The Life of Pi actor, says it was all about learning, unlearning and understanding, with a lot of room to grow
Suraj Sharma rediscovered his passion for working with his hands. The 27-year-old (his birthday was on March 21) actor found he had time on his hands, thanks to the pandemic, and created a couple of clay figurines.
Suraj, who made his acting debut with Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (2012) feels a kinship with Hassan, the protagonist of his latest film, The Illegal. Hassan comes to the US to study film but circumstances force him to drop out. Speaking from New York, Suraj talks of his role, Life of Pi and the day he would like to repeat on a loop. Excerpts.
How did you come to be attached to The Illegal?
Danish Renzu, the director, came to me with the script, which I found extremely beautiful, insightful and familiar.
Hassan and I share quite a few similarities — we are both from Delhi and came to the US to study film. When we were shooting, there were a lot of immigration-related questions in the news. It was important to be able to tell the story. Talking with Danish and getting his story and perspective also motivated me.
What part of Hassan were you able to connect with?
Well, obviously, being an outsider to the US, coming here, feeling lost, following your dreams and learning everything afresh was something Hassan and I have in common. I made friends over the years with a lot of the servers and delivery guys from Indian restaurants. They told me their stories, struggles and dreams. They became close to me and when I read the script all I could think about was them. Danish and I collaborated, he had his opinions, thoughts and experiences and we meshed them together to make Hassan.
Could you describe your preparation for the role?
It was mainly talking to people, understanding where they come from, what they were doing, what their goals and struggles were. We tried to harness that and put it into the movie. We also did a lot of workshopping during the audition, we worked on the script to find a middle ground.
What was your most memorable moment on set?
There is a point when Hassan discovers the pain of not being with his family for the big moments. I have been living in the US for a while and I miss my family, I have missed certain big moments and so that really hit home for me. It was moments like that—small moments but with pretty lasting impact.
You have acted in Happy Death Day 2U where the same day repeats over and over again. If you had to choose a day to play on a loop, which one would it be?
I would choose a day from school. There used to be this thing called Activity week which was basically a sports day but for a week. I could go through those days, infinitely. I loved those days (laughs).
What is your best memory of shooting for Life of Pi?
There were so many moments in that film, I cannot possibly choose one. I keep having dreams about the scene where a whale jumps out of the water with bioluminescent phytoplankton all over it. It is shining, green and glowing, and towers above him and then splashes back into the water. I do think about that moment quite a lot.
How would you describe your acting journey?
It has been one of learning, unlearning and understanding with a lot of room to grow. I feel I have a long way to go. It is nice to see that I have survived so far and learned all the things that I have. I have been lucky enough to keep the people that I have met during this process.
Is there a character that you would love to do?
There are many characters I feel like I’d love to do, I can’t really tell you one because I haven’t read about them yet, but hopefully soon (laughs). In terms of genres, I’d like to do a dark comedy sometime soon.
Is there role you would not like to do?
Not really. I love everything, and maybe what I do not gravitate towards, I could learn from. I feel a person learns the most when they are outside their comfort zone.
What is your takeaway from the pandemic?
My biggest lesson was to spend more time with the people I love. When you have people around, you take them for granted, you think you could always meet them. When you can’t, you realise how much of an effect they have on you, how much you need, love and miss them. How much they support you and you support them. How much talking or even fighting with someone means. So for me it is human interaction and I will cherish it all the more now
There are a couple of things that could possibly happen but the immediate next thing is I am going to do is a movie called Wedding Seasons. We will start shooting sometime soon and I am excited about it.
The Illegal streams on Amazon Prime Video from March 23
Reading: Brain Pickings
Listening: American rapper, J. Cole and composer Philip Glass
Watching: The documentary, Grand Designs
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