Dev Patel has said it was “brave” of director Armando Iannucci to cast him in Charles Dickens adaptation The Personal History of David Copperfield.
Patel’s role as the title character in the new take on Dickens’ classic 1850 novel is a rare example of an actor of colour being cast to play a traditionally white part.
The 29-year-old Oscar nominee said he hopes this casting decision “sets a trend” that opens up classic roles to non-white performers.
“As a young actor, all you want to be able to do is play and explore,” Patel told Yahoo Movies UK.
He added: “You don't get into this industry to be boxed or pigeon-holed. The very nature of this job is about curiosity and it should be boundless.”
Patel explained his appreciation for The Thick of It creator Iannucci, adding that people in positions of power such as him have a role to play in creating opportunities.
Read more: Patel shines in David Copperfield trailer
He said: “It takes people like Armando and the guys at the top to be brave.
“It's weird saying 'brave' because there should be no braveness involved, but we're at that stage.
“He was brave and he has had to field a lot of questions about it in press and it can divert from the story sometimes.
“But it's amazing. It really is a joy and it's really important and I hope it sets a trend for other actors.”
As well as Patel, actors including Benedict Wong and Rosalind Eleazar appear in the film, taking on roles which were originally written as white people.
Iannucci himself defended the decision in an interview with The Guardian, saying: “It just felt like, why are we not doing this?”
He added: “I wanted to celebrate what Britain actually is, and it’s much more of a carefree, enjoyable, humorous kind of zesty, energetic place.”
Patel praised Iannucci for finding the “buoyancy” in the world Dickens created in the novel and said he would often be greeted by 20-page rewrites for the following day’s shooting when he wrapped each day.
He said: “[Iannucci] doesn't stop squeezing the juice out of the lemon and when there's no juice he will start grating the rind.
“He's just looking, finding the comedy and making each moment as complex — and sometimes as ridiculous — as he can. He toes the line beautifully.”
The Personal History of David Copperfield is in UK cinemas from 24 January.