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From Black Belt To Slumdog

An Interview with Dev Patel

by Marek Hanzel

Slumdog Millionaire

The touching story of a boy who is interrogated and tortured by the police who become suspicious of his success on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? – a game show he only entered to try and win the heart of the love of his life, has touched a cord with worldwide audiences.


Thanks to the runaway success of the film, which at first struggled to secure cinema distribution, Patel has been propelled into the big time – mixing with A-listers and appearing on chat shows and at awards ceremonies on both sides of the Atlantic.



So how does a young actor with the world at his feet, keep going with his training?

“Sometimes when I've got a late call to go on set, or a day off, I will stay up in my room doing exercises and stretches. Or if I'm in a hotel, then I make sure to venture down to the gym sometimes, so that I can still retain some sort of speed, flexibility and stamina in my body and technique. I just try and make the environment I'm in work for me. My busy work schedule does mean that I can't train as regularly as I would like to,” he admits. It’s quite difficult juggling the two, but whenever I’m free I go training.”


The dojang is a place he cherishes: “I want my club to always remain a safe haven for me, away from press, publicity and to much interest and hassle.”


His fellow students and instructor have been very supportive, and treat him no differently then before his career took off. They do, however, have new ammunition to throw at him when it comes to the banter in class.


It’s obvious TKD is dear to his heart – he enjoys competing and likens his bronze medal winning exploits at the Open Martial World Championships in 2004 as being “right up there with all of the other big acting achievements in my life.” 


“Unluckily I got kicked and injured a number of times to a target below my waist other than my groin (illegal under competition rules) during one of my sparring bouts, so I couldn't compete in all of the other categories I was entered in for. But that's when I learned the work ethic that if you ‘train hard... you will fight easy’. Damn, did I work hard for that medal.” 


Before his acting he was also a very active member of his club, helping his instructor Mr. Stuart Anslow, IV degree, put together his patterns application book.


Whether or not Patel will get another chance to compete at a high level remains to be seen. Future employers are not exactly sympathetic to actors who sustain self-inflicted injuries.


“I can't allow myself to get battered around like I used to before I started to work,” he says. “There would be continuity issues on set. If I did do half a scene normally and fresh faced, then came back the next day with pulled hamstrings, a black eye, broken nose etc, it just wouldn't work. Unless it was like 28 days later and I got the crazy virus during the scene!! You get the general picture.”


Not that Patel’s Taekwon-do has hindered his work in any way, in fact quite the opposite is true. Not only has the art taught him about focus and discipline, he says (“components that every good actor needs”) but it has also given him a physical string to his bow.


During the filming of Skins, his fellow cast members convinced their director, Adam Smith, to get Patel to pull off a couple of moves during the series. They had found out that he was a martial artist as he would always talk about his training and had the injuries - sustained from some of the “rough training sessions at the club” – to prove it.



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Dev Patel with his Black Belt Certificate
Dev Patel fighting at the World Championships
Dev Patel with his instructor

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