Here’s why Dev Patel’s our favourite supporting actor for the Oscars
It's no big surprise that it's tricky being brown in Hollywood. There's that chance you'll get typecast as a geek (Dev Patel in Skins), a potential terrorist (Aasif Mandvi in The Siege) or the token Indian role. Even then, with Hollywood's reputation for white-washing, your spot could very well be taken by an actor of non-Indian descent (Max Minghella as Divya Narendra in The Social Network). Worse, fashion labels such as Burberry could even be so colour blind as to mistake you for another brown actor. At the recent Baftas, the proudly British brand published a tweet (that has since been taken down) mixing up British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed for the British-Indian Patel. Not cool.
But once in a while, meaty roles such as Ben Kingsley's Gandhi and Dev Patel's Saroo Brierley come along. After our eyes rolled at Burberry's boo-boo, our hearts leapt when the 26-year-old Londoner brought home the Bafta for best supporting actor. Playing the adult version of Saroo Brierley in Lion — a story of a child adopted by an Australian couple after being lost in India — has given him SAG, Golden Globe and Oscar nods. With the 89th Academy Awards coming up on 26 February, the world will watch if Patel's work is finally rewarded — although frankly, that nomination alone is a success.
Patel is no stranger to the awards circuit, having starred in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire in 2009. This time, he's chunkier (the actor trained in the gym for months to play the beefy Australian), hairier and has towered up to 1.87 metres in height. Apart from his physical commitments to Lion, Patel also put "every fibre" of his being into the role. He spent eight months travelling through India, visiting orphanages and writing in his journal to deliver an honest portrayal of Brierley.
Like Nicole Kidman, an adoptive mother herself who plays Patel's Australian mother in the film, the role is a particularly personal one. While his character built an identity as an Australian with hardly any links to his Indian heritage, Patel grew up in London suppressing his background to avoid bullies. The actor's reportedly back in India to complete Hotel Mumbai, a story he's producing that centres around the terrorist attacks in 2008 — but not before taking his mother, Anita, as his date to the Oscars.