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Himesh Patel On The Beatles And 'Yesterday'


Jack Malik is a kind of sad-sack rock musician in a small coastal British town who plays to near-empty tents and music festivals and makes ends meet unpacking crates at a wholesale store. He's just about to give up even the hope of a music career when he's struck by a bus, and the world is struck by some kind of 12-second power outage. Jack Malik reawakens in a world which doesn't seem to remember the Beatles. He begins to play some of their old hits to his friends. And...


LILY JAMES: (As Ellie Appleton) What the hell was that?

HIMESH PATEL: (As Jack Malik) "Yesterday."

JAMES: (As Ellie Appleton) That was one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard.

PATEL: (As Jack Malik) Yeah. It's a bit soppy but sweet.

SIMON: ...And they are electrified. The film is co-written by Richard Curtis, directed by Danny Boyle, stars Lily James and Himesh Patel as Jack. He joins us from our studios at NPR West. Thanks very much for being with us.

PATEL: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: You know, you see this movie, and you begin to realize how much, for lack of a better phrase, cultural space the Beatles take up today. You grew up listening to them, I gather.

PATEL: I did but only in bits and pieces, not in any sort of way of - you know, my parents didn't have the records. We didn't put them on, you know? But they obviously knew about the Beatles. And we would listen to them at school. We were doing this thing about the '60s. That's when I first heard, like, the early tracks, like "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Twist And Shout" and then "Sgt. Pepper's" when I was about 16. I had a friend who put some music on my iPod for me before that. And I listened to bits of the "White Album" and that record "1" with all their number one hits, which is kind of crazy to think.

SIMON: You get to sing all the big Beatles hits in this film, don't you...

PATEL: Yeah.

SIMON: ...As if they're yours?

PATEL: Yeah - which was kind of the - the preparation period was learning the songs, getting a lot better at guitar and piano as I needed to and learning the songs but making them our own because, of course, you know, in the narrative of the movie, they don't exist. So he can't be beholden to the originals. So it's quite interesting trying to shape our own versions of the songs over that period.

SIMON: Why can't Jack enjoy his success as it grows?

PATEL: Well, of course, it's that guilt that is following him around. He knows he didn't write any of the songs. There's the imposter syndrome. But at the core of the myth of the movie, we have the love story between Jack and Ellie, played by Lily James. And as the story progresses, you know, she's his best friend from childhood. And she's supported him like no one else from the beginning of his career, driving him around to, you know, empty tents and pubs where no one really cares about his music. But she's always believed in him. And as this success finally comes his way - actually pulls him away from her - and I think that starts to eat away at Jack.

SIMON: Forgive me, but it must have cost a fortune to get the rights to play all these Beatles songs in the movie.

PATEL: I believe it did. I don't know exactly the figures. Danny and Richard will be able to explain that more than I can because, of course, that all had to be nailed down before they could even start looking for the actors. But I know that Danny kind of corresponded with Paul and with Ringo and the widows of John and George in order to explain, you know, what it is that he wanted to do and what the story of the film is because it's not just a financial transaction with a record company. These songs mean more to them than any amount of money could possibly pay for.

SIMON: Do you have any idea if, if I may, Sir Paul or Sir Ringo have seen you in the film?

PATEL: I think Paul's seen the trailer. And Danny told me that Paul saw the trailer and said looks like it works. And I think Ringo has seen the movie and is very pleased with it. And Danny got a lovely message from Olivia, George's widow. And that kind of means more than anything else in a way when it comes to this. Of course, we want to connect with people and tell a wonderful story and hope that it brings joy to people's lives. But when you read something from someone like Olivia Harrison, it means more than anything else.

SIMON: You have a nice voice. I assume that's you singing in the film.

PATEL: It is me singing. Yeah. And everything was recorded live.


PATEL: (As Jack Malik, singing) Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it seems as though they're here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.

SIMON: Well, you have a very nice voice.

PATEL: Thank you.

SIMON: But - you knew there was a but coming. I mean, how audacious to sing the most famous Beatles songs in your voice and invite that comparison?

PATEL: I suppose it is. Yeah. It's - for me, it was just a real pleasure to kind of find my confidence again with singing, which had kind of fallen by the wayside. So it was nice to kind of find my confidence again while singing these amazing songs, you know? I'm never going to be as good as the originals. But we gave it a shot (laughter).

SIMON: In this film, do you have a renewed appreciation for what made the Beatles not just so popular but so accomplished, so essential?

PATEL: Absolutely. You realize that their influence was almost beyond the music. The music is so amazing and magical that it becomes more than the sum of its parts. But in terms of what they did, the time at which they became so iconic was a time where people kind of needed reminding of the joy of life, of expression, of fun, of laughter, of love. And they became a phenomenon and continued to maintain those values throughout their career. I think the world would be probably even more different than the world that we depict in the movie. In reality, so much would be missing, and the world would be a much poorer place.

SIMON: Himesh Patel stars in "Yesterday." Thank you so much for being with us.

PATEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.