19/12/2012 07:09 GMT | Updated 18/02/2013 05:12 GMT

'Life Of Pi' Star Suraj Sharma Tells HuffPostUK He Couldn't Swim Before, And Has Never Met A Real Tiger

'Life of Pi' star Suraj Sharma thought it was one of his friends playing a trick on him, when he heard that he'd won the title role in Ang Lee's big screen adaptation.

"I remember feeling very clearly that someone is lying to me," explains the teenager, who had never acted before he auditioned for the role.

"I just thought one of my friends is messing with me, so I remember feeling nothing. And then, eventually, it was just numbness as it dawned on me that this might be real, and it's very unreal to feel it's real. It's something you never thought would happen to you."

life of pi

Suraj Sharma stars as Pi, the boy cast adrift with only Richard Parker, the tiger, for company

Sharma, who read the book in time for his third audition, became the beating heart of the production - "a great actor in a previous life" according to impressed director Ang Lee - but the newcomer faced some technical challenges in making the story, of a shipwrecked boy, cast adrift on the ocean, with only a zebra, an orangutan, a hyenna and a tiger named Richard Parker for company.

"I didn't know how to swim before," he remembers. "And I had to film the scene of Pi watching his family drown so, right from the beginning, we knew I was going to have to hold my breath for a minute, minute and a half. We did a test, and I held my breath for 14 seconds, and that's really bad."

"So we had to train every day for that one scene, so it was in my head the whole time. And for 5 or 6 days before then, I couldn't hold my breath for that long, but they trained me really hard.

"Then's there all the emotional part, imagine watching your family drown, everything you ever knew leaving you... so once we got that done, I was really happy."

life of pi

Suraj Sharma had never swum, nor met a tiger, before filming his giant role

Sharma, in his first screen outing, is set to become probably the most celebrated actor to have a tiger for a co-star but, thanks to the brilliance of CGI and other special effects that brought Richard Parker to life, has never actually met one himself... yet.

"We had four real tigers being trained, and I would sit and watch them for long hours. You get an idea of what they're like, how they move. They're very unpredictable, so you can't ever be sure of what you're imagining, but you get a vague sense, that they're the most graceful, beautiful animals ever, and at the same time the most powerful, ferocious killers ever.

MORE: Film Review - Life Of Pi: 'Ang Lee's Turn To Film The Unfilmable'

"I've never been too close to a tiger, because they are so unpredictable. I want to really badly, but it's a dangerous thing to do. I'll probably have to go to a tiger temple."

Life of Pi is in UK cinemas from tomorrow. See some stunning stills from the film here...