Dev Patel’s career evolution, from Skins to Monkey Man

The talented British actor writes, directs and stars in his latest film

Having started on British television, Dev Patel has cemented himself as one of the most exciting talents in cinema. Reuters
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From playing David Copperfield to being a contender for James Bond, Dev Patel has cemented himself as one of the most exciting talents in cinema. Having started on British television, the young actor has also been part of numerous Oscar-nominated projects.

With the release of his latest film, Monkey Man, his first as director, we look at the already illustrious career of Patel, marking the constant highs and rare lows.

Shakespeare and Taekwondo

The son of a care worker and an IT consultant, Patel was born in Harrow, London, in 1990. His parents are Gujarati Indians who migrated from Kenya separately, meeting in England.

Patel’s creative endeavours started early, participating in school plays from a young age. His first role was of Sir Andrew Aguecheek in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Also active in sports, Patel pursued training in Korean martial art Taekwondo from 2000 to 2006. His training led him up the rankings to reach black belt by the time he was 16 years old. He wasn’t just content with training though, as he partook in tournaments, earning himself a Bronze at the 2004 Taekwondo World Championships.

The Skins Era

A young Patel joined the cast of hit television show Skins in 2007. The teen drama series boasted a trove of talents from the British Isles, most of whom have gone on to become celebrated comedians and Oscar winners.

Among the cast were names such as Mad Max: Fury Road’s Nicholas Hoult, Unbroken star Jack O'Connell, stand-up comic Chris Addison, The Maze Runner’s Kaya Scodelario and Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya.

Patel appeared in 18 episodes of the show as Anwar. Concluding in 2013 and winning two Bafta awards, Skins's popularity has grown over the years since its young cast’s rise to global fame through other projects.

Slumdog's Oscar sweep

After his appearance on Skins, Patel was cast in the leading role of Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan’s Indian opus Slumdog Millionaire. The film was a box office sensation, earning more than $375m in global ticket sales against its $15m budget.

The film was also a top contender at the 2009 Academy Awards, earning 10 nominations and taking home eight wins, including Best Motion Picture of the Year and Best Achievement in Directing.

Patel’s portrayal of main character Jamal was praised for being sympathetic and full of life. Film critic Roger Ebert said of Patel’s performance in the film: “He is Oliver Twist. High-spirited and defiant in the worst of times, he survives.”

The film’s success made Patel a recognisable face the world over, but he took his time to rise, stumbling with some choices and excelling with others.

Sleeper hits and epic misses

As Patel was still celebrating the success of Slumdog Millionire, he was cast in M Night Shyamalan’s live action adaptation of the popular Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon series.

Despite the film’s big studio backing, it was panned by critics and fans. The film was criticised for straying from the original material, making changes that ultimately weakened the story and its characters.

Not to be disheartened, Patel chose his next project wisely, as it became a surprise success. Returning to India, the young actor was cast in 2011’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel alongside titans of British cinema including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson.

The comedy film made around $150m in box office returns despite its meagre budget of $10m. Its success was capitalised on, as a sequel was produced and released four years later in 2015 with Patel returning.

In the interim between the two films, Patel was cast in Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom that ran for 25 episodes between 2012 and 2014, appearing in every episode of the show. The Newsroom was another hit for its director and writer Sorkin, who previously wrote the successful White House drama The West Wing.

Lion and The Green Knight

Between 2015 and 2021, Patel appeared in seven films. Most notably, Lion in 2016, which earned him his first and only Oscar nomination for best actor. The film, directed by Garth Davis, was nominated six times in total, including Best Motion Picture of the Year.

In 2021, Patel starred in A24’s The Green Knight, a fantastical medieval retelling of the tale of Sir Gawain. The film became something of a cult favourite.

Last year, Patel appeared in two Wes Anderson short films, Poison and the Oscar-winning The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. The two shorts marked the first collaborations between Patel and Anderson, a director famous for recasting actors in multiple films.

Behind the camera of Monkey Man

After years in front of the camera, Patel is now ready with his first directorial venture. Monkey Man, which also stars Patel, is an action film set in India that deals in themes of political corruption and revenge. The film, also written by him, was made on a shoestring budget and was produced by Jordan Peele’s production company Monkeypaw Productions.

Monkey Man has been applauded for its energetic fight scenes and using Patel's previous martial arts training. The film also stars South African actor Sharlto Copley and a host of Indian actors including Pitobash, Vipin Sharma, Adithi Kalkunte and Sobhita Dhulipala.

Monkey Man is out in UAE cinemas on Thursday

Updated: April 26, 2024, 5:08 AM