Fate plays its part in lead role
Actor Suraj Sharma completes the Pi, writes
HERE were so many quirky coincidences surrounding the casting of 17-year-old unknown Suraj Sharma for Life of Pi that director Ang Lee says you have to believe fate played a part.
Sharma, now 19, had never had any inclination to act and only went to the auditions for Life of Pi as moral support for his brother.
From the 3000 who auditioned, Sharma was chosen to play the title character of Pi. Coincidentally, his parents are mathematicians. But Lee refuses to say these were mere coincidences. ‘‘Fate, definitely,’’ the director says. ‘‘And you have to believe in that. It just so happened that this is a project that relates to fate and faith. It feels like God was telling me, ‘it will be difficult but here’s the boy. Go and make that movie . . . I did have that feeling.’’
Lee, an Oscar-winner known for films such as Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, says Sharma may be a first-time actor but it doesn’t feel that way directing him.
‘‘Directing him is not so much like teaching him, but it’s more like reminding him of what he was good at from a last life or something. It’s uncanny,’’ he says.
Life of Pi, based on Yann Martel’s novel, stars Sharma as Pi, a young man who survives a horrible disaster, only to become stranded at sea with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker.
Aside from filming his scenes with an imagined tiger (added later with CGI), he had to learn to swim for the role and went from 68kg to 75kg before dropping to 59kg in real time during shooting.
Sharma says learning to hold his breath was harder than learning to swim (it took six days) but the weight loss was intense.
‘‘I was thinking at that point, that I’m pretty thin, so I’ll probably lose the weight easily, but no . . . I had no idea what I was getting myself into. That was painful,’’ he says.
Sharma celebrated his 18th birthday on the set. ‘‘It was a good way to turn 18 but more than my birthday, in general, I’ve kind of felt like I grew up in many ways, working on this movie,’’ he says.
Filmed partly on location in Lee’s home of Taiwan, Sharma spent most of his days in the largest self-generating wave tank ever built for a motion picture.
‘‘No matter how promising we do technically, without that boy, you don’t have a movie,’’ Lee says.
While 3D is common in big action films, if he can get the funding, Lee hopes to try it with a drama, saying dramatically it has a huge advantage over 2D.
If history is any indication, Lee’s next film will be based on a book. So far, his list of credits is filled with adaptations, which aside from Life of Pi include Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility, Hulk and Taking Woodstock. Lee says books are a source of rich material.
‘‘(But) I’m not just merely translating words into picture. When the book inspires me it makes me want to jump up and do something cinematically about it.’’ Life of Pi is an example of that. ‘‘There’s a line in Life of Pi at the end of the movie when Pi told the writer, ‘the story’s yours now’,’’ Lee says.
‘‘It feels like... it’s my story now. Not only am I the master of the story, but I’m also the slave to that story and if there’s something cinematically, the story (will) pass on through me to the audience.’’
opens on New Year’s Day.
Suraj Sharma in a scene from
which opens on Tuesday.