The night before the Academy Awards nomination voting period opened, one of this year’s contenders was amping its chances for an Oscar. On Wednesday, “Lion” stars Nicole Kidman, Dev Patel, and their eight-year-old costar Sunny Pawar, along with president of UNICEF USA Caryl M. Stern, sat in conversation with Tina Brown at the Monkey Bar in Midtown Manhattan while many Academy members — and Harvey Weinstein, one of the night’s hosts — dined on salad and steak. The film picked up four Golden Globe nominations in December — Best Picture, Best Original Score, and Patel and Kidman each received nominations for best performance in a supporting role. While the outcome of those awards will be delivered during Sunday’s Globes, the movie is already turning its eye to the next round.
Directed by Garth Davis, “Lion” is based on the true story of a young boy in India, Saroo, who gets lost from his family and is eventually adopted by a family in Australia. Many years later as a young man, he sets out to find his first family using technology, such as Google Earth. Larger than its own story, the film shines light on the 80,000 children who disappear in India each year.
“Initially, I read the script not knowing it was a true story. So I read it, and was extremely moved — when I found out it was true I thought it was extraordinary,” said Kidman, who connected with her role as Saroo’s adoptive mother Sue Brierley on a personal level, herself having adopted several children. “They captured what happens with an adoptive mother, with the sense of the immediate connection with the birth mother,” she explained. “From the minute you hold the child, it’s like, this child was birthed, so this child has been born into the world by somebody else. Who is that person? I love that person.”
The reaction to the film has only proven more moving for Kidman.
“I have to say, I haven’t been in a film for a long time that’s had this emotional impact. I feel the response and energy from people when they see the film, and it’s very different for me,” she told the crowd. “I live in Nashville — I was walking with my kids and the neighbors were walking the dog. They yelled out to me, ”Lion,’ we’re huge fans of ‘Lion.’ I have not had that [reaction before], and I’ve lived there for 12 years. Something’s right here.”
As for Patel, who broke out on the scene in “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2008, his early success worked against him when he was pursuing the role of adult Saroo. “It was one of the few times my résumé has worked against me,” he explained. “They’re like, ‘Oh, he’s the dude from “Slumdog,” he’s obvious; we don’t want him.’ I ended up having to knock on the writers’ door and try and convince them otherwise,” Patel continued. “Being an Indian born in Britain, roles like this don’t come by, ever. To play a goofy best friend is very normal, or to play a tech geek, that’s easy. I get sent loads of those [roles].”
Patel’s persistence paid off — and it may just continue paying off throughout the 2017 awards season.