Directing ‘Monkey Man,’ Dev Patel Makes Himself an Action Hero


Dev Patel, a feature-directing debutant, was not offered roles that had “any ass kickery involved or coolness.”

In a phone conversation, he said, “I think that if I were to feature in an Action Film back then, I would get roles more akin the comedic relief or sidekick. The guy who can hack the mainframe.” (In fact, in 2014, he played a character who was tech-savvy on the The Newsroom is a TV series. He was about to reprise his role of the sweet but goofy romance hero in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotels)

Patel’s role in “Monkey Man” is not one of a sidekick. He plays Kid, an Indian young man who punches, slashes and shoots his path through the elite circles of a fictional Indian town. He seeks vengeance for his mother, who suffered abuse from a corrupt politician and police chief who now work for him. The politician is also supported by a guru. Kid, inspired by the tales about the half-monkey Hindu deity Hanuman, takes on those in authority who are abusing lower caste members. The film, released on Friday, is Patel’s homage and attempt to remake the action genre. His obsession with the genre began when he watched Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” (1973) as an infant. He also wanted to tell a political story with a character who looked like him.

Patel, who is best known for his role in “Slumdog Millionaire”, the 2008 Oscar-winning best picture, is the latest actor to become an action star. It’s no longer the Sylvester Stallones of the world, or the Jason Stathams or Jackie Chans. In particular, after the “John Wick” era actors who have made their name in serious dramatic work, and sometimes comedy, have decided to take the leap into action.

Bob Odenkirk is set to reunite Derek Kolstad (screenwriter of “Nobody”, 2021), the “Better Call Saul’s” star, with Derek Kolstad in an action movie called “Normal.” David Harbour (from “Stranger Things”) transformed into a Santa who pounded terrorists for “Violent Christmas” in 2022. Jake Gyllenhaal, from “Road House,” is a punching bag in this year’s “The Fall Guy” while Ryan Gosling plays savage stuntman in “Road House.” (Both men have flirted before with action, it’s worth noting.

Kelly McCormick was a producer for “The Fall Guy,” ‘Nobody’ and ‘Violent Night’. She added, “Now that’s actually possible.” McCormick founded 87North Productions with her husband David Leitch. He co-directed “John Wick 1” with Chad Stahelski and also directed “Atomic Blonde”, starring Charlize Theron, another action convert.

McCormick noted that it was difficult for Hollywood to produce action movies with actors who did not fit the usual Hollywood action hero mold before “John Wick” or “Nobody”. Ke Huy Quan stars in “With Love”, their next film. He was the supporting actor Oscar winner for “Everything Everywhere at Once” in 2023. This is his first lead role. McCormick stated that he would be the “next unique action star”.

All of these parts add to the appeal of these stars while also adding more bloodletting. Harbour’s gruff yet jolly personality, which makes his Netflix show interesting, translates into the Christmas melee. Gyllenhaal’s slyly nervy personality is brought to the role of an ex-UFC fighter turned bouncer. Gosling’s “Fall Guy’ character has the same lovelorn quality as his roles in “The Notebook,” “La La Land” and “Barbie.”

Patel knows he has played the unlikely hero in his career. It all started with “Slumdog Millionaire,” where his character, Jamal the young worker, rose from poverty to win an award-winning game show. “I was like, maybe we can take the essence of that guy from ‘Slumdog’ or whatever,” he said. “How difficult would it be for him, a man of such power and influence to challenge the untouchable?”

Odenkirk was inspired to make “Nobody” by a similar reflection of his own fame. In an interview, Odenkirk said that he was inspired to do an action film because he knew he had an international fan base thanks to “Better Call Saul.” He wanted to create a movie he could market internationally. He thought the grit of the lawyer Saul Goodman from “Breaking Bad” was similar to that of an action-hero, but without the punches. Odenkirk recalled his first experience in a comedy writer’s room when he was working on “Saturday Night Live”.

“I was surprised by the level of camaraderie and fun that we had,” he said. Odenkirk, saying that he “hated exercises” before taking on the part, trained with stuntman Daniel Bernhardt for 2 years.

Patel, who had practiced martial arts in his youth, was forced to be more resourceful, given the low-fi nature the production of “Monkey Man” in Indonesia. He said that for nine-months he ate salmon, sweet potato, and lettuce, three times a week, and did resistance bands and body weight exercises in the hotel. “It began like super Jane Fonda,” the man said.

This attitude of making do fitted the story he wanted to tell about Kid’s fighting. It goes from tussling on an underground wrestling ring, to besuited action that is more like Wick. “I wanted to capture the sense of desperation and the choreography in the performance,” he said. “He is a cornered, desperate animal, with teeth showing, drooling or biting. This is primal.” As the film progresses, he begins to master his emotions. His style becomes more composed and steely. In one climactic battle, he uses his teeth to drag the knife across a foe’s throat.

Patel was not without his doubters. Jomon Thomas, one of the film’s producers said that buyers and distributors loved Patel’s performance, but were unsure if he could handle directing or heavy action. Brahim Chab was initially sceptical. “He pulled me aside one day and said, ‘I’ve seen Dev, he’s an amazing actor,’ and he’s one of the best out there, but the choreography is going to be really tough physically, is he up to it?'” Thomas said that Chab was reassured by the first training.

Patel said that the action was “some of the most difficult I’ve had to perform.” Patel suffered injuries while filming, including a broken toe and a torn shoulder muscle. “I’m certainly not Jackie Chan,” said the action star who has been injured on many sets. “But it is pretty hard.”

Patel did not use “Monkey Man”, however, as a launching pad for other action roles. “To tell the truth, I never thought beyond it,” said Patel. “This was a very specific story and I thought, ‘Wow, what an amazing way to explore our mythology and revitalize it and change it and apply it to our times.'”

He said that he had a great time, but the experience was draining. “I put all of me into it and broke myself a lot while doing it.”


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