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Dev Patel wasn't a certainty for Lion

AAP logoAAP 21/12/2016 Danielle McGrane

Dev Patel shot to fame in the 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire and had a starring role in the box office hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but he had to work hard to land his part in upcoming film Lion.

In the movie, which was partly filmed in Tasmania and Melbourne as well India, Patel plays Saroo Brierley, a man who uses Google Earth to find his lost family in India.

The poignant tale is based on Brierley's true story of how, as a five-year-old, he was adopted by a Tasmanian couple (played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham in the film) and then in his 20s went searching for his birth family.

It was a part Patel desperately wanted, a role that would exalt him from the enthusiastic and sometimes comedic roles he had played before.

"I think I was 25 at the time, 26 now, and you're just hungry to be able to show some sort of versatility and when a story like this comes by, being a British-Indian guy, they're very rare and I just completely fell in love with it and was hungry for the opportunity," he told AAP.

Australian director Garth Davis confirms Patel wasn't a shoo-in for the role.

"It wasn't a done deal for Dev. This was a performance where he had to go into a different area: he had to internalise his performance, he had to put on weight; there was a physical challenge, the accent, so I needed to make sure that he was committed to doing that," Davis said.

"And I needed to know that we could work together because this film means everything to me."

Patel worked with a dialect coach for eight months to perfect his Australian accent.

The role also helped him explore a side that not many would have seen on screen before.

"He does go into some dark places," Patel said.

"He's a young man who's dealing with a lot of pain and guilt actually and that's where my part of the journey comes in."

Patel has pulled it off so well that the accolades have started to come pouring in, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

"He's such a beautiful man and he's such a great soul, and he worked so hard for this film, he deserves everything he's getting right now," Davis said.

As for Kidman, as mother of two adopted children in real life with her ex-husband Tom Cruise, her part felt more apropos to the film.

"The more time I spent with Sue Brierley (Saroo's mother) I couldn't stop thinking of Nicole. You could probably digest why that was happening but I just kept thinking of Nicole, and then serendipitously she had come across the script and had read it, and she said 'I need to talk to Garth about this film'. It's just one of those alignments," Davis said.

The result is a film that's been praised by critics, was the runner-up for the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival, and has now been nominated for Best Motion Picture in the drama category at the Golden Globes.

Even Patel was able to step outside of himself while watching this sweeping and poignant tale.

"It's very rare when you're a performer, and you watch something that you do, and you're completely overwhelmed by the humanity of it all, and I forgot about all of the neurosis that we go through as performers and I was just looking at this sprawling piece of cinema," he said.

* Lion opens in Australian cinemas on January 19.

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