The Fifth Beatle: Himesh Patel
An interview with the star of Danny Boyle’s Yesterday
A bogged down musician about to give up on his dreams finds himself in a world where The Beatles never existed. As the only person who knows “Yesterday”, “Hey Jude”, and other Beatles hits, Jack Malik, played by Himesh Patel, decides to use these songs to propel his career, whilst dealing with the internal guilt of taking credit from one of the greatest bands in history.
A surprising comedy filled with unexpected twists and turns, Yesterday is a charming summer flick that emphasizes the meaning of friendship, but even more so, how the music of The Beatles has shaped all walks of life.
Before its release on June 28, 2019, we got a chance to sit down with the star of the film. Himesh Patel is no stranger to the world of television, but Yesterday marks his debut on the big screen. We asked him what his experience was like working on this film, and how he had changed as a musician presenting the works of John, Paul, Ringo, and George.
By George Ko
Photos taken by George Ko. Video production provided by Universal and edited by Giant Robot Media.
Giant Robot: Hi Himesh. Thank you so much for taking this time to talk with Giant Robot Media. Before we start, I thought it'd be really fun to share with you this 1965 Fender Stratocaster.
Himesh Patel: Wow.
GR: This is the same era guitar that George Harrison played.
HP: Oh my gosh. This is yours?
GR: This is mine. I'm a collector myself, but I love the Beatles as well and I thought I'd bring it by and share it with you.
HP: What a beautiful thing. Look at that. I'm sure you are way better at playing this than I am. Um, yeah, I'm not particularly good at electric.
GR: During the movie your character is trying to remember the lyrics to the songs by the Beatles, and when he does, debuts them as his own. What was it like playing their music? Did it change you as a singer-songwriter?
HP: I mean, I don’t know if I would describe myself as a singer-songwriter. I can sing, but I’ve never really been a songwriter. I’ve got friends who are amazing songwriters, but I think it’s a really special talent to be able to express yourself in that way. It’s something I never really thought I had the confidence to do. But I guess, now, doing this film has re-awoken my passion for playing. It’s given me a bit of confidence to maybe hang out with some mates and see what comes out of that. You know, I'm not saying I'm going to release an album or anything like that.
GR: Was there a particular song that you enjoyed playing off-set?
HP: I've really enjoyed playing “Blackbird”, which is a gorgeous song. When we were recording the [movie soundtrack album], Adem Ilhan, who taught me the guitar and everything, I asked him, “can you teach me it, is it hard? It sounds hard.” And he was like, “No, it's fine.” He has a way of teaching me where I can pick up the songs in an instance. So yeah. “Blackbird” I think at the moment.
GR: You've done a couple of short films yourself talking about identity, like your film Two Dosas. Is any of that narrative in Yesterday? Or is it more of you're playing a character where race or ethnic identity doesn't necessarily matter.
HP: It's definitely the latter there. I think with this one, the character is one of those that could be played by someone of any ethnicity really. And I think that's kind of what the aim was from the beginning: to kind of cast the net wide and see who landed the part. It just so happened it was me who was the right person for the role. It's sort of a shift really. It's kind of a shift in a positive direction. I think maybe we need to analyze the parts before we start casting them because sometimes these kinds of things can happen and kind of move things forward in a really positive way.
GR: I thought it'd be fun to do some quick rapid-fire questions. Ready?
GR: Favorite Beatles song?
GR: Favorite Beatle?
GR: Favorite snack at a Tesco’s? (A 7-11 like store in Britain)
HP: Oh, what? Uh, strawberry laces.
GR: Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button?
HP: Jenson Button.
GR: Adele or Ed Sheeran?
HP: Ed Sheeran.
GR: Sherlock or The Doctor?
HP: The Doctor.
GR: Pint or shot?
GR: In the movie, was there a particular moment where you really connected with your character? He’s a musician that wants to be heard. He’s about to give up his dream, but then gets tossed into a world where he’s rising up in fame so quickly, like an Instagram star.
HP: There's a vulnerability in the moment where he sings "The Long and Winding Road". I love that song. It’s my favorite one to perform. He's been thrown into an uncertain situation and he kind of just lays his heart on the line and just goes, “Oh, this is who I am.” Even though he didn't write the song, he pretends to, of course, he's really singing from the heart. And what Danny Boyle's done with it in the movie is really special as well.
But I guess there’s something about that moment, where I was kind of like, “Well, I’ve been cast in this role and it’s kind of crazy, but here we go. I’m just going to give it a go.” Yeah, that moment keeps coming back to me.
GR: Are there any stories in cinema that you personally feel like there's a need to tell, whether it be related to music, identity, or self-discovery?
HP: There are historical stories that I'd like to tell about a shared kind of history. I think that our unawareness of our collective history across cultures and countries has led to divisions because people don't quite understand that we've been together for a long time. All sorts of countries, cultures, and ethnicities have been banded together a lot longer than the last 50-100 years. So maybe some of those stories need to be told, and we can start to get an appreciation of the fact that we're a lot closer than we are divided.
GR: Anything you're looking forward to doing while you’re in Los Angeles?
HP: I've got a day off tomorrow, so I'm trying to figure out what to do. Might go to Malibu. But the weather is going to be better in London, I've been told.
GR: Yeah. I think climate change has not been kind to L.A. Summer. Thanks for the interview!
HP: Thanks. I get to keep this right? (gestures to guitar)
GR: Nope, unless you want to pay a hefty sum.