Interview And Images: Suraj Sharma

A special photo shoot and interview with the Life of Pi actor.

Suraj Sharma talks about his first role as Pi in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, out on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD on Monday April 29th 2013 and poses for some stunning pics in our mini-gallery.

Many challenges for you on this film – above all learning to swim.
Yeah, that wasn’t very hard. I had really good people training me to do that. We had a lot of time initially. For three months we were training for all of this, so we used to spend three to four hours every day in the water. So you learn how to swim.

You became comfortable in the water?
Oh yeah.

What about the first big storm scene?
Well, it was kind of real. This was probably the fourth or fifth day of shooting, when we started the storm. On the one hand it’s kind of strange that you go into this intense thing right away, but it kind of helps because if you look at it you do all these things where you’re not acting much but you are getting used to the camera. You’re getting familiarised with how everything works with respect to filming.

Also, there isn’t much acting involved because you’re literally on this huge thing that’s moving and you’re slipping around. There’s insane amounts of rain and wind, and everything is very real. So it kind of helps. You start off like that, then everything else is not necessarily easier but it’s definitely milder.

So did you do all your own stunts in the film?
Yeah, it was fine.

And you learned some survival skills from Steve Callahan – that must have been interesting.
It was, very. He genuinely did this. He’s one of those people who has survived the ocean. The things he has to say, you never really think that this is what you’ll end up thinking. He says things like it was the most painful…mentally, emotionally, physically, it was just extremely painful. You’re always trying to survive. But, he says, “now when I look back at it it’s those memories that I cherish the most.” He said that he loved that now, back then it was obviously kind of different. He also said that you see all these beautiful things around you that you’d never see. If you’re not there you wouldn’t ever see them, but you’re so busy trying to survive that you never notice them.

You’re just too focused on trying to live, but when you look back at it you just feel that in many ways you were even lucky to have gone through that. And he talks about emotion, he explained to me how you don’t feel emotion, you don’t feel the regular kind of emotion. You only feel extremities. If you’re feeling sad you feel so hopeless and helpless, and if you feel happy you’re just ecstatic. But they last very short periods of time. The state you’re in most of the time is survival mode, you know. You’re just concentrating on trying to live. You have too much time on your hands.

How difficult was it to maintain your energy losing all that weight as Pi – were you thinking of food when you should have been concentrating on the role?
Well Pi was thinking of food, you’ve got to look at it that way. I was doing all this losing weight, and swimming all the time, and I was extremely tired – I really was – but at the same time that’s exactly what Pi was at that point. He was alone, he was seeing the same things every day. He was just trying to survive, he was extremely hungry, super tired. But that’s how we were. It kind of helps, actually, in the acting.

Ang Lee is very protective of you, did you see him as a father figure on this?
Yeah, definitely. Initially it was easier, but eventually there was a point we called the isolation period where he instructed the crew not to talk to me. This is also when Pi starts going insane, and Pi starts losing himself. He starts hitting spirituality. It was kind of happening to me also, but I barely talked to anybody at that point.

I was meditating a lot, listening to this… Ang likes calling it “God music.” I don’t really have a genre for it. But it’s just very heavy stuff, put it like that. It just puts you into this state, it’s hard to explain. I don’t know what it was, it was dark.

Your relationship with your co-star Richard Parker is terrific, and while you were in no physical danger you had the considerable challenge of acting opposite something that wasn’t there. How was that?
Well, initially it was a little bit stranger obviously, trying to imagine a tiger in front of you. So what we used to do, we had four tigers and I used to watch them being trained and see how they moved, how they reacted to things. How they reacted to water. I used to watch videos and stuff like that.

Initially it was a little bit strange, but we managed to get it done. Because we were doing this for so many hours every single day it eventually became as if he was there. It felt like Richard Parker was on the boat.

How did you feel when you saw the character realised in the finished film – what was your reaction to that?
I don’t know how they did that. Every time I’ve seen a CGI animal or something like that I can tell, up until now. This tiger, I know he wasn’t on the boat but the effects did a good job. It’s amazing.

So you’re like every other member of the audience watching the film, in awe of this character?
Yeah, yeah. But see, I remember when we were shooting it. It was this boat, me, a lot of water and a lot of blue. Now there’s barely any blue, but colours, it’s just so vivid and beautiful. And there’s this tiger, which you just believe is a tiger. It was hard for me to actually understand how they did that. I don’t get it. They did a pretty good job.

Life Of Pi is available on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD from April 29 and on digital platforms from April 15 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.