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Danny Boyle Takes Dev Patel to Acting School for'Slumdog Millionaire'

The Washington Diplomat spoke with British director Danny Boyle about his latest film, “Slumdog Millionaire,” which won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival.

“Nothing has surprised me about this film since I went to India to make it,” he began. “You sort of learn something about destiny and about fate and about the way things work which I never really believed in. People believe it very, very deeply there in a way that’s quite meaningful.”

Boyle shot the film in the actual slums of Mumbai, adding a layer of authenticity to the rags-to-riches story of an impoverished teen who wins a game show fortune.

“You have no control. If you seek control, you will just find madness,” Boyle said. “Directors are usually about control. You organize things. That’s part of the job. It doesn’t work like that [on location in India]. It’s too complicated.

“I embraced it wholeheartedly,” he continued. “I think it’s a decent film because I did that. And the people that I worked with, mostly Bollywood crew, they respect you and they trust you because you do respect and trust them.”

To that end, Boyle praised his co-director and casting director Loveleen Tandan. “She wasn’t frightened to say to me, ‘You’re wrong.’ The problem with being a director, especially if you’ve made a few films that people know, is that everybody just says, ‘Yes, you’re absolutely right.’”

The two cast British-Asian (of Indian descent) star Dev Patel, who makes his feature film debut. Boyle’s daughter actually recommended Patel based on his work in the British television series “Skins.”

Patel recalled: “Being plucked from a really minor character in a teen show to be put in the center of Mumbai with Danny Boyle and his great film crew — it kept on daunting me. I had this recurring nightmare: If I’m bad, this film’s going to be bad. There was a lot of pressure, but it really made me grow up. I say to everyone, I matured five years in the space of five months being in India. I’ve never been passionate about anything in my life like I did in this film. I was so eager to impress.”

The young actor was also eager to impress his Bollywood costars Anil Kapoor and Irfan Khan. “They really set the atmosphere. I thought, ‘I’ve got to bring my A game to this,’” Patel said. “Irfan is one of these guys — he’s barely not even acting when you look at him. It’s all in the eyes. The smallest movements make such a big difference. In ‘Skins,’ I wasn’t subtle, but I really learned that on this set.”

Acceptance of All Stripes

In New York, The Washington Diplomat sat down to talk with the talent from the new movie “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”: British writer-director Mark Herman (“Brassed Off!), British actor David Thewlis (“Harry Potter”), and American actress Vera Farmiga (“The Departed”). In the film, set during World War II, the young son of a Nazi commandant befriends a boy in a concentration camp, with unexpected consequences.

Herman explained that he was ready to tackle the heavy subject matter. “I’d just done a romantic comedy. I was very keen to spend the next few years on something a bit more weighty, a bit more important,” he said, noting that he read novelist John Boyne’s book, on which the film is based, before it was published and bought the movie rights.

Herman liked Boyne’s source material so much that he adapted Boyne’s novel while keeping Boyne on as an advisor, though decidedly not as a co-screenwriter. “The screenwriting process and novel writing are such different things. John wouldn’t tell me how to write a screenplay and God forbid I wouldn’t tell John how to write a novel,” Herman quipped.

“When a novelist sells his film rights, it’s usually goodbye. I felt I wanted John’s input, support and approval really — at every stage of the early drafts,” the director added. “It’s very rare at the end of screenwriting, shooting, editing and promoting the film that the author is still sitting alongside me.”

Thewlis, who plays the Nazi commandant, recalled his own attraction to Herman’s script: “I think it was the simplicity of the narrative combined with the complexity of the themes and the characters, particularly my character because of the dichotomy of the loving family man and mass murderer, really. That’s something that wasn’t immediately apparent, how to get my head around. And never did really become apparent for the next few months.

“I then did as much research as I could to find if this was plausible,” Thewlis said, noting that he based his character on Rudolph Höss, the first commandant of Auschwitz. “He was by no means just a bureaucrat or an administrator of the Holocaust. It was a lot to get my head around. It wasn’t just like playing a wizard.”

Farmiga, who plays Thewlis’s wife, discussed how she came into the film. “What I look for in every role: women who are experiencing some form of tremendous awakening and awareness about themselves. Usually, it’s the role. In this instance, it wasn’t. I just wanted to be a part of the story,” she explained. “It was the most affecting script I’ve ever read. I never had this sort of reaction to a script — very rare. It’s rare that by choice you’re not contributing to this mess of a world that we’re creating. And this was not that. This was an important film. This was a way to feel like you’re actually sifting through the mess in some way.”

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on July 9, 2014