Hollywood

Meet Himesh Patel, the Beatles-singing 'Yesterday' breakout who's 'just a bloke'

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British newcomer Himesh Patel had to sing Beatles songs live for the romantic comedy “Yesterday,” which imagines a world without the Fab Four.
USA TODAY

Already, Himesh Patel has reached a top goal for many English musicians: playing London’s Wembley Stadium.

OK, so maybe hardly anybody was there when he performed The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” while filming a climactic scene for the new romantic comedy “Yesterday” – tens of thousands of screaming fans would be added later, courtesy of movie magic. And he couldn’t really rock out that hard because of local noise regulations.

Still, it was a surreal and thrilling experience for the up-and-coming British actor on his path to total Beatlemania. “I guess I’m probably one of the few guys who can say I played to an empty Wembley Stadium,” Patel says.  

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Director Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday” casts Patel, 28, as Jack Malik, a struggling singer/songwriter who can’t get anybody to pay attention to his music. That all changes after he’s hit by a bus during a massive worldwide blackout: Jack discovers he’s the only person who remembers the Fab Four and becomes an overnight success passing off great Beatles songs as his own.

Patel’s musical journey – documented in a behind-the-scenes video premiering exclusively at USATODAY.com – included two-and-a-half months of perfecting Beatles tunes and singing live while cameras rolled. Among the “nerve-wracking” highlights were doing “Help!” on a hotel roof in front of 6,000 people and crooning “The Long and Winding Road” in a songwriting duel between Jack and Ed Sheeran (who plays himself).

Here’s what else Patel’s new American fans should know about the relatively unknown actor and his film debut:

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He wasn’t a huge Beatles nut growing up

Patel figures “Yesterday” had “the best prep period” ever since it was just him listening to all of the group’s albums, “which is nothing but a joy.” It also made up for a lack of their influence in his childhood: His parents arrived in the U.K. from India soon after The Beatles split in 1970, “but that wave had kind of ended,” Patel says. His family was more apt to have South Asian and Bollywood playing around the house, though John Lennon’s “Imagine” is his mom’s favorite song. (Because the tune is from John’s solo career, Patel doesn’t sing it in “Yesterday,” though “we added a lovely touch” to the film to reference it.) 

But George Harrison is pretty much Patel’s favorite

While Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr all “have really great qualities,” Patel feels most of a connection with George Harrison because of his fascination with Indian culture and Hinduism. “It was part of my identity that I felt like I struggled to share with people growing up in the U.K. as a teenager,” Patel says. “Whereas here was this man who popularized it in some way and brought it to the masses back in the ‘60s, introduced people to the sitar and that level of spiritualism.”

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Only one guy remembers The Beatles in Danny Boyle’s new musical comedy “Yesterday.”
Universal

Patel weathered an early crisis of confidence

In his teens, Patel sang in school choirs and plays as well when doing youth theater, where he’d often have “solo bits.” One unfortunate incident (an ironic one in hindsight) occurred when doing “Let It Be” and his singing teacher singled him out to do the second line in the chorus, which was just out of his range. (Thanks, puberty.) “My voice just squeaked it. It sounded like an alarm going off, and I remember just being mortified,” Patel recalls. Hopefully, she’ll hear him get it right on the “Yesterday” soundtrack: “Look, I did it! We got there, eventually.”

He has diverse music tastes (but is now quite the Ed Sheeran fan)

Patel’s personal playlist includes the Black Keys, Radiohead, Muse, James Blake, Australian singer/songwriter Matt Corby and British Indian world musician Nitin Sawhney, who was “a big one” for Patel as a teenager. He also has a new respect for co-star Sheeran (whose own backstory as a toiling musician from a coastal English town is a basis for “Yesterday”). During rehearsals, Patel went to one of Sheeran’s stadium shows and “watched him stroll up in front of 70,000 people and just play. He does it so humbly and he’s never anything but himself.”

The actor will next share the screen with an Oscar winner and Olaf

Patel’s career is taking off – quite literally when you consider his next movie, the adventurous biopic “The Aeronauts” (Oct. 25), about the hot-air balloon exploits of scientist James Glaisher (played by Eddie Redmayne).  Patel’s also teaming with “Frozen” star Josh Gad and Hugh Laurie for the upcoming HBO sci-fi comedy “Avenue 5.” And just in case “Yesterday” kicks off “Himeshmania” in the States, Patel wants everyone to know that he’s “just a bloke. We have this thing of idolizing and putting people on pedestals, but really we’re all people. Some of us are lucky enough to get to do this kind of amazing thing.”

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  • For a band with such a seismic influence on music and1 of 9
  • PAUL MEETS JOHN | On July 6, 1957, Paul McCartney, 15, met John Lennon, 16, at a church fair in Liverpool. He would soon be asked to John Lennon's band, The Quarrymen, founding one of the greatest songwriting partnerships of all time.2 of 9
  • THE BEATLES SIGN WITH BRIAN | The lads truly arrived when the scion of a record-store chain, Brian Epstein (left, over Ed Sullivan's shoulder), took note of their talent and signed them to a management contract in January 1962.3 of 9
  • RINGO REPLACES PETE | Drummer Pete Best's run lasted 1960-1962, when he was replaced by Ringo Starr. Ultimately, Starr's quirky, cheerful personality proved to be among the greatest contributions to the Fab Four's success.4 of 9
  • THE RECORDING OF 'LOVE ME DO' | Though the song itself, released on Oct. 5, 1962, doesn't stand up against later work, the choice of 'Love Me Do' as a debut single speaks volumes about the band's faith in its own material.5 of 9
  • FIRST 'ED SULLIVAN SHOW' APPEARANCE | Feb. 9, 1964, marked the band's first appearance on American television. Before they could get more than a few beats into 'All My Loving,' screams that could drown out a jet engine filled the studio.6 of 9
  • ROCKING SHEA STADIUM | Today, we think nothing of hot rock bands filling huge arenas. But such mass musical gatherings were unheard of until The Beatles packed New York's Shea Stadium on Aug. 15, 1965, playing before 55,000.7 of 9
  • 'SGT. PEPPER' RELEASED | The Beatles push the envelope of pop music with 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,' released June 1, 1967, a conceptual and sonic masterpiece considered the most influential album of all time.8 of 9
  • APPLE ROOFTOP CONCERT | At midday on a gray Jan. 30, 1969, most Londoners were heading out to lunch. The Beatles were heading to the roof of their Apple Corps headquarters for a final impromptu concert.9 of 9

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