Worn by Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel, “Lion” traces the poignant story of Saroo Brierley, who finds himself estranged from his family at the age of five and tries to find them 20 years later. For this complex role, the actor of “Skins” and “Slumdog Millionaire” underwent rigorous preparation.
Lion : The True Story of Saroo Brierley
Garth Davis’ debut feature (Mary magdalene) released in 2017, Lion is based on the autobiographical work A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, published in 2013. In 1986, at the age of five, the little boy accidentally takes a train while he has to work at night with his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). He finds himself in Calcutta, more than 1,000 kilometers from his native Madhya Pradesh village and his family.
For several months, Saroo survives alone on the street, before an orphanage takes over. He then flies to Tasmania, adopted by Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham). 20 years later, after having started studies in hotel management, the young man is more and more driven by the need to find loved ones. Helped by his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara), he embarks on a long search and draws on his memories to try to locate his village.
Nominated in six categories at the Oscars, Lion is based in part on the interpretations of Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel, both brilliant as Saroo. For his performance, the actor revealed by Skins and Slumdog Millionaire wins the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor.
Dev Patel upset by the script
When he learns about Luke Davies’ script and Saroo’s incredible journey, Dev Patel is overwhelmed by emotion. In 2016, the actor told CNN :
I was just amazed that those words, that trip I had just read were real. It is so amazing. What he has accomplished is a feat of humanity.
Before getting the role, the actor must convince the producers and the director. Some members of the film crew are concerned that he may be too obvious a choice to lend his features to adult Saroo. A situation that had already ruled out a feature film like Life of Pi, according to IMDb.
But Dev Patel manages to stand out thanks to a hearing lasting several hours. A momentous moment during which Garth Davis does not hesitate to test him to see if he is able to bring out the anger and implosion of Saroo, in search of his origins. Quoted by Allocine, the director remembers during the promotion:
Dev has learned that this project is being developed at the time of writing. He showed up one day at Luke Davies’ place in Los Angeles where we were working, he walked into his house and introduced himself. The role fascinated him. Finally, we did a 4.30am test run in London – barefoot and with a handheld camera – and I pushed Dev to his limits to see how far he was willing to go. We needed someone with real greatness and Dev was our man!
A long preparation
After this crucial step, the real work begins for the actor. He adheres to a strict diet in order to gain weight and grows his beard and hair to look as much as possible at Saroo Brierley.
For eight months, the actor also refines his Australian accent. He also visits the Indian orphanage which had taken in Saroo, where the children welcome him as “heroes”. Dev Patel says about it:
I was like, ‘I’m not a hero. You are the heroes’. The orphanage where I went, some children are severely disabled, have all kinds of muscular dystrophies and other diseases. And the staff, many of them are volunteers. In an environment like India where there is a lot of chaos and madness, these beacons of positivity and hope, it’s amazing.
An unforgettable experience that he transcribed in a diary that Garth Davis asked him to keep. A process that helps him do a real introspection, and the result is impressive. The first scene that the actor shoots is none other than the conclusion of Lion. All of the character’s buried and withheld feelings suddenly emerge. They thus testify to the involvement of Dev Patel, who amazes Saroo Brierley, as the latter confides in Guardian.