Some considered it a risky move for director Ang Lee to cast an unknown in his adaptation of the celebrated novel, Life of Pi but Suraj Sharma is already winning rave reviews as an Indian boy who is stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger for more than 200 days.
Sharma was picked for the role of Pi after more than 3,000 actors auditioned. “I have been born and brought up in Delhi and my brother has acted in a couple of films,” he said. “The auditions happened and the casting director was my brother’s friend and he’s been close to my family for a while. I went for the auditions with my brother for moral support…I didn’t really want to act, but I don’t know, it happened. They kept calling me back.”
“Two weeks later, they said, ‘Hey, Suraj you have to come to Taiwan.’ Funnily enough even then I didn’t believe I had got the role. It’s very difficult to believe. You don’t think things like that can happen to you.”
“I had never acted before, but I knew I would like it,” the 19-year-old said in an interview with Reuters. “My brother and I would act to ourselves. We would walk down streets being different people and that is the only acting I have ever done. I got exposed to real movie-making and how things are done. It’s a lot of people who come together, a lot of dreams that come together. For me, I just want to be on set. I don’t care what I would be. If it’s acting, directing, if it is props I don’t care…Things might get better or worse, but this will always be there. A part of me will always be stuck in Taiwan [where the film was shot], on that boat.”
Sharma had to film many scenes with a ‘fake’ tiger that would later be inserted with CGI. “For the most part, we were shooting in a big blue tank with big blue walls around it and the blue sky above you,” he said. “Everything was blue except for me and the raft. We had four tigers being trained as reference. I would watch them everyday—how they would react to the water, the atmosphere, how they moved. I watched videos of tigers, I talked to the tiger trainer, etc. and so you assemble this huge picture in your head. Initially it was a very conscious attempt to imagine the tiger on the boat. But later, it became real to me. By the end of it I didn’t need to imagine him. For me it was real.”
Life of Pi hits theaters November 21.