Patel, who is a British actor of Indian heritage, played Copperfield in the 2019 film based on Charles Dickens’s book. Copperfield is widely thought to be based on Dickens himself.
The actor said that, while director Armando Iannucci was unconcerned about the colour of his skin, he himself is the “one that is fixated on it”.
He told The Observer that when he was cast in the film, he asked Iannucci: “Wait, so is his mum going to be brown? How are we going to talk about that? Is there going to be, like, a scene where they, like, arrive on a boat?”
Iannucci said no, to which Patel recalled responding: “Look, I’m really appreciative, but I’m also sorry, because I know you’re going to face a barrage of comments, because everyone’s going to be so fixated on the colour of the lead’s skin.”
Patel revealed his frustration at the fact that people have questioned him being cast as white characters and as Indian characters. “You’re kind of like, where am I allowed to exist?” he said. “How specific are we going to get with this? What does it mean to be an actor – to just be yourself? Am I only allowed to play a guy who’s 31 years old? Are you going to check my blood type?
“The very essence of acting, it asks for you to perform, transform, change, that’s the allure of the job… And sometimes I feel stuck in this cultural no-man’s land. I’m not British enough to be fully British, not Indian enough to be fully Indian.”
Patel said that after his break-out role, aged 18, in Slumdog Millionaire, he had expected to land varied roles but instead found himself “waiting for an Indian role to come by, where I could put on a thick accent” because “there wasn’t anything else, it was literally the clichés: goofy sidekick, taxi driver”.
The star can next be seen in The Green Knight, in which he plays Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men.
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