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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, Jake Gyllenhaal talks about working on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time via a streaming webcast from London.

MEDIA: How familiar were you with the Prince of Persia video game series?

JAKE: I was familiar with the game since I was a young boy. I used to play the side-scrolling version of Prince of Persia, the original Jordan Mechner created version on the first Mac computer in elementary school. I remember doing that. And then I took like a 20 year hiatus from the game, though I did know about it, but I didn't really play it that much. I played other games. And then when I read the script for this movie, I took the opportunity and I started researching, and I started playing the game, and I got to know it very, very intimately.

How did you feel about getting to play the lead in a film based on a game from your childhood?

In these past few days, I was thinking I wish I could go back and tell that 8-year-old kid who was playing the game that one day, 20-some-odd years later, he would be playing the lead in a Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster movie based on that video game, and just see how his eyes would pop out of his head, how excited he'd be. And for me, that's kind of how I felt when I was making the movie. I felt like I was kind of unlocking that piece of my childhood again. It was like fun every day, running and jumping and fighting bad guys.

How extensive was your parkour training for the chase sequences, and what did that training involve?

It was the first type of training that I started to do, which was, I guess, a little bit parkour. First I was working with gymnasts, starting to work on landings and things like that while I was doing regular cardiovascular training and other things for the role. And I didn't really start doing the serious parkour stuff until we got to Morocco, and we started choreographing the scenes on the top of kasbahs in Ouarzazate, Morocco and all the sets that we were shooting in. And I think the hardest part of doing it is really the focus and being present and training your mind to not worry about whether you're going to make the landing, but just focusing on being present in the moment.

Dastan is a little cocky at the beginning of the story...

[facetiously] No... [laughs] did you want to show his transformation into emotional maturity?

Well, I don't know if he really loses his cockiness throughout the whole film. I hope he maintains it just enough. But what I think does happen is... [science fictiony sound effect goes off in the background] Sorry, we're being shot at by alien lasers here. I don't know if you could hear that. [returns to topic] I think what happens is he realizes the importance of this dagger and his destiny, and he realizes how much his family means to him. You know, like at the beginning of the movie, he's an orphan and he's rescued by the king. And when he has the potential of losing this family that has brought him in and basically saved his life, when that's threatened, I think he starts taking his life and the lives of others around him much more seriously. But I think he still maintains a little bit of wit and humor throughout all of it.

Is it different to prepare for a role based on an iconic video game as opposed to one, say, in an independent drama?

[mock seriousness] Yeah, you know, it's a very, very difficult form of research. It required playing the game three or four times a day, which is a very, very, very difficult job. A lot of people don't know this, but acting is just so hard--playing the game three or four times a day and getting paid to exercise. It was really tough. [laughs] No, there wasn't much difference, actually. That's the interesting thing. If you're playing a character that's based on a book, or one that's even been alive, you have to give as much attention and you have to focus just as much as you would if it's a video game character, or if it's a real life human being. That's at least how I feel.

What about the logistical aspects of working in a big blockbuster versus a small indie?

Well, it required a lot of technical work that I usually do in movies. But this was, you know...Learning how to do the rudimentary aspects of parkour, learning how to swordfight which involved learning martial arts and having martial arts training, learning really complicated choreography, having two swords that I use, learning how to horseback ride proficiently in a way that I could do stunts, learning a British accent...And on top of all of that, on a movie of this size, when you make a different choice...Like if you block out a scene, for instance, and you make a different choice in the middle of the day, it affects a thousand more people than it would on a smaller movie, or on other movies. And it's just the sheer size of it.

Given the magnitude of this production, how would you characterize the set?

I guess I could compare it to going to a sports event. Like every day on set, I would drive up to set, and there'd be 500 cars like lined up for fives miles before you even got to set. And then you would get to the base camp of the set, and it'd be like an army had set up camp. And then we'd get onto set, and there'd be these massive sets built that were 250 feet high with like every intricate detail done so that they could shoot anywhere. And then thousands of extras. And I would get suited up every morning. It'd take 40 minutes to put on my costume. I had these crazy intense boots that I wore that were like all parkour style so that I could do the stunts. I think you can see it on the poster a little bit, but I had all these different things that were attached to my costume, and it took a long time. So it was kind of like getting prepared for some big sporting event.

When playing the hero of a movie, how important is it to have a formidable villain, like Ben Kingsley's Nizam? How was your experience of working opposite him?

Well, you know what, there are a lot of villains in this movie. They may be, actually, ones that you would never expect. There are, I would say, cumulatively, like maybe 10 or 15 people chasing after the Dagger of Time, and not for the right reasons. But specifically, working for... [realizes he said "for" instead of "with"] I would say "for" because he is Sir Ben Kingsley. [laughs] "Working for Sir Ben Kingsley..." It's just incredible. I mean, when you work with somebody of that level, that stature who has that amount of experience, that many years, has done such extraordinary work, it's kind of an actor's dream come true. The interesting thing about Ben--Sir Ben--is that he has a real childish play to him...I acted really, really like conservatively around him when I first started acting, and he was like, [puts on a posh accent] "Come on..." Because, you know, he sits up really straight and he seems so regal. But he really likes to kind of get down and dirty with his acting. And so do I, so it was great fun and a real honor.

What is a positive message that you feel this story imparts to younger viewers?

I think for specifically the character of Dastan...Like I was saying before, he was an orphan, and he was brought into the royal family by the king because of a good deed that he did, and because he was pure of heart when he did this deed. And I think a lot of things kind of threaten us all the time to not listen to our own hearts, to make choices that are about what other people think is cool or what other people say is cool. And the lesson, and the moral of this movie for Dastan is to follow his own heart and to influence other people around him--like his brothers and his family--to follow theirs, too. And when you do, and when he does, and when he helps the other people around him, it all works out for the best. Ultimately, it's not painless, but it's for the best. And I hope that kids and families--but particularly kids--can take away that if they listen to their heart, they'll never really go wrong.

Thanks for your time.

Thank you, guys. Thank you for your questions.

Related Material

Interview with Gemma Arterton
Interview with Ben Kingsley
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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