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What Dev Patel Learned While Making ‘Monkey Man’

Updated: Apr 6

[THE MAIN EVENT]





From broken toes to hardcore body weight exercises, Dev Patel almost killed himself trying to deliver Monkey Man to an audience. His Reddit AMA revealed his path to a road less traveled


Just how far would you go to bring your passion project to life?


Dev Patel reckoned with the weight of this question while creating Monkey Man, the action thriller (out now) that marks his directorial and screenwriting debut. The film (produced by Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw) is set in India and stars Patel as a young street fighter who is hellbent on seeking revenge against those who wronged him. That same resolve carried the 33-year-old star to the finish line against every filming hurdle imaginable.


Patel simply would not give up. Broken toes before filming didn’t stop him, nor did the hand he fractured, shoulder he tore, and eye infection he developed due to fight scenes. He lost key crew members, worked around restrictions and drastic production relocations due to Covid-19, swapped in GoPros and mobile phone cameras when equipment was destroyed, and even rebuilt pieces of the set over and over to reshoot stunts, since the budget was completely tapped. “The borders closed… I couldn't bring in lots of supporting characters so I ended up having to put every tailor, lighting guy, accountant, etc., in front of the camera,” Patel said of Monkey Man’s remote Indonesian filming location. “It was a grueling nine months of absolute joy and utter chaos.”


The results of all that innovation and perseverance already seem promising: Monkey Man currently boasts an 88% Rotten Tomatoes average rating amongst critics. Dev Patel recently hopped on Reddit to open up to his fans about the many enlightening (and painful) lessons he learned while bringing his vision to life. Here are the takeways.

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On being a first-time director: “I’m my own worst enemy. I wanted to try to hold the camera and not cut up the action too much. Hold 100s of choreography and lines of dialogue mixed with all the other duties that a director has, from production design, to rehearsing with actors to setting up [the] camera... It was a full meal.” 


On working with Jordan Peele: “He is a BEAST. The Richard Gere to my Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. We made sweet cinema love and he also gave me his black AMEX in the shape of Universal Pictures. From being dropped by a studio to having a major theatrical release was like that moment in that shop on Rodeo Drive.”


On workout routines while filming: “I went full Jane Fonda on this shit. We didn’t have access to the best gym equipment so a lot of it was body-weight exercises and resistance bands. A lot of strength training and tons of sweet potato and salmon.”


On making fight scenes feel real: “The idea of the action was to capture a sense of desperation as to what it would truly be like in a life-or-death situation. The lead character… is like a caged cornered animal that will use anything to survive.”


On bringing the pain: “The hardest part of choreography is taking a hit. I would wake up with the worst neck pain; it was like whiplash.”


On creating a South Asian movie with mass appeal: “This movie is about the marginalized—the underdogs—all lifting each other up to achieve a justice that was only meant for the privileged. I basically created my own lane—my own reality as an artist… I so desperately wanted to be viewed as more than just a goofy sidekick in these sorts of films. I hope this film acts as a sort of gateway drug to our culture. Not just mine but I guess I hope it’s a message to the industry that we the CONSUMERS want fresh, new, and vibrant perspectives. Everyone's voice counts.”


Monkey Man is now playing in theaters. The film stars Dev Patel, Sobhita Dhulipala, Pitobash, and Sharlto Copley.


 

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