"At some point, once you get to the journey, you become the movie you're making," Lee said. "[I felt] like Pi himself. We're going through a journey. We're adrift across the Pacific with a tiger ... but we're still living ... and you have to believe that it's going somewhere."
Lee said that journey took the casting people to just about every high school in India, searching for just the right actor who could play Pi. Three thousand auditioned. Lee homed in on one.
"When I saw Suraj [Sharma]," Lee said, "he [looked] like Pi. These deep, soulful, smart eyes. And just the demeanor. ... And, of course, I tested him, and it's good news: The kid is a genius."
Suraj Sharma had to learn a lot, starting with how to swim. He had never acted before; He wanted to be an architect, Lee said, adding that Sharma had only accompanied his brother to the audition. The casting director noticed he was a better age fit and invited him to read.
Lee didn't let anyone talk to Sharma during the last month of filming.