Surya was born to actor Sivakumar and his wife Lakshmi in Chennai, but brought up in Coimbatore. He is the eldest of three children, his younger brother is actor Karthik Sivakumar and he has a younger sister named Brindha Sivakumar.
Suriya was earlier interested in the garment industry, where he worked at a factory for 6 months. He later debuted in the 1997 film "Nerrukku Ner" directed by Vasanth and produced by Mani Ratnam when he was 22. In 2001, he starred in Siddique's comedy film "Friends".
In 2003, he starred in the Gautham Menon's "Kaakha Kaakha", a film about the life of a police officer. In 2005 he played dual role in "Perazhagan", as an aggressive boxer and a handicapped phone booth keeper. Surya's performance won positive reviews from critics.The film became successful venture in box-office and Surya won his first Filmfare Award for Best Actor – Tamil. That same year, he portrayed the role of a student leader in Mani Ratnam's political drama "Aaytha Ezhuthu" along with Madhavan and Siddarth.
Surya signed on to feature in the psychological thriller, "Ghajini" directed by A. R. Murugadoss in November 2004. He played the role of a patient suffering from short-term memory loss. Ghajini became the third highest grossing film of that year in Tamil. Later he acted in Hari's action film "Aaru" and the film faced a good response at the box office.
In 2006, he acted in N. Krishna's film "Sillunu Oru Kaadhal". The film took a strong opening, but soon faded out and became an average grosser. In 2007, his only release was "Vel", which was a commercial hit.
His next release was a collaboration with Gautham Menon, after the success of "Kaakha Kaakha", Suriya began work on Menon's biopic "Vaaranam Aayiram" in November 2008. Playing dual roles for the third time in his career, Suriya appeared as father and son, with both characters also demanding scenes shot throughout their lives ranging from scenes as a 16-year-old to scenes as a 65-year-old. The film became commercially successful at the box office upon release as well as receiving positive reviews from film critics, with Suriya's performance being lauded. His portrayals also fetched him several notable awards, including the Filmfare Award for Best Actor – Tamil, a Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actor by the jury and also the Vijay Award for Best Actor for 2008. The film also went on to receive a National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil for 2008.
In 2009, Suriya's first release was K. V. Anand's action-thriller "Ayan", which went on to become the highest grossing Tamil film of the year. Upon release, the film won positive reviews citing that the film was a "must watch" and Suriya's performance was yet again acclaimed and he found himself nominated for leading awards and won the Vijay Award for Entertainer of the Year. His next film, K. S. Ravikumar's action entertainer "Aadhavan" also achieved commercial success, while Suriya's depiction of a hitman was praised.
In 2010, he had his 25th release with "Singam" directed by Hari, in which he played the role of a police officer from a small village going to work in the city. The film won Suriya the Vijay Award for Best Entertainer again and saw him nominated for the Filmfare Award for Best Actor – Tamil again, and subsequently went on to become the second highest grossing film of the year. He made his Bollywood debut in Ram Gopal Varma's two-part political drama "Rakta Charitra" in 2010. Suriya subsequently went on to appear as himself in three consecutive guest appearances, appearing alongside Trisha and Madhavan in a song in "Manmadhan Ambu" (2010), before also starring in K. V. Anand's Ko and Bala's Avan Ivan (2011).
His only release in 2011 that featured him in a starring role was A. R. Murugadoss's science fiction thriller "7aum Arivu". Suriya essayed dual roles in the film, as a circus artist and as the Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma, who lived in the 6th century. The film met with mixed reception, but Suriya's performance was praised. His 2012 release was the K. V. Anand directed "Maattrraan" in which he played the role of conjoined twins, Vimalan and Akhilan. The film received positive reviews whilst Suriya's effort drew much appreciation. However, the film ended up being an Above average.
In January 2012, Suriya was named as the official host of the new game show to be presented on STAR Vijay, Neengalum Vellalam Oru Kodi, the Tamil version of
"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?", which began airing on 27 February 2012 and ended on 12 July.
At present, he is working for Singam 2, a sequel to his 2010 film "Singam". He also has other projects lined up, a Gautham Menon film titled Dhruva Natchathiram as well as a movie by director N. Linguswamy.