Helmer Ang Lee auditioned more than 3,000 young men from all over India for the lead role of Fox’s “Life of Pi” before he reached Suraj Sharma. The South Delhi native, who celebrated his 18th birthday on the set of the film, has as his background some training in Hindustani music and karate, but no acting experience to speak of.

On performing his debut role opposite a computer-generated co-star — a virtual tiger on a cramped boat in the middle of an outdoor wave tank in Taiwan no less — Sharma says, “Well, this was my first time acting, so I can’t really compare it to acting with something else.”

The challenge aside, Lee made sure Sharma clocked in plenty of time observing the behavior of tigers to internalize their mannerisms, giving him a mental catalog of their reactions to work off. Though he has no follow-up acting projects booked just yet, Sharma does have plans for the future: He would like to study film at New York U.’s Tisch School of the Arts after he graduates from the philosophy program at his current university in India.

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