Back in 2007, I reveled in scouring YouTube, blogs, and sketchy upload websites every Thursday to watch the latest episode of Skins, the then-new British coming-of-age drama that was far raunchier and much funnier than its American counterparts. It quickly became a cult hit in the United States, its first two seasons alone launching the careers of Oscar-nominated actors like Nicholas Hoult, Daniel Kaluuya, and Dev Patel.
But, admittedly, it was Hoult who was propped up as the program’s resident hottie—and, arguably, the show’s antagonist. Kaluuya’s memorable but small role was relegated to comic relief, and Patel’s role relegated to, well, comic relief with a side of Muslim Kid Drama™. In a new interview with the New York Times, Patel is candid about the ways in which the role made him very self-conscious about his appearance as a teen.
Patel, whose new film, The Green Knight, premieres July 30, said that his role on Skins as the goofy, sex-obsessed Anwar was a double-edged sword.
The show was a hit, but the neighbors were horrified. “It felt like suicide in the community to put your kid into a TV show and let him drop out of school at 16,” Patel said. “While everyone else’s kid is off becoming a doctor or a dentist, I’m here on this TV show,” he said, “simulating sex and taking drugs.”
He had never acted on camera before, and “Skins” was a trial by fire. The money was good enough to improve his family’s situation — with his first paycheck, Patel bought his sister a new bed — but the show’s large online following cut both ways.
As someone who was a part of the show’s online fandom, I easily predicted what followed: Fans of the show regularly treated Anwar as an afterthought.
From the Times, emphasis ours:
“I was a young kid going on these chat rooms and it was quite brutal,” Patel said. “There were all these lists of who’s the favorite character on the show or who was the best-looking character, and I was always the ugliest, the least attractive. No one liked Anwar. It really took a toll on me personally.”
Maybe that’s why he still mistrusts compliments 15 years later, or why he makes fun of himself before anyone else might get the chance. When I bring up the fan base that’s rooting for him on social media, I can’t even finish the sentence before Patel interjects: “All three members of that fan base?”
It feels unfair to say that Patel had a glow-up; Patel is an incredibly handsome man—even more so after reading in the Times that he used his Skins money to buy his sister a bed. But even when he played Anwar, Patel was always cute in a very approachable way. That’s just one facet of Skins that felt so much more realistic than teen programs stateside: These actors looked like they could be in your eleventh-grade classroom, as opposed to actors on the CW, who were so ridiculously good-looking that they might as well have been created in a lab.
Still, racist beauty standards abound, especially in the 2000s, and the Skins fandom was not exempt from this by any means. This is the same fandom that seemed to revel in confusing actor Laya Lewis, who played Liv in the show’s fifth and sixth seasons, with Jal, played by Larissa Wilson in seasons one and two. The only thing Liv and Jal had in common was that they were both portrayed by Black women and have three letters in their names.
But hopefully, Patel is able to look back on his Skins era with some fondness. Even 14 years after Skins debuted, many of Anwar’s scenes are some of the most memorable from the program.