It's 8.30pm on a Friday evening, and I'm standing on the 57th storey SkyPark at Marina Bay Sands, minutes away from meeting Dev Patel.
Clustered alongside other reporters at the end of the red carpet, I wait in line for my turn to speak to the actor I've admired since my first dalliance with Slumdog Millionaire. Patel's performance had me seeking out his other work, and his versatility — from emotionally intense in Slumdog to awkward and hilarious in Skins — drew me in for good. His latest role is playing renowned mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan in The Man Who Knew Infinity.
Based on the 1991 book by Robert Kanigel, the biopic tells the story of a Madras native who moved to Cambridge and stunned the world with his genius. Written and directed by Matthew Brown and also starring heavyweight Jeremy Irons, it premiered in September this year at the Toronto International Film Festival.
On the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) red carpet, the Burberry-clad Brit is all smiles. "Where do we go?" he quips laughingly, after walking the short length of the carpet. At a whopping 1.87m, the lanky Patel towers over me — even in my heels — and makes the concession of stooping down to my 1.51m stature for the interview.
Given the short time slot, I came armed with some quick-fire questions; I was hoping to tease with some from our Bernard Pivot series. There was no need for introductions — I was (and still am) a mere journalist and he's Dev Patel himself — so I swooped right in.
"What's your favourite word?" I shot at him. To my surprise, his fame didn't intimidate me as I thought it might — there was a humbling presence about him.
"Favourite word? Yes."
"What's your least favourite word?" I asked.
"What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?" I asked excitedly, hoping for a really quick-witted one-liner.
Okay, short and simple. I'll take it. I did after all preempt him to respond rapidly.
"What turns you off?"
"What is your favourite curse word?"
"Curse word? F**k," he laughs.
Now we're talking, I thought. Just as I was about to ask him what sound or noise he loves, I was nudged by a film representative to ask a question related to The Man Who Knew Infinity. I obliged.
"What was it like getting inside the head of Ramanujan?"
"It was very interesting," he replied, switching from his cheeky, guy-next-door persona to serious, actor-on-the-job mode. "There's no stock footage or anything of him – I can't really mimic the way he walks or talks, so I had a bit of freedom with that. Most of the mathematics went over my head; it's about doing justice to his personality and his energy. It's about portraying his legacy the right way, and making sure you've captured his essence."
And just like that, he was whisked off to the next reporter down the line — there were no thank yous or goodbyes. I watched as he proceeded down the red carpet and finally, to pose for cameras in front of Marina Bay Sands' infinity pool. My first red carpet experience was like a holiday fling — just a whole lot quicker, a tad messier and with someone whose last name I'll actually remember.
For more coverage on the SGIFF, click here.