Myers Park High School graduate, Ravi Patel is in the movie, ‘Long Shot’
When we last saw Ravi Patel four years ago, he was looking for love in the documentary “Meet the Patels.” He found it soon afterward, marrying actress Mahaley Hessam and fathering a daughter named Amelie.
Now he should be looking for a clone.
The Myers Park High School graduate, whose parents live in Ballantyne, has his highest-profile screen exposure in “Long Shot,” playing an advisor to presidential candidate Charlize Theron. He’s on the TV series “American Housewife” and has roles in three upcoming films: “Emmett,” “Butter” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” about which he’s mum until it opens in June 2020: “(Warner Brothers) really doesn’t want you to say anything in advance.”
Meanwhile, he’s preparing an Indian Netflix series about stand-up comedy, developing a CNN travel series, and helping to run This Bar Saves Lives, which sends a food packet — a peanut paste full of vitamins and nutrients to treat malnutrition — to underprivileged kids each time someone buys a snack bar. (The website reports 11 million packets have been given away.)
It doesn’t sound ironic when he says “I am getting a lot stricter about my time, because I want to spend more of it with my wife and child. I generally don’t work more than 10 to 12 hours a day now.” It sounds as if, on a brief hiatus from toil, he has invented a 30-hour day.
Surprised by success
Patel was busy before he and sister Geeta co-directed “Meet the Patels,” a gently comic look at Vasant and Champa Patel’s attempts to find an Indian bride for their 30-something son.
He’d already become a journeyman actor after earning a degree in economics and international studies from UNC-Chapel Hill, working briefly as an investment banker, and starting the poker magazine All In. He’d scored small roles in movies (“Transformers,” “Hotel California”) and recurring parts on TV series: “Extra Money,” “Past Life,” “The New Normal.”
But that documentary gave his wry, huggable screen personality a higher profile. At 40, life has become so hectic that he makes most phone calls from his car, and his voicemail reply says “I rarely check voicemails.” (Vasant demurs: “He never checks them. Better text him.”)
It’s no surprise that our phone interview fades as he goes in and out of traffic and lobbies and elevators, that it has to be interrupted briefly and ends with him saying, “Call me back if you need to. I don’t mind phone tag.” Through all interruptions, he sounds cheerful and calm and slightly surprised by his own success.
Many things have fallen into his lap lately, occasionally without apparent effort.
Patty Jenkins directed him in “Five,” an anthology film for Lifetime in 2011; she helms the “Wonder Woman” franchise, remembered him and “reached out to me. I was cast before I knew what the role was. I’d work with her on anything, but ‘Wonder Woman’ is a no-brainer.”
“Long Shot” came almost as easily: “I don’t audition a ton at this point. Not that I’m being offered a million things, but I’m so busy producing and doing unscripted stuff and have the granola bar company.
“I didn’t want to go, because I had another meeting and was not doing so well that day. I didn’t prepare and improvised a lot, because I didn’t know the words my character was supposed to say. I went in and out and thought, ‘Whatever.’ But a couple of weeks later, I was told I was the first person cast after Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron. We spent three and a half months filming in Montreal and Colombia, and it ended up being a cool gig.”
Meanwhile, Starbucks signed a contract to sell This Bar Saves Lives in every store, displaying the snacks in the same place for easy visual access. Patel founded that company with actors Kristen Bell, Ryan Devlin and Todd Grinnell six years ago.
“This is the most important time of the company’s growth, with other big accounts lining up,” he says. “I just spent two and a half months going to the office every day, because we have a new CEO, and there are a lot of little details to the transition. My philosophy in general is to partner with smart people, then remove myself from the process.”
In the works
His Indian roots led him to the yet-untitled Netflix show, a scripted half-hour about a young female comedian that will be shot at the end of the year. Patel says the Indian stand-up circuit has been active for perhaps 12 years: “It’s like what the underground hip-hop scene was in the States in the 1980s, a hip place to be but also a platform for emerging voices.”
Meanwhile, he’s embarking on a CNN travel series he describes as “ ‘Meet the Patels’ meets ‘Parts Unknown’ (the Emmy-winning hit with the late Anthony Bourdain). It will be uplifting and fun and explore cultures around the world. In every episode, I will travel with someone I love and bring up a question that reveals something about life. It’ll be a buddy comedy that creates the cultural voyeurism these shows do well and works in some philosophy.”
Speaking of someone you love … she’s not Indian, right? How did she go down with the Patels?
“We met around the time the documentary was on the festival circuit in 2014, and my parents took to her right away. She’s half-white and half-Afghan, just a loyal, family-oriented, loving person. When we had Amelie (who’s now 3), they became obsessed with their granddaughter. We’re pretty obsessed with her, too.
“My wife’s mom and my mom are big personalities, always multitasking and helping a million people. They’ve kind of created a granddaughter who’s a combination of them. She gets up in the morning and goes goes goes, and she’s bossing people around. Actually, I have a tiring situation at home.”
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.