Actor Nikesh Patel is exactly what you’d expect of an actor tipped for stardom. Polite, interesting, interested. Somebody you can imagine settling down for a pint with.
After he graduated from Guildhall, and having done predominantly theatre for years, Patel has recently made the move into film. Interested in the craft itself when it comes to picking roles Patel “where possible follows the writing”. He puts the script first when it comes to role selection and that means that he is keen to swap between theatre and film.
“A lot of it is timing, I really like being able to go between both. I think they feed each other.” When pushed about which he prefers he confesses that “probably the closest we get to feel like rock stars is getting to be on stage… [but] sometimes there's a scope and scale when being on a set you can't really get in the theatre”. Diplomatic.
Patel is not one to wait around for roles to come to him. “I’m exploring making and writing my own stuff. That's something I'm looking to explore more and more. I think it's fair to say that a lot of actors pick up the pen out of frustration. I would say that certainly in the last two-three years, I've been quite fortunate to work on a fantasy film and then got to work on a tv show that was a rom-com. One of the dangers of being reactive and waiting for scripts to come in is that it blinkers you into thinking this is all I can do. Working on projects like that makes me realise I can play in any sandpit I want. I think the answer is to take a bit more initiative and explore."
Equally important for Patel when picking roles is the importance of trying “new stuff” , you get the impression, like most people of our generation, that he does not like the culture of “labelling”, and therefore is keen to try as many different roles as possible. This would explain his willingness, and ability, to jump from playing ‘Foaly’ in the the soon to be released Disney Blockbuster, Artermis Fowl, to ‘Kash Khan’ in the Hulu produced mini series of 4 Weddings and a Funeral.
The ability to seamlessly transition between roles is the hallmark of a talented actor. However talent will only take you so far. To be a successful actor requires being able to survive the infamously cut throat casting process, as well as the public criticism that comes from living your life in front of an audience.
"In terms of a necessary skill set half of it is just having a thick skin. Learning not to take it personally. I feel like the best thing to do after an audition is to chuck the script in the bin and not stew over it”.
Speaking to Patel, you get the impression that he has a healthy perspective of his industry. "It's a career of really high highs and if you're not careful really low lows. One way of dealing with that is having other stuff in your life. I think it was Amy Poehler from Parks & Recreation who gave the analogy of the industry being like a really terrible boyfriend. There's something that's quite true of this sort of, like, incredibly attractive partner that like breezes into your life, tells you to drop everything, promises it's going to be different this time. When you're together it's great and then suddenly they just ghost you. I think there's something true about that. Not to labour the metaphor too much but there's something so important about having your own life (outside of acting) that means that you can engage with it and say 'alright I'll make it work' and not hanging too much on it.”
Aside from his roles on screen and stage Patel teaches and mentors young creative talent, something he speaks about with the same pride and passion as he does his acting. “We are now having the conversation more and more, regarding who gets access to the industry, you know, its the big challenge the creative arts faces”. As well as fostering the creativity in others, Patel makes sure he keeps himself equally stimulated. “Just remembering to take time for yourself to be a creative person. Sounds vaguely undefined but it is important to watch stuff that's made at the moment, keep up with the classics, go and see shows.” On clothes, ”I like looking good in the clothes I wear, but at the same time I also appreciate not having to spend time thinking about it. Having a (sartorial) framework that you can go to, a uniform, but one that you can fuck with... mess around with.”
The way you dress is a way of presenting yourself to the world in the way you would like to be seen. In the same way for an actor, the scripts you pick, and the people you collaborate with tell the world what kind of actor you would like to present yourself as. When asked which of his peers he feels the most affinity towards creatively he does not hesitate. ”Guz Khan who I just worked with on Man Like Mobeen”. Also Mindy Kaling. Both creatives who have refused to accept the status quo, and actively fought to change it. "You can get used to a certain way of doing things. Then you realise that this is a place where a certain amount of disruption is a good thing creatively." A very healthy attitude to have in an industry that for too long has been ruled by the same set of rules, and by the same set of people.