Someone tell Jacob Tremblay to watch out — 8-year-old Sunny Pawar is here and ready to steal his place as awards season’s cutest star!
The little boy with the big smile stole hearts when he appeared onstage with costar Dev Patel at the Golden Globes to introduce their nominated drama, Lion — with a boost from Patel in order to reach the mic.
The real-life story of a 5-year-old Indian boy who got separated from his family and as an adult tried to find them again with the help of Google Earth, Lion has been racking up awards attention, including four Golden Globe nominations and two Screen Actors Guild award nominations for Patel and costar Nicole Kidman. Mumbai native Pawar plays the young version of Saroo Brierley, who got stuck on a train that took him hundreds of miles from home to Kolkata, where he lived on the streets before eventually being adopted by an Australian couple. “It was a scary but very brave story and that really touched me,” Pawar tells PEOPLE.
Here are five things you need to know about Hollywood’s new adorable young star.
It took a casting call all over India to find him
Finding a kid who can convey the emotion required for a role like Saroo isn’t easy. So Lion director Garth Davis and casting director Kirsty McGregor searched in schools all over India.
And although they saw over 2,000 tapes and auditioned countless kids, Davis knew from the second Pawar walked in that he had found their Saroo.
“For me, when I’m looking at all the kids, anyone who kind of touched that place in me, I thought we were getting close. But it was never a bull’s-eye, really, until one day, this little Sunny came into the room and he was kind of pretty instant for me,” Davis told Vulture. “As soon as I saw him, he just felt like the kid that I’d been imagining and feeling, and then we got him into the rehearsal space and I put a camera on him. I just felt like we were watching our movie.”
Pawar in Lion.
Pawar tells PEOPLE that he understands the story better now since he is older and recently got to meet the real-life Saroo. “It was lovely meeting Saroo and his family, meeting the real characters,” Pawar says. “And now I’ve understood [the whole story] better rather than when I was filming it ’cause I’ve grown, I’ve become a little bigger and more mature now.”
He doesn’t speak English — and learned his lines phonetically
Though Pawar speaks English in the movie after Saroo is tutored in an orphanage and moves to Australia, the young actor only speaks Hindi and relies on a translator for interviews. This led to the need for a little improvisation on set in order for Pawar to memorize his lines and be able to follow Davis’ direction.
“I used to phonetically write the lines down — hear them and write them down,” Pawar says. “There was somebody there helping me write as well. And any emotional scene where I had to be feeling extremely scared or sad, me and Garth Davis, the director, developed a sign language.”
His charm, though, can leap any language barrier. Pawar’s favorite part of the press tour has been the love and attention from fans. “Being an actor is a privilege and I’m blessed,” he says, adding that he loves “signing autographs and taking pictures.”
Pawar and Patel at the Golden Globes.
He wants to play a superhero
Pawar may have just one major acting credit to his name, but he already has his sights set on bigger things.
“[My favorite movie] is this Bollywood movie called Krrish and the star Hrithik Roshan is my favorite,” he says. “That’s a superhero movie so hopefully someday I will be able to play a superhero.”
He adds that his favorite superpowers are “flying and saving human lives.”
He already has some training from his action scenes in Lion: “During the filming all my train sequences, my running sequences, they were all energetic and they were excellent for me.”
But if acting doesn’t pan out, he wants to be a cop
Pawar tells PEOPLE he loves acting but his education still comes first.
“I want to continue my career as an actor but I want to concentrate on my education as well,” he says, adding that math is his favorite subject in school. “I’m still a little kid so [my parents have] made sure that I don’t go flying high. So education continues and strict discipline continues.”
And he has a backup plan in case acting doesn’t work: “If not an actor, I would love to be a police officer. I’d like to be a cop in Mumbai, in my city.”
He’s a huge WWE fan — and loves to eat and sleep all day
Pawar has gotten to do all sorts of fun things on his press tour in America, including going to Disneyland (where Tower of Terror was his favorite ride) and Times Square. But there’s still one thing left on his to-do list: go to a WWE match. “On my entire press tour, the most amazing thing has been the love from the people,” Pawar says. “We’ll be leaving soon now, if there’s one thing left to do it’s a WWE match.”
Pawar also tells PEOPLE that his other favorite activities are pretty simple: he loves to eat and sleep. “I play a lot of outdoor games with my neighbors and my little brother and my little sister,” he says of what he likes to do in his free time. “I like to eat a lot and I like to sleep a lot.”