Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle‘s ode to Mumbai. To celerbate, we’re looking back at our Mar. 6, 2009 cover story — starring Dev Patel and Freida Pinto — that followed the film’s epic Oscars season.
The cast and crew of Slumdog Millionaire have been on a long, extraordinary journey — not to mention the miles they logged walking back and forth to the stage on Oscars night. Here are their personal stories about how the film changed their lives:
Simon Beaufoy, Screenwriter
Beaufoy, 41, broke through with 1997’s The Full Monty. More recently, though, he’d been struggling, thanks to flops like the 2001 comedy Blow Dry.
“I had just taken a year off from writing. I was completely broke. I was lost. The last couple of films I’d worked on didn’t really go anywhere, and I was in a bit of a rut. I got on a plane and went to Mumbai to figure out how to adapt this story by Vikas Swarup called Q&A. In Mumbai, there’s none of this complexity about love that Western cinema has. Over there, it’s really straightforward: It’s just “Me, you, love—let’s go!” My writing became utterly different. I won’t ever write in the same way again having been in that city.”
Danny Boyle, Director
The 52-year-old Brit had made seven prior features, from the indie Trainspotting (1996) to the zombie thriller 28 Days Later (2002).
“I’d just finished an enormously long project called Sunshine, which was a sci-fi film that took three years to make, including a year in editing. And I really wanted to make something that was very immediate and vital—something very different from the cold isolation and hostility of outer space with eight astronauts. I learned quickly that when you work in Mumbai you have to accept what you find. As a Westerner you have this feeling that you can fight bad things and work on good things and separate the two. What you have to do is accept and absorb both. That’s what changed me. I’ve learned to deal with the vicissitudes of filmmaking and of life. Now I’ll go back to London and sit down and have a cup of tea and start to think about where to move on to.”
Anil Kapoor, Actor
Already a megastar in India, Kapoor, 49, was persuaded to play Slumdog’s villainous game-show host by his 17-year-old son, who’s a massive Danny Boyle fan.
“I have been in films as a leading man for the last 25 years. I’d done over 100 films as a hero. My son said, “Dad, enough of playing a good man—you have to do this.” I started shooting, and I changed as a human being. I am from a very simple background, almost like from the slums. Now, what a special time. It’s magic.”
Dev Patel, Actor
Slumdog’s leading man had only one prior credit, the naughty British drama Skins. Luckily for him, Boyle’s daughter had seen the show and recommended Patel to her dad.
“I was a 17-year-old kid. I didn’t really know where I was going to end up. And this film sort of fell in my lap. It feels like destiny in a way. Even now, the film winning the Oscar is very surreal. The character’s given me so much, not only as an actor but as a person. I remember when production began, I was a ball of nerves, didn’t really know how to work in front of a camera or how to express myself. I was a lot more introverted. And Danny Boyle came along—and this incredible city, which taught me about being an optimist. I feel I can hold my head up high now. I feel like I matured five years in the space of five months. I’m 18 and I was at the Oscars yesterday!”
Freida Pinto, Actress
The 24-year-old model and TV host had never scored an acting role before Slumdog. (By the way, she and Patel say they are not a couple off screen.)
“I was struggling. I was presenting this travel show. I was coming to the end of it and had enjoyed the nine months of traveling. I was like, Oh, now my life’s over. I’m not going to have anything interesting to do. I was frustrated that I hadn’t found the right project. But now I think that the fruit of the struggle ends up being the sweetest taste possible. I mean, this is strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples, bananas—the sweetest fruits in the world put together. It changed my life. It made me grow. It’s made me equipped to brave challenges in the future. You can’t predict the future, but I do have this optimism and this hope that if I just continue dreaming and continue working the same way, then I’ll be unstoppable.”