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Patrick Fraser/Corbis Outline; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Two years ago, Suraj Sharma was just an average soccer-playing high school student in New Delhi. Then Oscar-winning director Ang Lee chose him over 3,000 other hopefuls — including Sharma’s kid brother, Sriharsh — to play the lead in this month’s big-screen adaptation of Yann Martel’s best-selling allegory Life of Pi.

“It’s still not quite sinking in,” says Sharma, now 19, who spent more than a year shooting the film in Taiwan. “The whole thing was all very surreal. I had no acting aspirations whatsoever. I just went with my brother to the audition because we were going to have lunch after.” As for Sriharsh, who has acted in The Darjeeling Limited, Sharma insists there were no hard feelings. “He was so excited for me,” he says. “And he got to hang out on set.”

As of now, Sharma has no plans to take Hollywood by storm. Instead, he is a second-year student at the prestigious St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, where he’s studying philosophy and still playing soccer, though he says he might audition for a play or two. Still, shooting the film with Lee and a host of animal co-stars, he says, was an education in itself, noting, “It was an experience I won’t soon forget.”