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Lee: being Suraj guru is a big deal
Ang Lee said felt even more responsibility for first-time actor Suraj Sharma when he found himself being not just his director but also his guru.
The Life Of Pi filmmaker went through a gruelling six-month audition process before he found 18-year-old Suraj, who lives in Dehli with his parents and had never acted before.
But Lee said the newcomer had no problem fitting into the main role of Pi - a boy who is left to survive with a group of zoo animals on a lifeboat after a shipwreck.
"Directing him, it's such an uncanny experience, he's such a talent, like he's done this all his life. He reminds me of those little Buddhas where you just remind him what he used to know in a previous life," said Lee.
Suraj had to learn not only how to act, but how to swim, as well as lose weight to play the starving Pi.
Lee's sense of responsibility was further heightened when Sharma's mother appointed the director as her son's guru in a Hindu ceremony.
"I was shocked," he said, laughing. "It was one day after I cast him, his mother said, 'There's something we have to do, can we go to your room?' And she lit candles and had flowers and put something over my shoulder while Suraj was lying flat on his face and touching my feet to show submissiveness - it's a pretty serious deal."
Rather than a hindrance, working with a novice actor was a blessing for the 58-year-old director. "The good thing about starting from zero is you don't have to reduce any bad habits," he said.
"Directing him, it's such an uncanny experience, he's such a talent, like he's done this all his life. He reminds me of those little Buddhas where you just remind him what he used to know in a previous life," says Lee.
:: Life Of Pi is released in cinemas on Thursday December 20.