Posted on Monday, November 9th, 2009 by Peter Sciretta
While on the set of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, we had a chance to talk to some of the cast. Below you will find our roundtable interviews with Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton:
You’ve done big movies like The Day After Tomorrow and you’ve had some opportunities to do a franchise movie, so what was it about this particular franchise that made you want to be involved in it?
Jake Gyllenhaal: I think just on a personal front, it was just so unlikely and so unlike anything I’d ever played really, and any type of movie that I think anyone would expect, that I just kind of wanted to do it. (laughs) It felt like that personally, but also, more than anything, when I talked with Mike Newell about it, it wasn’t just like your normal video game adaptation. It was an actual massive epic that they had in the works. They had a real classic story that was emotional and real and filled with just ridiculous turns and twists, I mean, all over the place. Every day, when we work, is filled with keeping in mind where you were and how you got there and what’s happening here and who fooled whom. It’s like The Usual Suspects every single day, and that makes it intriguing to me, just on a story point. Also just the fact that these movies, if they’re going to get done, they should be done by the best and I think that Jerry Bruckheimer in particular is the one to make them.
Had you ever played the game before and do you feel any sort of responsibility playing such an iconic character?
Gyllenhaal: I feel a responsibility because I think the prince in the video games, he has a personality and you know his story, but I think a lot of video games as an actor, just putting that kind of expression onto a character. You get to make a new path for what the character is as opposed to being nervous you’re going to screw up that’s already there. That to me I like and I think is fun. I’ve played a lot of real people in my life… Actually, there’s equal pressure in real people than video game characters, which is sort of strange. Yeah, I’ve played the game a lot more when I was really young, and I know the game in its Atari-like version. I went online when I first started researching stuff for the role. What was really important was for me personally to bring some sort of realism into this world that is not always fully based on reality. So often you can hide in all that stuff so easily, and to look at what say a real Persian prince would look like and then who the Prince of Persia is in the video game and then a whole slew of inspiration in between there.
How did you develop the character or what did you bring to the role?
Gyllenhaal: 40 days and 40 nights of misery. (laughs) The most important thing for me always is just somehow playing against what’s there. The development of the character was massively physical at first, just getting in shape and doing all that stuff and learning Parkour, learning how to swordfight, learning how to get into the mentality of a warrior, somebody who as written is someone who can really fight. That was a big part of it for me, and I knew that if I got through that, then I knew I’d be halfway there. And then the rest of it is just being able to… we worked on dialect and I have a British accent in the film and everyday on set, I’m in my accent and I very rarely bring it out only for special occasions, my real accent. All of those things. I could go into really pretentious crap for you, but I don’t like doing that. I’m going to lay off of it, but there’s just a lot of it.
We heard that you went through some massive training, so can you talk about what your regimen was?
Gyllenhaal: God, there’s so many jokes I can make right now (laughter)… but we only have ten minutes? Really, it’s basically just a lot of training, working out with a lot of running and all different kinds of sports. I’m someone who really doesn’t love to be inside so just being outside and running around and training as if I was going to battle, but it also happens to be based on a video game so he has to very agile in a lot of other ways then you would normally… it’s not just gladiator-style fighting although we have all of that. It’s also having to be able to jump up walls and climb up walls and run on walls and all of those things. Basically, simulating all that through training, so when I get to the day and someone comes up with an idea and they’re like, “Hey, I think it would be a really great idea if you ran up that wall,” I say, “Okay.”
What has been the most fun part of making a movie like this? Is it the battles? Is it riding the horse across the desert in 103 degree heat? What’s the best part?
Gyllenhaal: The best part of the movie I think is… God, I mean, you play like this when you’re a kid. This is how you play when you’re a kid, and you go outside and I remember specifically many times I would go outside and be like, “I play him and you play him and let’s fight!” And we’re just like doing that every day. (laughs) So the best part of it for me is because I’ve never done a lot of fighting—sword fighting, hand-on-hand, any type of combat that there is and any type of evasion and persuasion. More than that also I find really fun is being able to get humor and performance in the middle of it all, which I find so difficult. I have utter respect for people who can put that kind of thing, a performance or any type of feeling while you’re battling someone, because that’s like chewing gum and walking at the same time and that’s really tough for actors. (laughs) It really is difficult, and it’s a fun mindwork to say, “Okay, at this point, we can put that piece in.” That’s what I enjoyed the most. I actually enjoy the heat, so I did enjoy that and I think Morocco was unreal. We were shooting as if we were shooting an independent film. You know we were moving, moving, moving and I just love to move quick, so we were running around and picking it all up really quickly.
