From Slumdog’s quick-witted hero to a medieval warrior in The Green Knight, Dev Patel has always sought to be an everyman

Dev Patel was enjoying the ride, but people were saying the horse was too small. It was the winter of 2019. Patel was in Ireland, preparing for his latest film, The Green Knight, in which he spends long periods on horseback, slogging through wilderness. The Green Knight is directed by the American filmmaker David Lowery, who, while casting around, “got hooked on the magnificent image of Dev in armour, astride a horse,” he told me recently. The armour looked good in rehearsals, but the horse? “I was like, ‘Look! It’s amazing! Look how good I am!’” Patel recalls. “And then I’d watch the video back and be like, ‘OK, this is really embarrassing.’” The horse’s name was Sparkles. “She looked like a Shetland pony. I would sit on her and, literally, my toes would be scraping along the ground.” Eventually he was upgraded to a larger animal: “This wonderful horse called Armani. Real attitude. I’d steal apples from the hotel lobby and feed them to him.”

Patel, in a grey jumper, his dark hair pushed back, is speaking over Zoom from Adelaide, where he is staying with his girlfriend, the Australian actor Tilda Cobham-Hervey. We have been discussing his acting process, which he describes, glibly, as “90% panic, 10% it just happens.” “On my first day I got food poisoning,” he goes on. “Finally, after all this prep, Day One comes and I’m up this bloody mountain, it’s freezing cold, I’m swamped in armour and then…” He shakes his head. “I’m about to shit myself on this horse.” He had to return to his trailer, terrified he’d let everyone down, his neuroses firing. “David’s worried. All the producers are, like, ‘What’s going on? Who is this guy?’”

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