"Yesterday": How director Danny Boyle knew that Himesh Patel should star in new Beatles film

Himesh Patel on new film "Yesterday"

The Beatles had 20 singles that topped the Billboard Hot 100 Pop chart and they remain one of the most influential bands of all time. We assume their songs are unforgettable — but the new film "Yesterday" is set in a different world where an aspiring singer named Jack is the only musician who remembers the iconic group. Jack, played by actor Himesh Patel, pretends the songs are his and becomes famous.

Danny Boyle, who directed "Yesterday," said he knew immediately that Patel was the right person for the film's starring role.

"You narrow the field down very quickly, because it's not like horse-riding. Actors will promise you that they can ride a horse and you can't test it," Boyle said. "But [Patel] turned up and it was extraordinary. You knew he was the guy straight away."

"He sang with soul," Boyle explained. "You cannot manufacture it."

"CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King pointed out that "Yesterday" makes a point of not addressing Jack's ethnicity. Patel said he's been "quite lucky" to find similar roles in recent years.

"I think there's been a change in the narrative," he said, "because people are speaking up on new platforms and being listened to in different ways."  

Boyle said all that mattered was Patel's talent. "It's just quality," he said, adding, "I wouldn't have cast him if I'd found somebody better. It's a terrible thing to say, but, you know, it's true. He was the best. It's a triumph of talent, really, over other systems of stardom."   

Originally, Patel said he "knew what we all tend to know" of The Beatles, but now he's a "huge fan." He had to learn the songs well, because all of the performances in the film were live — and some of them were in front of pop icon Ed Sheeran.

Patel said that when he first met Sheeran, Boyle made him perform "The Long and Winding Road." "I just had to sing a cappella in front of Ed Sheeran five minutes after meeting him," he recalled.

While Boyle said that Sheeran was a good actor, he admitted that he wasn't the first choice for the role.  

"We asked Chris Martin [Coldplay's lead singer] first," Boyle said with a laugh. But when Martin wasn't available, he said, "we went to [Sheeran] and lied and said, 'Ed, you're our first choice.' And he said, 'No I'm not. You just asked Chris Martin.'"  

Boyle said that the premise came from one of his writers, who's a "crazy Beatles fan." He added that The Beatles were surprisingly amenable to green-lighting a movie about their band being forgotten.

"I think that's their sense of humor," Boyle said. "Because it's not like a straight biopic or a life story like so many films these days. They have such a sense of humor as a group, I think they liked the idea of, 'Let's do one where we're erased from the world's consciousness and see what happens.'"

"I think it does have the joy of their work in it… There's some solemn moments in it and some very tender, melancholy moments in it," Boyle said, "but it has joy in it, like their songs do." 

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