Recapping Dev Patel’s meteoric Hollywood rise from Skins to director of Monkey Man

Dev Patel, an action badass? Surely that's not what we expect from the sensitive and considered star of multiple acclaimed dramas? However, that's what we get in Monkey Man, which doubles up as Patel's quasi-John Wick audition tape and also his full-throttle directorial debut. (Remember, our Unlimited screening takes place on March 30th.)

Patel helms, writes, produces and stars as Kid, an underground Mumbai boxer styling himself as Hanuman the monkey deity. He's seeking revenge against those who brutally killed his mother, which sets in motion a visceral course of retribution. Rated 18 in the UK, Monkey Man promises to hit hard and bloody with its ambitious action sequences absorbing a wide range of influences from Bollywood to Gareth Evans' The Raid series. Oscar-winner Jordan Peele produces through his MonkeyPaw label and it's him we have to thank for the film's theatrical presentation.

Given how unlikely, yet thrilling, it is to see Patel in this material, let alone directing it, we wanted to recap his rise to the top of the Hollywood tree. Akin to Kid's destiny in the film, this is how one relatively unassuming individual has ascended the ranks to become a moviemaking god. 


1. Small-screen origins in Skins

Those of a certain generation will first remember seeing Dev Patel in Skins. The UK drama was essentially a Bristol-based Euphoria before Euphoria even existed, presenting a day-glo, heightened tapestry of interlocking teenage lives. The show gave a platform to the likes of Nicholas Hoult but even amid the canvas, Patel's sensitive performance as gawky adolescent Anwar Kharral stood out. It's been said that the role of Anwar was written specifically for Patel after he was cast in the show.



2. Hollywood breakthrough with Slumdog Millionaire

Imagine your first significant film role being a nine-time-Oscar-winning Danny Boyle megahit. Little wonder Patel hit the stratosphere after his emphatic and convincing role in Slumdog Millionaire, an adaptation of the Vikas Swarup novel Q&A. Crossing multiple timelines with ease, the film, scripted by Boyle regular Simon Beaufoy, unfurls the story of Patel's character Jamal Malik, a Mumbai street kid poised to win a million on the Indian iteration of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. But how did he get to this point?

The journey that unfolds is, by turns, horrific, enthralling and deeply moving, ably held together by Patel's nascent acting abilities that resist melodrama in favour of something more quietly radiant.



3. Mainstream hits with The Best and Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Patel has worked hard to circumvent stereotypes around his casting, although he's a dab hand at the comic relief character when he wants to be. In the likeable Best Exotic movies, Patel plays Sonny, the manager of a rundown Indian establishment that caters to a host of displaced British retirees. Patel more than holds his own amid a formidable ensemble including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, the late Tom Wilkinson and Penelope Wilton, while Richard Gere beefs up the cast in the second film.



4. Artistic success with Lion

Patel secured his artistic credibility with his role in Lion. In truth, he's not the lead, given he plays the older iteration of the film's real-life character Saroo Brierley and only enters the drama in the final third. However, it says a lot about Patel's screen presence that he resonates enough to fill his relatively limited screen time, and he received his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Lion is the emotional account of Indian orphan Saroo's search for his long-lost mother. After the shattering first act in which Sunny Pawar plays the younger Saroo, Patel brings the intensity as the older Saroo becomes committed to tracking his estranged parent down. If you haven't seen it, we won't spoil the end. Suffice it to say, it will likely have you in tears.



5. Leading man status in David Copperfield and The Green Knight

Patel plays the title character in Armando Ianucci's colour-blind and joyous adaptation of Charles Dickens's The Personal History of David Copperfield. The actor resonates warmth and integrity as the young Victorian man vowing to find his way in the world, calling to mind the qualities that won over a global audience in Slumdog Millionaire.

Fresh from that film's success, Patel demonstrated his versatility with a far more introverted and moody performance in director David Lowery's The Green Knight. Patel plays the brave knight Gawain in Lowery's subversive and surreal take on the UK's Dark Age mythology, one whose weird and wonderful sights find their focus in Patel's wide-eyed and attentive turn.

6. Filmmaking god with Monkey Man (released April 5th)

Patel has spoken of his ambitions with Monkey Man, wanting to reclaim Hollywood action tropes and locate them in his own Gujarati Indian background. To that end, Patel, in his capacity as director, writer and actor, has adapted the legend of Hanuman, the monkey deity who acted as the right hand, well, simian to the legendary Hindu god Rama.

These cultural observations and nuances sit alongside several truly punishing action sequences as Kid works his way up the chain, eventually becoming embraced as a folk hero by the impoverished people of Mumbai. The film's blend of socio-political commentary and face-obliterating set-pieces has already won over the crowds at the 2024 SXSW Film Festival where Patel's directorial chops were lauded.

Lovia Gyarkye of The Hollywood Reporter states: "Patel makes a fine hero. The actor is a consistently charming presence whose capabilities have only grown since Skins and his breakthrough role in Slumdog... More than a realization of childhood dreams or a reclamation of cultural traditions, Monkey Man is Patel’s assertion of belonging. It’s an attempt — ambitious, imperfect and sometimes messy — to rummage through the bits of his identity and use the findings to create his own lore."

Get a taste of what's on offer in the following clip.

Monkey Man opens on April 5th, and Unlimited members get to see it before that on March 30th. Click the link below to book your tickets.