Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel talk with Insights about unconditional love, adoption, and hope as they discuss their roles in Lion — out now on Blu-ray and DVD.
True stories turned into movies often fall into mundane territory. Every now and then, though, a tale comes along with real emotional and inspirational punch. Enter Lion, the incredible real-life story of Saroo Brierley, a boy adopted by an Australian couple (Sue and John Brierley) after being separated at age five from his Indian brother and mother. As an adult, Saroo used Google Earth to find his original family and rediscover his roots.
Australian superstar Nicole Kidman plays Sue Brierley in Lion. On-screen, Sue relates a powerful experience she had when she was a 12-year-old girl escaping the wrath of her drunken father: “I felt this kind of electric shock jolt through me, and there was a little brown-skinned boy across that field,” remembers Sue (Kidman) of the vision. “I couldn’t even tell if it was my eyes playing tricks. And he was beside me. Just standing there. I sensed it so strongly…”
For 49-year-old Kidman, Lion was particularly poignant, as she herself adopted two children – Conor and Isabella – during her first marriage to Tom Cruise in the early 1990s. She describes an “intrinsic understanding” with the tale, but also insists that the message is an universal one of love and courage. “It’s for all mothers and all children, not just adoptive, but all mothers who feel unconditional love for their children,” she emphasises. “It’s about love. It’s about that bond that starts from the moment you hold that child, whether you’ve adopted them or birthed them. It’s about the power of that bond. It’s about modern-day families, who are made up of so many different components.”
“It happened when she was very young,” Kidman recently told The Sydney Morning Herald about the vision to adopt that Sue Brierley had. “Mine was more just a sensation that I was always going to adopt a child. I always thought one of them would be a brown-skinned child. I always just thought it was my destiny to adopt. I believe in that unconditional love that children deserve and that’s something I haven’t ever had a chance to put on screen.”
“This is a hugely emotional, instinctual role for me. So perfect. I knew I had to play Sue. I had to play Saroo’s mother,” gushes Academy Award winner Kidman, who jumped at the chance to star in what is one of 2017’s most talked-about dramas. “Their story seemed unbelievable to me in that, how could any of that have happened?”
Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel was equally enthralled with the script. Like Kidman with Sue Brierley, Patel knew he had to play Saroo. “Great roles and films are difficult to come by for any actor. And of course, when you’re a young Indian dude from London and you don’t fit into certain categories, it’s even more difficult. You also don’t want to play the goofy sidekick or best friend kind of characters anymore,” he says with a wry smile. “This role was something so special – the kind of part every young actor would die to play. When I read Luke Davies’ script, I was a ball of tears by the last page.”
Identity and belonging
The film has been lauded by critics for its stunning cinematography, profound themes of identity and belonging, and the incredible performances of its two leads, who have so far bagged Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Patel shares the role of Saroo with eight-year-old Sunny Pawar (who plays Saroo as a child). Patel and Pawar melted hearts when they turned up on the Golden Globes red carpet in matching tuxedos. Patel says it would be hard to find someone who isn’t moved by Lion. “I think it will inspire and give hope to people,” he explains. “It’s a story of a young man who experienced a horrific ordeal and found the strength and will to survive. It’s also a very deep love story about mothers and sons and how this young man never gives up hope or belief he will one day find his [birth] mother.”
Newcomer Pawar is enchanting as the young Saroo; the heartbreak and fear are palpable as he finds himself separated from his elder brother and stuck on a train hurtling across India. At a time where millions of children globally are displaced by war, and the role that technology and social media have played in alerting us to their plight, Lion feels not only timely but necessary.
Having found himself thrust into the spotlight aged only 17, when he was cast in Danny Boyle’s magnificent Slumdog Millionaire, the now 26-year-old Patel admits the pressure has been daunting at times. But Saroo was a role he finally felt ready for. “I was so new to the filmmaking world that I didn’t feel worthy of all the attention that came with the success of the film,” he says. “I didn’t feel I had earned my way into the business. But I’ve been working hard ever since and as soon as Lion came along I knew that this was my chance — I’d been waiting for precisely this kind of substantial, profound role.”
For Kidman, who has been a working actress for 35 years, the film is an enormous point of pride and she used filming on location in Australia as an opportunity to engage her biological children — Sunday, eight and Faith, five — with her homeland. “I love to be part of Australian film,” she grins. “I love to work with Australian actors, Australian crews, Australian locations. We shot this in Hobart and it was amazing to introduce my daughters to the area and hear them say, ‘This is our favourite place in the world.’ That’s just gorgeous to hear.”
“Lion was an ode to Australia, in the spirit of this beautiful Australian couple who adopt this boy in the glow of such adoring love. It’s a love letter to the people and the culture of Australia. I find it hard to explain, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t done a good job of it so far [laughs], but there’s this heart and strength to the Australian people. You see it in Sue and John — Saroo’s adoptive parents. It’s who they are. And I grew up with people like that.”
“There’s a rare beauty to this kind of story,” adds Patel about moving Lion. “And I would like to believe that it will resonate with audiences all over the world.”