When Dev Patel received the script for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel he was instantly hooked.
“The very first scene kicks off with myself and Maggie (Smith) driving down Route 66 in a soft top Mustang, I mean, how cool is that!” he laughs. “As soon as I read it, I could see it – I could see her and I could see me and I knew how we would play it.
“I think I was smiling as I read it and I was like, ‘oh yes, this is going to be just great…’ And the whole script was like that. I loved it.”
He admits that after making the first film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, in 2011 he never imagined that director John Madden, writer Ol Parker and the stellar cast would reunite to make a sequel.
The poignant, funny and charming story of a group of English pensioners who start a new life at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India – run by the optimistic, effervescent Sonny Kapoor, played by Patel – became a critically acclaimed box office hit all over the world.
“The success of the first film did surprise me,” he says. “I knew it was a good film, but I had no idea that it would be that successful. It was a film that was primarily aimed at an older audience and it was hard to get the movie off the ground; even with these great actors, it took people a long time to sign on.
“I think they were reluctant because they weren’t sure if there was a market for a film without explosions and guns and machines and robots and actually, it showed that with a powerful, compelling story there is an audience.
“People over 40, 50, 60, whatever age, want to watch movies and they want to see good stories that they can relate to. So I think the first film was a ground-breaking movie in that way.”
When the idea for a sequel was first mentioned, Patel was only interested if Madden and the rest of the stellar cast – including Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Celia Imrie – were on board, too, and, most importantly, if Parker – who wrote the first screenplay – came up with a story that enhanced the first.
“We just thought it would be a one off film and then it did really well, which was great, you know, but even then it was ‘OK, put it on the resume.’ and move on. And then Fox started talking about maybe doing another one and we were like, ‘that’s very sweet, but it’s never going to happen. Where would we go?’
“But then Ol (Parker) called me and said ‘I’ve got this idea about another story, this is where we could go with it.’ And I read the script and absolutely loved it, from the first page to the last. And it was very flattering that Sonny is right at the heart of the story.”
The irrepressible Sonny is indeed at the centre of the story. He is planning his lavish wedding to Sunaina (Tina Desai) and has big plans to expand the Marigold brand, which explains his visit to America where he has been trying to secure investment from a leisure company that will help him buy a second hotel.
“The film opens with Sonny and Muriel (Maggie Smith) driving down Route 66. They are in America because they are going to pitch the idea of turning the Marigold into a franchise,” explains Patel.
“Sonny has always had this dream of having a fleet of hotels throughout India and beyond catering to the ‘elderly and beautiful’ as he says.”
They return to India hopeful that it will happen, but on guard that one of the company’s hotel inspectors will secretly be paying the Marigold a visit to check that it’s all that Sonny and Muriel claim it to be – and that will decide whether much needed investment will follow.
There are other problems for Sonny, too, in the shape of the handsome Kush who, he fears, is becoming a rival for Sunaina’s affections.
“I’m confronted by my nemesis – this handsome, charismatic, calm young man, Kush (Shazad Latif) who has the money and the brains and he wants to buy the hotel that Sonny has chosen for the second Marigold.
“He is my fiancée’s brother’s best friend and he is like a carbon copy of her brother – a very chivalrous man and he’s everything that Sonny isn’t. And he is threatening to take Sonny’s empire and his wife, too, so that’s very stressful,” he laughs.
“And then Guy, played by Richard Gere, and Lavinia (Tamsin Greig) arrive at the hotel and Sonny doesn’t know for sure but he thinks that one of them could be the hotel inspector.
“So for Sonny, there’s a lot going on – he’s jealous of Kush, he’s worried about the hotel inspector and he begins to fear that his dreams are falling apart.”
Playing Sonny again and reuniting with his fellow cast members back on the same locations in and around Jaipur for director John Madden, was, he says, a delight. He confesses too, that he does share some characteristics with Sonny.
“Yes, I think so. I’m not half as energetic or as optimistic as Sonny, but we do share that positivity. And Sonny is a mood ring – you can see the emotions on his face and there is a sincerity to him and a real endearing quality to him, which I love.
“He’s like a big Labrador; he’s lovable, kind of harmless and he has very big ambitions and dreams. And I am an ambitious guy so I can relate to that, too.”
Madden’s film features a spectacular, lavish Indian wedding which features almost all the main cast members in a Bollywood style dance sequence. For Patel, it wasn’t easy.
“I hate dancing! You can ask John (Madden) – the two worst things I had to do in this movie was put on that awful turban for the wedding – a big, shiny, turban with a tail – and dance.
“And the only person in India that can wrangle me on the dance floor is this guy called Longinus Fernandes who choreographed the dance routines in Slumdog Millionaire and he worked on this one too. He calls me a cross between Michael Jackson and Jim Carrey,” he laughs.
Patel was born and raised in London and started acting at school. His big break came after his mother saw an ad in a local newspaper inviting youngsters to an open casting call for a new British television drama called Skins. Patel went along and landed the part of Anwar and the show went on to become an award winning cult favourite with youngsters in the UK.
In 2008, his role in Skins led Danny Boyle to cast him as Jamal, the youngster from the Mumbai slums who goes on to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in a bid to find the love of his life. Slumdog Millionaire went on to win 8 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
His other films include The Last Airbender, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, About Cherry, The Road Within and the soon to be released Chappie. Later this year, he will star opposite Jeremy Irons in The Man Who Knew Infinity. Patel was also a regular in the hit HBO TV series The Newsroom.