'Tech dino' plays computer whiz

LEAD: Dev Patel plays the creator of Chappie in Neill Blomkamp’s movie. PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

In real life, Dev Patel (above) is so different from his character in Chappie that he never expected to be cast as the computer whiz behind the titular robot.

"That's the best acting I've ever done!" said the British actor via a Skype interview with M.

Patel, who shot to international fame after starring in Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, professed to be a tech dinosaur.

"I still have a really old-school Blackberry that doesn't even have a touchscreen. I bought another two of those as they've stopped manufacturing (such phones) so I can just keep going...

"I've never been on the social media websites, Facebook, Instagram and all that," he said.

"I'm quite old-school that way. The irony that I play this guy who's a frontrunner in technology and robotics, it's hilarious."


To be handpicked by Chappie writer-director Neill Blomkamp to headline the sci-fi thriller was "flattering and a truly magical experience", he said.

He added, laughing: "Not every day do you get a call telling you that Neill Blomkamp wants you to be the lead in his film."

Patel's last major film was The Last Airbender (2010), where he had a supporting role. The M Night Shyamalan-directed flick was a critical and commercial bomb.

While he dabbled in several other smaller and independent works (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Road Within), he found regular work in the Golden Globe-nominated TV series The Newsroom, which ended its run last year after three seasons.

Following Chappie, he reprises his role as hotel manager Sonny Kapoor in the sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, opening here March 19.

He's currently prepping for his new film Lion, where he will share the screen with Nicole Kidman, which explains his current "homeless" look, which includes unkempt long hair and bushy beard.

So will Chappie be the 24-year-old's much-needed career boost? Patel was quick to brush off any expectations.

"I was like a 14-year-old on set with these legends," said Patel. "Working with Hugh (Jackman) and Sigourney (Weaver) obviously was like a dream come true.

"She's the queen of sci-fi, and she's so funny and generous and friendly. Hugh is everything you expect him to be and more."