With a lit­tle help from my friends

Soapie ac­tor Himesh Pa­tel had to bor­row a gui­tar for the au­di­tion that would turn him into a movie star, he tells Kerry Par­nell

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

If you are go­ing to make the leap from soap to movie star, you want to make sure your first film is a cracker — Chris Hemsworth-style. So Himesh Pa­tel — well-known in his na­tive UK as play­ing Tamwar Ma­sood from EastEnders — has hit the ca­reer jack­pot, scor­ing the lead role in Yes­ter­day, the lat­est feel-good rom-com from writer Richard Curtis and direc­tor Danny Boyle.

But not only did he have to prove his act­ing worth, he also had to re­veal his mu­si­cal tal­ent, belt­ing out cov­ers of songs from the big­gest pop band in the world. No pres­sure then.

Pa­tel plays Jack Ma­lik, a fail­ing singer-song­writer who wakes up one day to dis­cover he is the only per­son in the world who re­mem­bers The Bea­tles and promptly cashes in. He stars along­side Mamma Mia!’s Lily James and Ed Sheeran.

“What a priv­i­lege to make this film as my first,” he says, “It’s crazy, re­ally crazy, I can’t thank my lucky stars enough.”

Pa­tel, 28, can re­ally sing and play gui­tar, which is lucky as the songs were recorded live on set, but he con­fesses he had to bor­row his mates’ guitars and bluff it for the au­di­tion.

“I taught my­self to play on a re­ally crappy elec­tric gui­tar I had when I was 14,” he says. “Two of my best friends lent me their acoustic guitars for my au­di­tions. I owe them a lot.”

He says the movie has made him ap­pre­ci­ate the as­ton­ish­ing tal­ent of Paul McCart­ney and John Len­non.

Were The Bea­tles im­por­tant to him grow­ing up?

“They have be­come im­por­tant in my life now,” he laughs, “but it was this that made me go through

their back cat­a­logue and learn about the band and what made them so spe­cial. It’s su­per­hu­man, the amount of hits they had.”

And al­though play­ing the songs over and over wore out his fin­gers, he says he never tired of them.

“Some­times it was hard work on the fin­gers, with the old cal­luses, but the play­ing of the songs, lis­ten­ing to the songs over and over, I’m still not tired of it. They are magic.”

It was a dif­fer­ent process to mak­ing Mamma Mia!, ex­plains co-star James.

“In Mamma Mia we pre­re­corded, whereas Himesh per­formed live, so we were singing along to an al­ready per­fect sin­gle, if you like. To be in a film where you are cel­e­brat­ing good mu­sic was just a treat. I felt so happy,” she says.

Hap­pi­ness is the key to Yes­ter­day, which cel­e­brates the joy of nor­mal life. It’s also a sober­ing mes­sage on the folly of pur­su­ing fame at all costs.

Sit­ting chat­ting in a Lon­don ho­tel, the young ac­tors are un­pre­ten­tious and an­swer ques­tions thought­fully. Pa­tel is quiet and re­served, com­pared to his more ex­pe­ri­enced and pol­ished co-star James. So how do they keep their feet on the ground?

“The only an­swer is be­ing with your peo­ple, your friends and fam­ily from for­ever, so you can to­tally be your­self,” says James, 30. “They know who you are, so can say if you are be­hav­ing like an id­iot.

“But I don’t think I have re­ally changed. Life has changed, other peo­ple’s re­ac­tions to you change and that can be re­ally dif­fi­cult. Peo­ple’s re­la­tion­ship with celebrity and fame is bizarre, it can be quite dan­ger­ous. And so­cial me­dia feeds into that,” she says.

“If you are try­ing to fill some­thing in your life with fame, then it’s not go­ing to make you happy.” Keep­ing grounded is also im­por­tant to Pa­tel.

“Ab­so­lutely, it has been from day one. I started off young and was ex­posed to be­ing on TV at a very early age and I was lucky that I had my fam­ily around to keep my feet on the ground and make me do my pa­per round. I make sure I sur­round my­self with peo­ple who love me and keep me in check.”

In Yes­ter­day, Jack gets de­voured by the fame ma­chine. They both express con­cern over the darker side to fame, par­tic­u­larly re­al­ity TV.

“It is so sad that two con­tes­tants on (UK) Love Is­land killed them­selves, it’s tragic,” says James.

“It’s also the peo­ple in that world who they are sur­rounded with, whether they are be­ing sup­ported or whether they are be­ing ex­ploita­tive. It can of­ten sadly be more to­wards ex­ploita­tion,” says Pa­tel.

On-screen the cou­ple ad­here to the clas­sic rom-com plot of the lead char­ac­ter not re­al­is­ing the love of their life is their best mate, which is even more un­likely when they look like Lily James. Do they think you can turn friend­ship into ro­mance?

The very pri­vate Pa­tel, of whom no ro­mance ru­mours sur­round, pon­ders, as though this is the first time any­one has posed the ques­tion and fal­ter­ingly says, “Could be, it just de­pends, doesn’t it…” un­til James comes to his res­cue.

“When you are best friends with some­one you are kind of soul mates. You are drawn to­gether be­cause in ev­ery way you fit. Some­times that friend into ro­mance is a tricky ter­ri­tory to cross, but the ones that do, surely have the rich­est ba­sis to start a life to­gether. If it worked for Ross and Rachel (in Friends), it works for any­one,” she says.

In real life, James is dat­ing The Crown’s Matt Smith, who she met on-set of Pride And Prej­u­dice And Zom­bies where she played El­iz­a­beth Ben­net — with a twist.

James has played some of the best char­ac­ters in lit­er­a­ture — in­clud­ing Natasha in War And Peace, Juliet in Romeo And Juliet and now Mrs de Win­ter in Re­becca, op­po­site Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs Dan­vers. She ad­mits she is ner­vous. “I am in the ter­ror zone be­fore you start, when you think I am never go­ing to be able to do this.

“Be­cause it’s a first-per­son nar­ra­tion, the truth be­comes some­thing that is re­ally am­bigu­ous. Even though she sees her­self as this ner­vous per­son, how peo­ple de­scribe her is quite dif­fer­ent, so it’s been an amaz­ing thing to de­cide how I want to be her.”

Like­wise, Pa­tel is tackling a lit­er­ary mas­ter­piece in the TV adap­ta­tion of the Man Booker Prize-win­ning novel The Lu­mi­nar­ies, set in 19th cen­tury New Zealand.

“That was an amaz­ing novel and (au­thor) Eleanor Cat­ton adapted the TV show her­self. She’s won­der­ful, it was a joy to work with all those ac­tors and film in New Zealand,” he says.

Jok­ing that he hopes he hasn’t peaked too soon, Pa­tel has also shot the pe­riod ad­ven­ture piece The Aero­nauts with Eddie Red­mayne.

“I just want to keep do­ing dif­fer­ent things. What you want to do as an ac­tor is not get pi­geon-holed in any way,” he says. “And to strive for what’s chal­leng­ing and scary. Yes­ter­day was chal­leng­ing and scary in a lot of ways but when you find your­self well-sup­ported and you step up to the plate it can be re­ally ful­fill­ing.

“It was a fun movie to make — a blast from be­gin­ning to end,” he says.

You get the sense that his Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Tour is just tak­ing off.


Himesh Pa­tel with Yes­ter­day co-stars Ed Sheeran and Lily James at the Lon­don pre­miere this week. Pic­ture: Getty

Himesh Pa­tel and Lily James in a scene from Yes­ter­day.

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