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Indian teen newcomer gets ‘Life of Pi’ lead

Ang Lee to start lensing early next year

Fox 2000’s bigscreen adaptation of Yann Martel’s tome “Life of Pi” is at last rowing off to sea, with Ang Lee set to start lensing the fantasy adventure early next year.

After a monthslong search during which 3,000 young men auditioned, Lee has cast 17-year-old newcomer Suraj Sharma in the title role. Sharma is a student who lives with his mathematician parents in Delhi, India. Fox will release the pic on Dec. 14, 2012.

“Life of Pi” will be Lee’s first 3D pic and utilize state-of-the-art technology in rendering the adventure tale.

Lee will direct from a script by David Magee (“Finding Neverland”). Lee begins principal photography in January in Taiwan and India.

Gill Netter is producing “Life of Pi,” which will be a large-scale, all-audience film.

“Pi” tells the story of a boy lost at sea for 227 days in a lifeboat with four unusual and increasingly hungry companions — a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, a hyena, a zebra and an orangutan — after the ship carrying his family and its zoo animals sinks.

The novel, winner of the Man Booker Prize, was a global publishing phenom when Fox 2000’s Elizabeth Gabler acquired rights. At that point, M. Night Shyamalan was attached to direct “Life of Pi,” but he exited early on because of scheduling conflicts.

Lee boarded “Life of Pi” last year. Since then, Lee and the studio have been working on his vision for the film.

Lee was last in theaters with “Taking Woodstock” from Focus Features. Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chair Tom Rothman has worked with Lee three times before, on “The Wedding Banquet” and “Eat Drink Man Woman’ at Samuel Goldwyn, and on “Ice Storm” at Fox Searchlight.

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