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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
May 8, 2010

Based on the enduring video game series that debuted in 1989, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a blockbuster action adventure that tells the story of Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), a street urchin who is adopted by the nobel king of the Persian Empire after performing a good deed as a young boy. But life in the royal family becomes complicated for Dastan as a young adult, when the political ambitions of his nefarious uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) lead to him being framed for the murder of the king.

On the run from his family, the law, and any number of mercenaries looking to claim the bounty on his head, Dastan uncovers the secrets of the Dagger of Time, a mythical artifact that contains a magical sand with the power to turn back the clock. In a frenzied bid to clear his name and thwart Nizam's plan to use the dagger to re-write history and establish himself as king, Dastan is forced into a rocky alliance with the beautiful Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), an Alamutian guardian of the sand with an intense dislike and distrust of the invading Persians.

In this interview, Ben Kingsley talks about working on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time via a streaming webcast from London.

MEDIA: What appealed to you about the role of Nizam?

BEN: The attractive quality, for me, about playing Nizam is that Nizam has to be a very skillful liar. And to play a skillful liar, you have to be credible. And there are some of your colleagues that I talked to today who said that quite a long way into the film, they thought I was the nicest uncle in the world, and therefore, my performance is actually seducing the audience as much as it has to seduce Jake's character, his brothers, and my elder brother the king. So all those layers that I have to bring onto the set as an actor, acting, it's like boxes inside boxes--very, very thrilling indeed. His envy and his regret is a very corrosive, acid motivation that lives inside him. And he keeps it in check, but then as we see the film progressing, he can no longer control that, and it bursts forth terrible consequences, and he feels he has the means to achieve his goal, which is of course the dagger. It's a great role to play.

What was attractive to you about a big blockbuster action film like this, and how does it compare to the more dramatic fare for which you are typically known?

I don't think I'm doing anything a disservice, but when you are asked by the king of family entertainment, you can't say no. And you know that it's going to be so refined, it's going to be so targeted, and it's going to have a message. Now, the message of this film is to do with the break up and disintegration of a family though sibling rivalry and the rebuilding of that family. So for me, it was a seamless jump to go from Martin Scorsese's set on Shutter Island to Jerry Bruckheimer and Mike Newell's set on this. Because this film...Yes it's exciting, yes it's thrilling, yes it's an action-packed drama, but it's character driven. And it's the character driven aspect of this film that, to be honest, has elevated it into a dramatic realm that I'm very happy in. I love being in this film because it gives actors a great opportunity to delve into their characters, and their cracks and their flaws.

Have you always wanted to be in a big Disney spectacle movie for Jerry Bruckheimer?

It goes back further than that. When I was a child and we had Disney on our television sets in England and I heard "When You Wish Upon a Star," I was so choked up. I mean, it still does it for me. That signature tune, that magic castle, and that whole Disney logo I find so beautiful, so pure. So it means everything about family entertainment in my childhood, of being transported. So it's like a wheel going full circle. It's a privilege to be in the best of the best, which is that great Disney experience.

Given your already extensive and storied career, what is the challenge for you in seeking out a new project?

Well, if I can't surprise myself, I can't surprise my director and my fellow actors, and therefore the audience. So my quest is to surprise myself. Maybe it's a little bit like a mountaineer always looking for a particularly dangerous mountain that maybe others have climbed before, but not me. So I see myself as a bit of an explorer, a bit of a hunter, and I'm always hunting for new opportunities, and keep them fresh.

Which do you enjoy playing more: the hero or the villain?

Well, I believe that there's good and bad in all of us, and I believe that there's a light side and a dark side. So what I find fascinating and enjoyable is playing the balance. And the recent movies I've done, what I have to do as an actor is to be unafraid of whether the audience like me or not. I've got to be indifferent to that, I've got to tell the story. So I know that there have been twists and turns in recent films I've done--Shutter Island, Elegy, beautiful films that I've done recently, and this one, of course--where I'm not afraid of whether the audience like me or not. That's not the point. As long as they focus on the character and see his journey through the film, that for me is thrilling. To tell that story. That unique destiny through that film.

Looking past the elaborate costuming and make-up, did the role of Nizam allow you to tap into your theatrical experience?

I didn't slosh it around the film set in some grand manner. I kept it a little bit to myself. But there is (now this is our secret, okay?) something Shakespearean about Nizam. And you know, I did 15 years in classical theatre before I did Gandhi, and I did a lot of Shakespeare, and the brilliant thing about his characters is that there's a man, and then there are layers and layers and layers and layers and layers of magic stuff behind that man. And as you say, behind the costume, which is magnificent, and the look, is a man eaten up by such destructive forces presented as the most polite and helpful man in the world. So yep! Theatre I tapped into, and even Shakespeare, for this film.

Did you have any real life references or historical figures that you drew upon as inspiration for Nizam?

Fortunately, I don't know anyone like Nizam. But I know there is such a thing as sibling rivalry, that brothers can be extremely jealous of other brothers. Fortunately, my children do not suffer from that. There are historical precedents where you do see people who have bizarre ambitions, dangerous ambitions, to do something with the world. And when they get the equipment to do that, the means to do that, they use it and it's disastrous. So the worst person in the world to get hold of that dagger is Nizam. And there are historical figures who've got hold of some technology and they have unleashed their mad fantasies--and I'm talking quite recent history--and it's been horrific. So I look at history and I look at the realities of history and what it teaches us, and I do see Nizams in recent history.

What are some positives that you think families can take away from this movie?

The great thing about families sitting down and watching this together is that it's one of the few things that families do together anymore--they go to the movies. And as a family sitting down and watching the threat to a family, and then the rebuilding of that family unit through trust and faith and experience, it's going to be a very, very interesting experience.

Thanks for your time.

Thank you.

Related Material

Interview with Jake Gyllenhaal
Interview with Gemma Arterton
Interview with producer Jerry Bruckheimer
Interview with director Mike Newell
Interview with video game creator Jordan Mechner
Movie Coverage: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


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