Actor Spotlight: Suraj Sharma

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox
November 26th, 2012

Actor Spotlight: Suraj Sharma

Suraj Sharma was just seventeen when he accompanied his brother to an acting audition in Delhi. He went along for the promise of a sandwich and to keep his sibling company. At the audition, a casting director asked him to give it a go just for the sake of experience, and little more than a year later, the young man is becoming a household name.

Sharma surprisingly took the lead in Ang Lee's latest blockbuster, "The Life of Pi." Adapted from the bestselling 2001 novel written by Yann Martel, the movie follows the travels of a boy separated from his family after a shipwreck leaves him stranded at sea. A Bengal tiger meant for a zoo winds up his only company.

In the book and the movie, it is Pi's unique way of seeing the world that pulls people in. Faced with insurmountable odds and troubling living conditions, the boy falls back on a mixture of religious ideals taken from Buddhism, Christianity, and various other faiths to keep his spirits afloat. While readers were charmed by the inspiring tale as told by Martel, audiences have been wowed by Lee's brilliantly colorful rendition of the story and by Sharma's endearing approach to the leading role.

The teen's success onscreen is something the actor can't account for. Unlike his brother, Sharma had not acted before and was more surprised than anyone when he was chosen for the role. Throughout "The Life of Pi" Sharma is regularly the only actor on screen. In addition, most of his scenes were filmed against a blue screen, with digital artists later adding in his tiger companion.

How a leading Hollywood director took a chance on someone with literally no experience is a mystery, but it is a personal story that ties in eerily with the movie's central theme. In many ways, Sharma's inexperience made him perfect for the role so many fans of the novel were eager to see. It was a choice that defined the rest of the film, forcing Ang to stray from the big names that have brought him success in the past. Along with Sharma, for example, the role of the writer-originally portrayed by Tobey Maguire-was reshot featuring successful bit actor, Rafe Spall.

The initial success of "The Life of Pi" has left audiences astounded and critics questioning whether the movie will be up for an Oscar. From the film techniques used by Lee to highlight the story's mystical, larger-than-life leanings, to the challenging and well-played lead role, the film is expected to make a big splash on the national and international scene.

Previously, Suraj Sharma was planning to study economics, something his parents fully supported. Both mathematicians, they had a harder time encouraging their son to take a year off of school to film a movie. However, it seems like a choice that may pay off more than anyone imagined.

The teen had also never left India-he had never even been in the ocean. As part of his role as Pi, young Sharma experienced many firsts and was forced to develop a wide range of new skills, swimming included. He spent three months preparing under the direction of Ang Lee before filming began.

In that short time, he mastered the ability to bring emotion to screen and convincingly work alongside costars he couldn't even see. While Sharma gives credit to Lee and the experts on set who taught him everything from yoga to diving, it is clear a dose of natural talent went into making the film.

Sharma's first venture outside of India was to the nearby country of Taiwan, where the teen spent ten months filming. It took an additional year for the final touches to be put on "The Life of Pi." As was expected of the young upstart, that time wasn't wasted, and Sharma began his studies at Delhi University. Now, of course, he's busy touring the world.

While Sharma doesn't have any concrete plans to continue in acting, he has decided to make the film industry a focus of his future career. Economics is off the books for now, as he explores ways to be part of the creative process. From the set to the score, Sharma was wowed by the experience and the end result of making "The Life of Pi." He's surely made a big enough impact in his debut role to be taken seriously. The young man's prospects will skyrocket if the movie, carried in large part by his first acting performance, brings home an Academy Award for Best Picture.