Suraj Sharma who hails from India never expected a “Life of Pi” when he accompanied his brother to the movie’s casting call. Born and raised in Delhi, India and raised by mathematician parents, it seemed that from more than 3,000 hopefuls who auditioned for the role, Suraj was destined to play the role of Pi, a mathematical constant transcendental number.
He has recently been nominated in the upcoming Critics’ Choice Movie Awards for Best Young Actor for his role in “Life of Pi” along with other actors/actresses such as Elle Fanning (“Ginger & Rosa”) and Logan Lerman (“Perks of Being a Wallflower”).
The story revolves around Pi, a delightfully enthusiastic teenager who lives with his zoo-keeping family in Pondicherry, India. Inquisitive and intelligent, he explores different cultures and spiritual traditions. Pi has open-minded parents who allow him to become a free thinker, finding his own path. Due to a worsening economic climate, Pi’s parents decide to emigrate to start a new life in Canada. But the ship sinks. Eventually only Pi and the tiger are left alive on the lifeboat and the unlikely pair embarks on an Odyssey that is fraught with danger. On the precarious lifeboat he shares with the tiger, Pi finds inner strength and becomes aware that some kind of higher power is in charge of his destiny.
The heightened emotional connections presented in the movie required exceptional performances from its cast, none more so than the neophyte thespian who would take on the titular hero. “We searched for a young man who had the innocence to capture our attention, the depth of character to break our hearts, and the physicality needed to embody Pi on his journey,” says director Ang Lee. “During his audition, Suraj filled the room with emotion, much of which he conveyed simply through his eyes. His natural ability to believe and stay in the world of the story is a rare treasure.
“Suraj’s investment in the story made us really believe that whatever challenges we faced, the film was really going to happen,” adds the director. “When we saw Suraj, we saw the movie. Mr. Lee marvels at Suraj’s innocence and efforts, noting, “We are all experienced and perhaps a little jaded. Suraj reminded us why we want to make movies. Every day was a miracle.”
For Suraj Sharma, the experience of landing the starring role was surreal. “It was all so new for me,” says Suraj. “I had never been out of India. I didn’t know how to act or swim. I learned how to swim and now it’s my favorite thing to do. Shooting the film in Taiwan and meeting people from all over the world in the crew was fantastic. You get an idea of how diverse the world is. I was really inspired by everything I saw and everyone I got to know. I wanted to give it everything I had.”
Sharma also went through rigorous workouts to increase his stamina, which gave him an inner discipline and strength that enabled him to empathize with the character. “What defines Pi is his never-ending will to survive, he has a belief in the world and I think that’s what sets him apart from everyone else. He survives by instinct. But he also possessed a strong sprit from the beginning, right from being a child. But Pi kept that innocence inside him and with innocence comes belief.”
“Life of Pi” opens January 9 in 3D and 2D theaters nationwide from 20th Century Fox thru Warner Bros.