For the latest in our WISE WORDS interview series - where stars from a whole range of fields share the important life lessons they’ve learned along the way - we’re posing some of the big questions to DEV PATEL.
In his most mature role yet in ‘Lion’, he plays Saroo Brierley, the real-life young man who was adopted by Australian parents after losing his way from his remote village in India. Troubled as he grew up, he eventually tracked down his childhood home using Google Earth and maps, and was reunited with his mother. Dev says of the role which has earned him rave reviews, “The story just moved me.”
What do you do to switch off from the world?
I don’t use any social media, so that’s easy. I think the best time to switch off completely is when I’m flying. Long haul flights you’re on radio silence for a good ten hours, you get to catch up on some music, watch some good films. I find travelling to be a great time to have a reflective space.
How do you deal with negativity?
I try to dodge bad reviews as much as I can, but as you care so much about the work, you want to read what people think. It’s what we’re making it for. I have a really good set of friends, who can prop me up when I’m feeling a little low. The negative stuff can stick a lot more easily than praise, that’s human nature and the way I’m built. You’re constantly trying to improve – if you think you’ve reached perfection, that’s the time to quit.
When and where are you at your happiest?
I’ve just got a little house in LA and I’ve put so much time and energy into doing it up. You’re always in transit staying in hotels, and then coming back to this apartment with beige walls, beige carpet and it was uninspiring. But now it’s nice to come home, it has a little bit of every film I’ve been in. I feel so proud.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Bill Clinton came to a film screening in New York, and he was so gracious and he said, ‘The one piece of advice I’ll give you, never make a decision when you’re angry.’
There’s another quote I like by an Indian philosopher Swami Vivekananda: We are what our thoughts have made us.
It’s something to constantly think about in this industry – not to become bogged down in our thoughts until they’ve overcome us. If you put out some positive energy, that will help you.
What has been the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn?
Learning to let go of things, especially when it comes to work. You can go and do so much good work, good scenes, and then it can end up on the cutting room floor. You have something and you’re so passionate about it, it’s like painting something and having somebody tear off the bottom. So I’m trying to focus on the process more, less on the outcome, that’s a big part of acting, because it’s such a collaborative art form, you’re relying on your co-star, the crew, the direction, the editing. It goes through a hundred filters, and if you’re too precious about it, this industry can end up being tough.
What would you like to tell your 13-year-old self?
Be comfortable in who you are, and don’t try to fit into a mould. You’re constantly trying to fit in. I wasn’t at all sure of myself. Being individual is really important. You think there’s no world outside school, so all those relationships depend on what other people think of you. I wish I could go to bullies and tell them, those so-called nerds are going to end up hiring you, be nice.
What three things are at the top of your to-do list?
I want to get a nice home for my parents; to go to Tokyo for a month and be there, lost in that crazy place of juxtaposition of humanity and tradition; write a script that I’m really proud of.
What do you think happens when we die?
That’s a question I constantly ask myself and it’s what I’m writing about. It’s hard, you’d like to think religion can brig you hope, but you hope you’re just not a nervous atom flitting about and then there’s black. Then you travel the world, to places like India, and you see that religion can be the oxygen and the nourishment that people live on, that they’re born into a low caste, and religion gives them hope for something better in the next life. That can keep you going, but at the same time, that’s maybe all it is, an opiate for the masses, so make the most of your time now and here, just in case.
I was raised in a Hindu family, but my mum has a strong Christian influence, so we went to church and mass, and they are very spiritually inclined. I feel spiritual, and I like the iconography and what it represents, it’s like a 5,000-year-old Marvel comic, some of these monkey gods that can fly and what they represent, but the basic principle of karma is good. It all bleeds into Buddhism and Christianity. I could talk about this all day.
When have you felt in the presence of something larger than ourselves?
I feel this so much, all the time. I get overwhelmed. It’s more like, being in Tasmania, you wake up, looking out at the sea, crystal clear, and the stars, and it’s really overwhelming.
What quality do you most treasure in relationships?
Honesty, I like honest people that are transparent and easy to read. There’s a whole thing about pretence, putting up a façade, but the closest friends I have are humble, grounded, straightforward human beings.
Flaws are so attractive, because it allows a dialogue to happen. If you have it all figured out or you give that impression, there’s nowhere to go, nothing to build on. I think we can all relate to quirks.
What keeps you grounded?
Trying not to think about it too much. Friends, people, I’ve been lucky, I’ve found good people or good people have found me.
What was the most recent act of kindness you received?
I receive so much kindness, I’m so lucky. When you meet fellow actors who are also going round promoting their films, it’s a big rat race, but they take time to send you an email, praise your film, that’s pretty touching. My phone doesn’t always work when I’m travelling so I head back home and there are all these lovely messages for me, it’s wonderful, and it keeps you going.
‘Lion’ is in UK cinemas today.