered should Bevan ever have anything suitable. Thus, the long and winding road finally brought them together.
They then had to get the music rights for the songs, a complicated process on any movie because often the owner of the lyrics differs from the owner of the song. Luckily for the filmmakers, given the concept of Yesterday, different parts of The Beatles’ back catalogue are owned by different companies, and they only needed to obtain the easier-to-get publishing rights for the lyrics – as Jack puts his own sounds to the songs, which he recalls from memory, often muddling up the lines. Even so, Boyle later joked: “Apart from Leonardo DiCaprio’s salary on The Beach, it was the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought for a movie!”
When Patel read the script, he admits that it was Curtis’s prose that really drew him in. “When I first read it, I thought, I know this guy,” says Patel. “Richard had written a character in the wonderful way that Richard does and I connected with him in so many ways: being from rural England, a fish out of water and being baffled by a lot of things that are going on.”
Of course, coming from the hands of Curtis, there is a love story that underpins the whole thing. Ellie, played by Cinderella star Lily James, has been his biggest supporter since high school, and becomes his manager, booking and driving him to gigs, and picking him up when no one listens.
It does beg the question, could they have been such close friends for more than a decade without having got together? Patel mulls over this. “Lily and I kind of talked about it and had ideas of what their backstory might be. But on the page, it was such a wonderful thing that we didn’t feel like we had to shoehorn any exposition in that sense. You can tell from Ellie’s point of view that she’s romantically in love with Jack and Jack just doesn’t realise that he clearly is as well.”
Another striking aspect of the film is that miscegenation is not part of the story. When the filmmakers cast the net far and wide looking for someone to play Jack, they just wanted the best actor for the role regardless of background. It is not colour-blind casting, as that connotes someone of a different race playing a character written for another, whereas here it was open from the start.
“Luckily, says Patel, “that was me”.
Updated: June 30, 2019 12:56 PM