“Whether you’re an Instagram model or a YouTuber, there’s this thirst to be recognized, to have your legend spoken about, to get the likes,” Patel said. “And for me as a young actor in Hollywood, you’re dealing with issues of masculinity, ego, success and fame. That’s the same quest this young man goes on to be a known knight. All of that, I related to.”
NONE OF THIS was originally in the cards for Patel, who grew up in the London borough of Harrow as the younger of two children. Both his parents had emigrated from Nairobi in their teens. His father, Raju, is quiet and introverted, while his mother, Anita, is the family’s force of nature. “She’s a big personality, and she can have the whole room laughing,” Patel told me. “I think my love of playing all these characters came from her.”
Patel was a hyperactive child, and his parents signed him up for years of martial-arts classes to channel that excess energy. Still, he always had something more to give, and when his mother saw a casting advertisement for “Skins,” a teen drama that would supercharge the careers of young actors like Nicholas Hoult and Daniel Kaluuya, she prodded him to audition for the role of sex-crazy Anwar.
The show was a hit, but the neighbors were horrified. “It felt like suicide in the community to put your kid into a TV show and let him drop out of school at 16,” Patel said. “While everyone else’s kid is off becoming a doctor or a dentist, I’m here on this TV show,” he said, “simulating sex and taking drugs.”
He had never acted on camera before, and “Skins” was a trial by fire. The money was good enough to improve his family’s situation — with his first paycheck, Patel bought his sister a new bed — but the show’s large online following cut both ways.