How Does Dev Patel Become an Action Star? By Directing Himself.

Ten years ago, when Dev Patel started thinking about making the film that would eventually become his feature directing debut, “Monkey Man,” he was not getting offered roles that, in his words, had “any sort of ass kickery involved or coolness.”

“I think if I was to feature in an action film back then, the roles I was getting were more akin to the comedic relief, sidekick, the guy that can hack the mainframe,” he said in a phone interview. (Indeed in 2014, he was playing a tech-savvy character on the TV series “The Newsroom” and was about to reprise his role as the sweet but goofy romantic hero in “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”)

In “Monkey Man,” however, Patel is not relegated to the sidelines. He plays Kid, a young man who slashes, punches and shoots his way through elite circles in a fictional Indian city. He seeks revenge on behalf of his mother, who was brutalized by a police chief now working for a corrupt politician, who is in turn supported by an evil guru. Inspired by the tales of the half-monkey Hindu god Hanuman, Kid takes on those in power who are abusing members of lower castes. The film, which was released Friday, is both Patel’s homage to the action genre, an obsession that started when he watched Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” (1973) as a child, and an attempt to remake it in his own image, wanting to tell a politically charged story with a hero who looks like him.

Patel in “Monkey Man.” His character arc goes from underground wrestling to besuited action.Credit…Universal Pictures

“Monkey Man” also marks Patel, 33, best known for his turn in the Oscar best picture winner “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), as the latest actor to transform himself into an action star. Gone are the days when the genre belonged to the Sylvester Stallones, Jason Stathams and Jackie Chans of the world. Especially, in a post-“John Wick” era, actors who made their names in serious dramatic work (and sometimes comedy) have decided to make the leap to action.

The “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk, after playing a retired assassin in “Nobody” (2021), is now set to reunite with that film’s screenwriter, Derek Kolstad, for an action flick called “Normal.” In 2022, David Harbour, from “Stranger Things,” turned into a terrorist-pummeling Santa for “Violent Night.” And this year, Jake Gyllenhaal is throwing punches in “Road House,” while Ryan Gosling is getting his stunt man on in “The Fall Guy.” (Both of those men have flirted with action before, it is worth noting.)

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