Dev Patel speaks out on colourblind casting in ‘David Copperfield’ movie: “Dickens is a truly universal story”

"In past iterations, I haven't seen myself represented on that screen."

Dev Patel has spoken of his hope that Armando Iannucci’s adaptation of David Copperfield will introduce a whole new generation to the classic Charles Dickens tale.

The British star’s titular turn in The Personal History of David Copperfield marks one of the first time that an actor of colour has tackled what is a traditionally white role.

Speaking to NME, Patel spoke of his hope that the landmark role will see the literary classic widening its appeal to audiences who may have previously felt isolated.

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“In past iterations, I haven’t seen myself represented on that screen. I definitely didn’t think it would appeal to me or speak to me, but Dickens is a truly universal story. I see Dickens on the streets every time I go to India, and it’s relevant to America too.”

He added: “I’m from North West London, and the idea that we’ve spun a version of this film that allows kids from there to find a face they can relate to is really exciting.”

The film also sees Benedict Wong tackling the role of Mr Wickfield and Nikki Amuka-Bird as Mrs Steerforth – roles traditionally played by white actors.

Praising director Armando Iannucci’s “brave” decision to employ colour-blind casting, Patel said: “It feels strange calling it a bold move, but it does require a lot of bravery. When I first Armando, I said ‘Are you sure, because you’re going to have to defend this decision, more than casting any other actor.’

“He replied: ‘Absolutely, I want to be able to draw on 100 percent of the acting community in England. You watch theatre and you never question it? Why can’t film be like that?'”

Patel added: “I was really inspired by that, and hopefully it does set a trend where we don’t need to draw attention to it. It’s just people playing people, like actors are meant to do.

“But I do get worried, because there’s so much work that goes into these roles and Armando is telling the story of David Copperfield and we risk just ending up talking about the colour of my skin.”

The Personal History of David Copperfield is in cinemas now. 

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