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NEW YORK (Reuters) - British actor Dev Patel had a dream start to his film career digging into his Indian heritage to play the lead role in British director Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire."
His second film, M. Night Shyamalan's "The Last Airbender," is being panned by the critics, but Patel's performance as an a vengeful fire-spewing prince has earned some of the film's only praise on the eve of its U.S. release on Friday.
Patel, still only 20 years-old, talked to Reuters about the pressure on the set of "Airbender" following "Slumdog", how he is now mobbed in India and how he and co-star Freida Pinto parlayed their working relationship into a more intimate one.
Q: Why did you accept this as your second major film? The "Slumdog" role created this wholesome image for you, how much will playing more of an evil prince in "Airbender" shake up that good boy persona?
A: "I wanted to do something that was as different as possible as to "Slumdog" and this is a whole 180 (degrees)...I wanted to avoid being typecast.
"I came into this industry as an actor and I want to leave being an actor. So I want to be as versatile as possible. With "Slumdog" it was a such a great experience but there was so much exposure and we had to do so much press to build this film up with no money. We sort of became overexposed and were in all of those silly gossip magazines. I don't want to become one of those celebrities, I just want to be a good actor."
Q: Did you feel more pressure on set this time around?
A: "I was just as nervous as I was in "Slumdog," maybe if not more, because you know the whole added pressure of coming off a film like that and everyone expecting another Academy Award-winning film, which is obviously not going to be the case with this, it is a whole different sort of market."
Q: From whom did you learn more, Danny Boyle or ("Airbender" director) M. Night Shyamalan?
A: "That is a tricky one. No offense to Night but for me personally no one will ever hold a torch to Danny, it doesn't matter who it is. He basically had a film and he hedged his bets on an absolute nobody to play the lead in his film. He took such a large risk on me, and I was a complete unknown to be honest. For him to have faith in me...and for the film to be successful, I wanted to impress him and work so hard. And that is how all these awards got showered upon us...I thank him really for being a patient and great mentor.
Q: How have you handled the exposure since then, especially since you publicly started dating "Slumdog" star Freida Pinto?
A: "Publicly? I don't know what you mean about publicly! We try and be as hidden as possible really. (laughs) But even going to the gym and things, I don't know how they find you, but they just do, it's unbelievable. We tried to stay under wraps about it as much as possible, especially during the "Slumdog" press. We didn't want that to be overshadowing the film in any way so we kept it under wraps."
Q: Is it difficult now that you are filming separately?
A: "Yes she is doing a lot of filming right now, it is quite inspiring actually. It is tricky, but where there is a will there is a way I guess."
Q: You went back to India at Christmas. What is your reception like there now?
A: "I love the place. Since shooting "Slumdog" I sort of fell in love with Mumbai and things. I went there and it was great, I made lots of friends on the film set of "Slumdog," so it was lovely to see them again.
"It is strange because it is incredible how many people recognize me. And it is more by face than name...they are like, 'Ah you are the hero, ah ah!"
Q: What would it take for you to do a Bollywood film?
A: "I have had offers with some very, very good directors. Some of them ask me to speak Indian and I am like, 'I just can't, it wouldn't be right doing that right now, in this sort of time.' Nothing has really excited me yet, to be honest.
"The scripts I get are never quite international enough. They still fall in the trap of being popcorn Bollywood, so I end up eventually deciding not to do them.
Q: All this and you are only 20, what could be better?
A: "Hopefully plenty more films, that would be great. I really believe that films should either allow people to escape into a different world or inspire change in some way. Hopefully I can do a film in the future like "Slumdog" where I can...shed such a nice light on a subject that people don't know a lot about. And they are utterly moved."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte