Years before Dev Patel played a Knight of the Round Table, he appeared as Prince Zuko in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, a live-action adaptation of Nickelodeon’s beloved animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. In an interview included in the latest issue of Total Film, Patel reflects on the movie.
“After Slumdog [Millionaire], I didn’t really get anything. When that came around, it was a total no-brainer on the page,” he says. “You know, may he rest in peace, Andrew Lesnie, the DoP of Lord Of The Rings. You’ve got M. Night and Frank Marshall and all these big names. I’m a big martial arts fan, so I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ I was probably miscast, and the film didn’t hit the mark. It was a really hard process for me because… It was such a bigger machine than what I was used to from Skins, that I felt a bit adrift at sea.”
“I could see that the studio was worried that I wasn’t really performing well. It was quite a torturous experience in that sense where you know you’ve maybe possibly been miscast in something, and you’re not right for it, and I didn’t have any confidence, and I didn’t know how to apply what I now know are my good tools as a performer, and the truth I can bring to a part. And it kind of showed.”
But Patel adds that he was able to learn from the movie. “It made me realise that I want to be involved in films where you can really feel connected to the material; it’s more tangible, and you can sit with the filmmaker and have a conversation,” he says. “I need mentorship. I need teaching, and someone that can guide me through the process of a movie. That’s what I found later on in my career with other filmmakers, and that’s what’s made me improve. You learn a lot from it in a way, from films like that. But for me, there was a lot of trauma [surrounding] that whole experience.”
Patel recently appeared in Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, and his next film to be released is David Lowery’s The Green Knight, which sees him play King Arthur’s nephew Gawain.
“Right now, I feel lucky that I’m at a stage in my career, and that the industry is at a point where the doors are really wide open for actors like myself – you know, actors of colour – to go in and really tell their stories, and also be invited into worlds we never would have dreamed of being a part of,” he says. “And that is really exciting. And filmmakers like David Lowery or Armando Iannucci, they just look at you as a person, rather than the colour of your skin. And that’s what was amazing. It was just having this conversation… I was almost more hung up on it than David was.”
For the rest of our interview with Patel, pick up a copy of the new issue of Total Film magazine (opens in new tab) when it hits newsstands in stores and on digital retailers from Friday, July 23.
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