(September 28, 2021) Who would have thought that a boy from the small English village of Sawtry would get to work with Hollywood biggies like Danny Boyle and Christopher Nolan? But that’s Himesh Patel for you. A British-Indian actor who broke into the white industry, first with his TV stint and later with a glorious film debut. The 31-year-old, who has been smashing stereotypes with each of his appearances, has become a champion of inclusivity and diversity.
But getting to where he is has been a long journey for Patel. For someone who began working as a teenager in a British soap operas, this Global Indian took a leap of faith into filmdom and in no time has become a breakout star.
A teenager hero
Born in a typical Gujarati family in Cambridgeshire to postmasters, who owned a newspaper-and-magazine shop, Patel loved watching television as a kid and soon began impersonating his favorite TV and film characters. It was while attending Prince William School in Northamptonshire that he was cast in a school play at the age of 11. The play turned out to be a game changer for this kid as his teacher saw potential in a young Patel and asked his parents to sign him up to a local theatre group, the Key Youth Theatre in Peterborough. This love for acting and theatre helped him secure a seat at The Young Actors’ Company in Cambridge, where he took film classes too. Living in a small village, drama school was his weekly refuge from isolation. “My weekly haven, to go and have some fun and just learn all the different things that go into being an actor,” he told Gentleman’s Journal in an interview.
His talent was talked about far and wide, and at the age of 16, he received a call for an audition for the British soap opera EastEnders through an agency in The Young Actors’ Company. Patel was able to impress the casting director with his acting prowess, and soon won the part of Tamwar Masood and made his first appearance on Eastenders in 2007. In 2011, Patel won his first Inside Soap Awards with Meryl Fernandes for Best Wedding in EastEnders. The same year, he co-wrote episode one of series three with co-star Charlie G Hawkins. Such was the popularity of the show and his character that in 2013, he filmed an internet spin-off of EastEnders titled Tamwar Tales – The Life of an Assistant Market Inspector.
While Patel continued to cast his spell in the series for nine years, he simultaneously worked in short films to broaden his horizon. His 2014 short film Two Dosas won many awards at international film festivals including Best Short Comedy at the London Short Film Festival and Best Comedy at the Aspen Film Festival.
In 2016, Patel returned to the television with Channel 4 sitcom Damned and the next year brought with itself a new show titled Don Juan in Soho. The same year, his fans saw him in an episode of BBC comedy Climaxed.
The breakout role
It was while doing a play in New York Patel received a mail that was set to change the course of his life with his smashing film debut. But an oblivious Patel didn’t know it at that time. The mail was from his agent for a Danny Boyle film with a musical element asking him to tape a monologue from a play and a performance on a Coldplay song. Though performing in front of Boyle and Richard Curtis was scary, but Patel knew he had to give his best shot. In an interview with Curzon Blog, he said, ” It felt very daunting. It was scary when I knew I was going to meet Richard and Danny; it was probably the most high-profile audition I’d had at that point, so the stakes were high. But I didn’t want that to overwhelm me to the point where I didn’t enjoy it. It’s a privilege to get to walk into a room with those two so I just enjoyed it as much as I could and I think that did me well in a way because its what’s channeled through their music, that joy.”
A champion of diversity
His role of Jack Malik in Yesterday, a struggling singer-songwriter waiting for his big break, struck the right chord with the audience. His warmth and charm won over the people across the globe in a film that was about The Beatles. The film was not only a turning point for Patel but all South Asians in Hollywood as the film took a major step towards diversity and inclusion. “The fact that we can finally pass as regular Americans and play mainstream roles without highlighting our individual cultural or ethnic background is a strong step towards the right direction,’ he told HT Brunch.
Patel, who grew up at a time when inclusivity was also invisible in Hollywood, found it confusing to not see any Indian faces in mainstream pop culture. “My parents spent most of their childhood in India and came to the UK in their early 20s. I was born in the UK. You live in two worlds and you try to share one with the other. But it is never easy. It was a challenging and confusing time. I definitely faced the gap,’ he added. But things have started to change for the better for South Asians, and Patel himself in a true example of it.
The super success of Yesterday landed Patel a role in Christopher Nolan‘s sci-fi Tenet. Working with a stalwart like Nolan was a great learning experience for this British-Indian actor who was on his toes training under a visionary filmmaker. If Patel’s Tenet was minting money at the box office, his small tube appearance in The Luminaries got him a huge thumbs up from critics and fans alike. The 31-year-old, who fell in love with acting as a child, has carved a niche for himself in Hollywood.