Director Ang Lee's new film, Life of Pi, tells the story of a 16-year-old Indian boy who is the lone survivor of a terrible shipwreck. Pi Patel finds himself lost at sea, alone on a boat with a Bengal tiger.
The film is based on Yann Martel's fantasy novel of the same name. The book won the 2002 Man Booker prize for fiction and was optioned to be turned into a film even though it was considered by many in Hollywood to be unfilmable: How do you make a movie that takes place almost entirely on a boat? And with a real tiger?
But Lee, whose films include everything from period pieces like Sense and Sensibility to big-budget action films like Hulk and epic romances like Brokeback Mountain, decided that he was up to the challenge. He loved Martel's book and decided to take on every obstacle, one by one, using 3-D technology and special effects, including computer-generated tigers.
"I think 3-D is actually great for drama," he tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "It just wasn't recognized that way because it's expensive to do and naturally it goes to action movies, but I've found that it's a valuable tool to tell [a] story."
On using real and CGI tigers while making the movie
"The good thing about bringing real tigers is — not only that they look real and are cheaper than [computer-generated] tigers — but they left a lot of good references for the animators. When we go about [making] CG tigers, we know exactly how they move down to every hair and muscle. We learned a great deal from the living tigers."
On why he thinks his film career is so diverse
"[When] I got hired to do Sense and Sensibility, I was very scared. I had never done [a] period piece, I had never done [an] English job. I had never worked in a so-called major-league production. I had a big learning curve. I spoke pretty not-fluent English back then. If I could do that movie, if I can get over that, anything's possible. That was very encouraging. After that, I was afraid that if I stayed in one place doing [the] same type of movies, I'd be pigeonholed and I would have a very limited career. I was scared that that might happen. So I have to take an adventure to keep myself energetic."
On why he almost quit filmmaking after the Hulk
"I was exhausted. After that movie and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it was five years of my life. I thought of retiring. And Hulk was related to violence and anger. You know, I didn't treat it like an entertaining blockbuster comic-book movie; I treated it like a psycho-drama. So it really took a lot out of me."
On his father's advice when he considered retiring
"He said it's a bad example for your kids so he said, 'Go ahead and make another movie.' For the first time he was encouraging in terms of filmmaking. He passed away shortly after that, and I had to finish that movie Brokeback Mountain. And that's a movie about love, and I really dedicate that movie to him."
On choosing his next film project
"I'm not a master of films, I'm rather a slave. When something possesses me, I go ahead and do it. Sometimes I [feel] it's the movies that direct me, not the other way around. So I'm just waiting for the next thing that grabs me."