Filmed in India and Taiwan, Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” team – actors and crew have been doing the rounds in various parts of the globe this last quarter of 2012 to introduce a story that was first thought of as unbelievable and ‘unfilmable.’ Lee creates a groundbreaking movie event about Pi, a young man who survives a disaster at sea and is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an amazing and unexpected connection with another survivor, a fearsome Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
The book, as Yann describes in the first few pages is emblematic of his hunger at a time when he needed direction and purpose for his life. Just like Martel, the book and movie’s protagonist Pi, goes through a transformational journey. The role of Pi, played by newcomer Suraj Sharma never intended to audition who just accompanied his brother at the casting call, was ultimately chosen by Ang Lee’s team among more than 3,000 hopefuls for the lead role. Prior that point in his life, Suraj had been living like a normal teenager. “I was really nervous, especially during the final audition,” he recalls. “I was actually shaking. I talked to Ang for five minutes and he’s got this thing about him: Whoever’s around him, somehow you get really calm. So Ang calmed me down, and we did the scene. I wasn’t really happy with what I did because still I had this little bit of nervousness. Ang talked to me for ten minutes, and we did the scene again. I don’t know what happened, but it was pretty much the best work I had done through all the auditions. Everyone in the room looked really happy.”
Likewise, Lee admits that “Life of Pi” is a personal transformational journey for him as well. Known for his fearless helming of new territories, Lee’s movies span all genres making ripples of hits out of challenging materials presented to him. “Life of Pi” is Lee’s first foray into 3D filmmaking, which he envisioned for this story long before “Avatar” hit theaters. He uses that tool to expand the scope of the film, immerse us in Pi’s physical journey, and envelop us in the story’s emotional hold. “I wanted the experience of the film to be as unique as Yann Martel’s book,” says Lee, “and that meant creating the film in another dimension. 3D is a new cinematic language, and in LIFE OF PI it’s just as much about immersing audiences in the characters’ emotional space as it is about the epic scale and adventure.”
“We searched for a young man who had the innocence to capture our attention, the depth of character to break our hearts, and the physicality needed to embody Pi on his journey,” says Lee. He also marvels at Suraj’s innocence and efforts, noting, “We are all experienced and perhaps a little jaded. Suraj reminded us why we want to make movies. Every day was a miracle.”
In telling Pi’s story, Mr. Lee pushes the boundaries of cutting-edge motion picture technologies. LIFE OF PI represents a moment when the science and art of filmmaking have jumped forward, as it did with the visual effects of “Titanic,” the 3D revolution of “Avatar,” and the CGI work in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which brought unprecedented emotion and depth to the character of Caesar. And like Caesar, LIFE OF PI’s Richard Parker is a fully-realized, accessible character, whom you’ll believe was actually on that lifeboat with Suraj.”
“Life of Pi” opens this January 9 across the nation from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.