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Dev Patel and Monkey Man's tortuous road from script to screen

The film is out now in cinemas

Monkey Man (Universal)
Dev Patel on the set of Monkey Man, his feature film directorial debut that was also one of the biggest challenges of his career. (Universal)

Monkey Man is Dev Patel's directorial feature debut, and it has had a difficult journey from script to screen that the actor-turned-filmmaker has shared in the lead up to its release.

The action thriller tells a story of oppression and vengeance, following one man's quest to tear down the people responsible for his mother's death and so many others. It shows how the downtrodden can rise up against those who see them as nothing, less than nothing, and force them to take notice — it's a tale as old as time.

The protagonist, who Patel plays, is doggedly determined; it doesn't matter what obstacles get in his way he will fight, and he will win. This, in a way, perfectly describes Patel's own mission to get his first movie to the silver screen.

MONKEY MAN, Dev Patel, 2024.  © Universal Pictures /Courtesy Everett Collection
The film tells the story of a man seeking revenge against those who harmed his mother, and who have taken advantage of the downtrodden for far too long. (Universal)

Patel first began his career as an actor, making his screen debut on Channel 4 teen drama Skins as Anwar Kharral in the show's first two series. Before shows like Euphoria dominated the TV landscape, Skins was the show that explored the messy lives of teen characters.

Read more: First-time director Dev Patel gets standing ovation for new movie Monkey Man

Skins showed how its characters delighted in excess, spending more time enjoying drugs, drink and sex than studying. Anwar, it was said, was a character written around Patel, his character's personality adapted to suit the actor playing him. It was a great jumping off point for several cast members, many of whom, like Patel, have gone on to become huge stars in their own right.

The actor followed up Skins in perhaps the most impressive way: by starring in an Oscar-nominated film. That film was, of course, Danny Boyle's 2008 hit Slumdog Millionaire, which went on to win eight Oscars including Best Film and Best Director. Not a bad start for Patel, and it wouldn't be his last time at the Academy Awards either.

USA. Dev Patel in the (C)Universal Pictures new film: Monkey Man (2024).  Plot: An anonymous young man unleashes a campaign of vengeance against the corrupt leaders who murdered his mother and continue to systemically victimize the poor and powerless.  Ref: LMK106-J106451280324 Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only. Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Media outlets. pictures@lmkmedia.com
Dev Patel has had an impressive career since his start in Channel 4 drama Skins, and is now ready to take on the next chapter of his career. (Universal)

Patel followed up the film with the blockbuster misfire Avatar: The Last Airbender, M Night Shyamalan's adaptation of the Nickelodeon cartoon, but didn't let that stop his thriving career. The actor went on to star in The Best Marigold Hotel in 2011, and its 2015 follow up, and in 2016 took on the role of Saroo Brierley in Lion — the film that would earn him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Since then, the actor has continued to make interesting choices in his work, starring in celebrated films like Hotel Mumbai and The Green Knight. He also led Armando Iannucci's Charles Dickens adaptation The Personal History of David Copperfield, and collaborated with Wes Anderson on his Netflix short films The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Three More.

But the actor was keen to take his career in a new direction, by choosing to go behind the camera and not just stand in front of it. This chapter of his life begins with Monkey Man.

Monkey Man's journey from script to screen has not been an easy one, with Patel facing difficulties from the get go. The shoot was threatened by COVID, with the pandemic making it impossible for the actor to film in the locations he had originally secured (he said they "lost" them the day they were meant to start filming), and he had to constantly adapt to ensure things didn't fall apart.

USA. Dev Patel in the (C)Universal Pictures new film: Monkey Man (2024).  Plot: An anonymous young man unleashes a campaign of vengeance against the corrupt leaders who murdered his mother and continue to systemically victimize the poor and powerless.  Ref: LMK106-J106451280324 Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only. Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Media outlets. pictures@lmkmedia.com
Monkey Man's journey from script to screen has not been an easy one, with Dev Patel facing difficulties due to the Covid lockdown. (Universal)

Sharing how the film was made on Reddit, Patel said: "Every day, we faced absolute catastrophe. I begged our financier not to shut us down a few weeks before principal photography. We were meant to shoot in India then [Covid] hit.

"I lost my initial production designer and DOP and the film was basically dead. Then we pivoted and went to a tiny island in Indonesia where we could create a bubble in an empty hotel for the whole crew of nearly 500 people… it was a gruelling nine months of absolute joy and utter chaos."

Patel added: "I couldn’t bring in lots of supporting characters, so I ended up having to put every tailor, lighting guy, accountant, etc. in front of the camera. Speaking of cameras, most of our equipment broke, and we couldn’t fly in new stuff, so we literally shot stuff on my mobile phone, GoPros.

"When a crane broke, we ended [up] creating this camera rig from rope, which I termed the 'pendulum cam,' which swings over a large crowd of people, then detaches, and the operators run through the crowd whilst it was rolling.

MONKEY MAN, Dev Patel, 2024.  © Universal Pictures /Courtesy Everett Collection
Dev Patel broke bones whilst filming and pushed through, whilst he and his crew would piece together props that were broken during fight scenes because they only had so many. (Universal)

"Also, there were days when I would turn up to set and we literally didn’t have any tops to the tables in the VIP room sequence – I asked the set designer and they said they literally didn’t have any money in the account to buy the glass. So I had to shoot above the shoulders as one of our producers ran his personal credit card to buy the glass to cover the table tops so we could shoot the rest of the scene."

The actor added that the team only had "three or four breakaway tables", meaning that after filming fight scenes he and the crew would have to "get on our hands and knees looking for all of the broken pieces of wood" in order to put the tables back together to shoot the next scene.

That wasn't all though, per Deadline one of Monkey Man's gaffers died of a heart attack during production. The actor also broke bones before and during the shoot, including breaking his hand whilst filming a fight scene and pushed through, adapting choreography so that filming wouldn't stop.

Monkey Man (Universal)
Dev Patel said: 'Every day, we faced absolute catastrophe. I begged our financier not to shut us down a few weeks before principal photography.' (Universal)

During an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Patel said he heard a "snap" at the time and said: "I was like, 'This is not good. If I go down, the film goes down'... by the end of the day, my hand was like an elephant’s foot.”

Patel managed to see a doctor who put a screw in his hand to stabilise the bone, but warned that he shouldn't put too much pressure on his hand or he'd "ruin" it. The next day he returned to filming, adapting the fights so that he only used his uninjured hand.

The film was first bought by Netflix which would have consigned the high octane thriller to the world of streaming, where it could easily get lost amongst the endless supply of entertainment. One person who felt the film deserved better was Jordan Peele, the horror auteur behind Get Out and Nope.

Jordan Peele, left, and Dev Patel, arrive for the world premiere of
Monkey Man was meant to be released on Netflix but Jordan Peele (left) bought the rights so that the film could be given a theatrical release instead. (AP)

After seeing the film, Peele decided to buy the rights to the film from Netflix for his production company Monkeypaw, and he brought to project to Universal who also saw its value as a theatrical release. They all agreed: this is a film that deserved to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

Speaking before the film's premiere at SXSW in March, Peele said: "This is a film that simply demands to be seen in a [cinema] with a huge rockstar audience.

"This is a movie is the exact type of movie we love at Monkeypaw Productions, it's a movie that proves films can be all things — you can have a movie that tells an amazing story, that has meaning, that has depth, and you can still kick a bunch of a***s along the way." Come Friday 5 April, film fans will be able to see exactly what he means.

Monkey Man is out now in cinemas.

Watch the trailer for Monkey Man: