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Slumdog Millionaire - Dev Patel and Freida Pinto interview

Slumdog Millionaire

Interview by Rob Carnevale

DEV Patel and Freida Pinto talk about some of the challenges of appearing in Danny Boyle’s Oscar-tipped movie Slumdog Millionaire, including coping with Bollywood dancing and getting to grips with the mindset of their characters…

Q. I gather you owe your casting to the fact that Danny Boyle’s daughter watches Skins?
Dev Patel: I owe the world to her! She actually spotted me in Skins, I think, and asked Danny to give me a crack, which was great. I got myself on tape, because I didn’t have an agent or anything at the time, and it was the first time ever going on tape. That was good, because I was expecting Danny Boyle in my first audition and there was just a camera, so I thought: “Oh, this is easy!” But I got him in the second one and then after that I did four.

Q. When it came to casting, Danny kept you hanging on for a while, didn’t he?
Freida Pinto: Yes [laughs]. It Loveleen Tandan, the casting director of the film, called various agencies back in Bombay and she said that Danny Boyle was coming down to India to shoot a film. So, at first it was this complete moment of disbelief because I couldn’t imagine him coming down to India to make a film on Bombay. Anyway, I went to the audition and I did the kitchen scene over and over again. The second audition was in front of Danny, and at the end of every one he’d say: “Fantastic, I’ll see you soon!” But I was like: “How long is this going to go on?” But it just went on and on and on for six months… but it was fun because I realise that was my education as such. I hadn’t been to an acting school, I had no acting experience, and it was quite a risk that Danny was taking. But it was fantastic because I learned so much from him. And finally after six months, I got cast.

Q. There’s been a tremendous buzz surrounding the film now. But what realistic expectations did you have going in? Have they already been exceeded?
Freida Pinto: I keep saying that Slumdog is like a blessing and a curse for me because now every time I go into the audition I say: “Oh my God, the casting director is now Loveleen and the director isn’t Danny! The co-actor isn’t Dev!” So, it kind of becomes a little difficult.

Q. How did you cope with the Bollywood dance sequence that closes the film? Did you and Freida support each other?
Dev Patel: Freida’s a great dancer! She does salsa dancing, so she was holding the fort very much. I can’t dance for the life of me. I think the editing suite did a great job of making me look decent. It’s like breaking out of your shell because the movements are really flamboyant. You have to point to the stars and stuff like that. But we were shooting out of VT [Victoria Terminus] station and there were people taking time off work to come and watch a Bollywood star dance – and they ended up with me! I guess it was a bit of an anti-climax for them, but it really piled on the pressure for me.

Q. Given your comfortable upbringing in London, how did you identify with Jamal?
Dev Patel: I found that very tricky because obviously I haven’t witnessed a quarter as much as what this kid has in his life. So yes, that was really hard. But a big thing that helped is that once you’re in the scene with good actors and in that atmosphere, it really helps to centre into it. Danny was also great. He hates me bigging him up, but he’s really engaging and he’s so good at making you dig deep to get it. So, it was draining at times. I’d be sitting in this seat all day, either in a police station handcuffed to a seat, or on a game show, throughout the whole filming experience, and yet still at the end of the day I’d feel so mentally drained. If you think about it, most of Jamal’s answers are “A, B, C” or “D”, but you have to somehow show it in his eyes – how is this game show host making him relive these really traumatic times in his life? So, it was a tough ask, but it was good fun.

Q. And what was your experience of the real India?
Dev Patel: I loved it. It’s really down to Freida [Pinto] and the guy playing my brother, Madhur Mittal, who showed me it. I was really eager to see it and get into character, but they were really keen to show me where they lived. It was a match made in heaven. They took me out everywhere – to a few dangerous places [laughs], but it was good fun.

Read our review of Slumdog Millionaire