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From Black Belt To Slumdog
An Interview with Dev Patel
by Marek Hanzel
Thanks to his casting as a boy from the slums of Mumbai in the multi-award winning Slumdog Millionaire, Dev Patel is currently one of the most recognizable new British actors around. What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that he’s also a keen student of Ch’ang Hon Taekwon-do. In this exclusive interview to celebrate the launch of Totally Tae Kwon Do magazine, Dev speaks candidly about his history and training in the art he loves.
Dev Patel’s original, physical, dojang no longer exists. Based in an old community recreational hall, it was demolished some two years ago to make way for a new home development project. But the memories remain.
He recalls a slogan on a poster that hung on the wall of his first training hall: ‘Martial Arts is a way of life’.
“I very much believe this to be true - I don't think I will ever stop,” says the 18 year-old star of the Oscar-nominated Slumdog Millionaire and 1st Dan student at the Rayners Lane Taekwon-do Academy in North West London.
Patel still trains in Ch’ang Hon Taekwon-do at the same club, in a new dojang, a mere 200 metres away from the old one.
The actor began studying the art when he was ten years old. Not only was he a very lively child, but he has also fallen in love with Martial Arts movies. “I was very hyper,” he explains. “I had way too much energy in school. I needed something to focus my mind on, and channel all of that wasted energy - and Taekwon-do was the answer.”
An avid watcher of action flicks, he grew up watching the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li show off their famous fighting skills on the silver screen - Enter the Dragon is one of his favourite films – but little did he know at the time that he would soon begin walking a path that would take him, via the dojang, to the very heart of Hollywood.
As he began to develop as a martial artist, Patel’s desire to become an actor continued to grow, but it was not until his mother saw an open audition in a newspaper for a new British TV teen drama Skins, set in Bristol, England, that he got his big break.
Before hitting TV screens as Anwar Kharral, he had plugged away at school as an outstanding drama student, but beyond the four walls of his school and home, his talent remained unknown.
The show, which told the funny and quirky story of a group of teenagers at a Sixth Form college on the cusp of adulthood, was an instant hit and was nominated for Best Drama Series at the British Academy Television Awards in 2008. Patel’s portrayal of Kharral, a young Pakistani Muslim trying to come to terms with his religion and life in modern Britain won him many accolades and fans.
One of the most important of those, was the daughter of one of Britain’s most celebrated directors – Danny Boyle, the man behind hits such as Trainspotting and 28 Days Later.
Boyle was looking for a young actor to fill the role of a poor Indian kid from the slums in Mumbai for his new project Slumdog Millionaire, but was getting nowhere through the usual Bollywood casting channels. Boyle’s daughter suggested and Patel soon found himself in India, shooting a feature-length film.