This exciting new actor is bringing back the buzz of The Beatles

This exciting new actor is bringing back the buzz of The Beatles

This exciting new actor is bringing back the buzz of The Beatles

It’s not often you see an ex-Eastenders star making the move to the big screen. And when it’s to play the lead in a movie about The Beatles’ music by Oscar-winner Danny Boyle (eight awards for Slumdog Millionaire) it’s definitely a big step up. But that’s exactly what Himesh Patel is up to with his latest role as Jack Malik in Yesterday.

Patel isn’t the first EastEnder to end up in a romcom penned by Richard Curtis (hello Martine McCutcheon), but he’s certainly the first actor of colour to play the hero.

Directed by Boyle, in Yesterday he is Malik, a struggling musician who wakes up after a freak accident to find he’s the only person who can remember The Beatles. After playing, you guessed it – Yesterday, he rockets to superstardom and wrestles with the challenges of sudden fame. Patel could be about to follow the same path in real life, but the thoughtful actor seems ready to handle it.

When did you get the call for Yesterday?
I was doing a play in New York and my agent emailed me about a Danny Boyle movie with musical aspects. I had to do a Coldplay song of my choice, then I met Danny and Richard in London. It was kind of terrifying going into that room.

When did you first come across their work?
The first film of Danny’s I saw was 28 Days Later, then I watched everything. With Richard, I remember there was a VHS [tape] of Four Weddings and a Funeral in the cabinet at home and I wasn’t allowed to watch it. Weirdly, I only saw it about three years ago. It’s hilarious.

How into The Beatles were you growing up?
I wasn’t a devotee. But Imagine is my mum’s favourite song and I remember her talking about it when I was a kid, so I knew who John Lennon was. It was a while before I listened to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I remember when George Harrison passed away; my mother said that he was very into India, so that was interesting to me.

Would you say your casting is ground-breaking?
I suppose it is, and I’m proud. But I’m most proud that it wasn’t because they needed to tick a box, I was the right guy for the part. It was really moving when the trailer came out and people were like, “Wow, it’s so cool to see a South Asian guy playing this role.” I know that would have meant the world to me growing up. We had that thing: “Mum, hurry up there’s a brown person on TV!” It was rare.

It seems especially significant that your character’s race isn’t part of the narrative.
That’s another thing I love about this story – and again with my next two projects, it’s not part of the narrative. With The Aeronauts, it’s something I discussed with Tom Harper, the director, but it was just for us, not the film. The same thing with the series The Luminaries, which I just finished in New Zealand. I love the fact that I’ve spent the last year playing characters called Jack, John and Emery.

How was filming with Ed Sheeran for Yesterday?
He was great. He was playing himself, of course, but I think that’s harder. He’s the most un-intimidating guy, he’s just so normal, really funny and kind. My dad visited the set on his first day and he was very nice to my dad.

What’s next?
I’m about to start work on Armando Iannucci’s new series, which I’m excited about, I’m dying to get onto set. He’s a director I’ve admired for a long time.

Is there more comedy in your future?
Yes, and other things as well. I don’t want to let myself be defined by a certain aspect. My EastEnders character seemed comedic but I was given the time and space to explore dramatic things as well, so for that and for many other reasons I’ll always be thankful for that. It means you don’t get stuck in a rut.

Are you a fan of London?
I love London and I imagine it will always be home. I love what it represents – inclusivity, diversity and caring for your neighbours. Community. All of those things are what makes London special.
Yesterday is in cinemas across the UAE now.

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