So you weren’t complaining about the 130 degree heat?
Gyllenhaal: The one promise I made to everybody on this film, ’cause most of them are British and I’m from Southern California, is that I would not be complaining on this film about the heat. And I didn’t. I do, I enjoy it. I think the desert is actually a place of clarity. It’s a wonderful place to be I think, when you’re equipped with lots of water and food and making a massive big budget movie. (laughs)
You talked about the humor in the film and we were just watching Mike direct and he seems like a funny guy. What’s it like working with him and watching him trying to keep all this together?
Gyllenhaal: It’s really funny actually. No, it’s great working with Mike. I think it’s such an unlikely cast of characters in this movie, which I think is so f*cking great. That’s a part of it that I think is fun. No one’s out to prove anything. Everyone’s out to discover something, and that’s the difference between this movie and so many movies like it. The type of ego on this movie is about working together as opposed to everyone for themselves, and Mike is… to think about the guy who directed “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and is directing this movie. Obviously, he’s done “Harry Potter” and other big films, but to think about that sensibility within this is what… it’s been great. Every day is bigger, faster, funnier. But like not funny in a laughable kind of way, but always finding the reality of the situation, ’cause these movies can really get into (puts on a serious voice) “I’M GOING TO DO THIS NOW” You know what I mean, and that’s just not what we’re doing here. We’re trying to find real in it.
So are you looking forward to shooting one or two more of these films assuming the first one does well?
Gyllenhaal: Yes, the truth is after doing this it’s going to be hard… well, I don’t know if it’s going to be hard, but it’s definitely going to be a different mentality to go back and do much smaller types of movies. There’s type of high when you make a movie like this, a type of excitement every day that is infectious. There are days that you get tired and some of the people I work with say to me, I’m like, “Man, I’m going to be exhausted. I’m going to need rest when I get done with this movie,” and they’re like, “You’re going to rest for two weeks and you’re going to want to make another one like it.” (laughs) And it’s kind of true. On my days off, I worked out twice on my Sunday off, because that’s where my head is. I’m prepared for whatever comes our way.
I wanted to ask about the parkour stuff, because we’ve seen a few guys dressed as you doing some of the stunts
Gyllenhaal: A few of them? 14 guys.
Its a sport that’s very difficult to learn and master, so I was wondering how much of that stuff you’re able to do and how you learned how to do it.
Gyllenhaal: Well, I worked in L.A. for a few weeks before I left for London. We had a month of rehearsal in London, and I worked in L.A. with just Parkour guys and obviously, David Bell has been on set with us and he’s been working… I haven’t been working directly in terms of technique, but he’s designed a lot of stuff, and surprisingly, a lot of the things they taught me and asked me to do, just start to come easily when you start isometric type of workouts, a lot of hanging and a lot of training your body to move precisely and landing in the right away. A lot is about landing. Anybody can run and jump as far as they can but landing it is the hardest part, which is why you have the four guys outside looking like me. (laughter) I mean, I just learned it. If there’s one thing on this movie I’ve learned so fast is that when someone asks you to do something, you have to try it and see if you can do it, and if you don’t do it the first time, then you have to try again. If you miss it three times then somebody else has to do it, but if you don’t try to do it, then you’ll regret it for the rest of the time, because that’s what these movies afford you, an opportunity to do crazy sh*t that you wouldn’t normally be able to do. (laughs) I remember there’s a whole scene with ostriches in the movie and there are real live ostriches, not CG ostriches. There’s not a CG’ed ostrich in this movie. They’re all real ostriches, highly paid, and we were all briefed on them for weeks before like “They’re these massive destructive creatures that can tear your heart out with their claws.” (laughs) I swear to God I never thought of an ostrich this way! And I was shaking in my boots when they finally brought them out and they’re (does an ostrich impression) and I walked up to it and one of my stuntmen was in the ring with them, and finally, I was like, “When am I going to be in a f*cking cage with ostriches again in my life? I gotta get in here!” So I got in there and they were the sweetest things. I did everything with them, I eventually did that, but every day is like that. You gotta get in there and you gotta do it and that is an experience I’ll never be able to… well, hopefully ostriches will come back again… either in reshoots or hopefully in a second one. That sort of sums up the movie. (laughs)
How is it going from being a Bond girl to doing this, back-to-back?
Gemma Arterton: I did a job in between which was completely detached from anything that was action or “fairy taley” which was nice and then I went back into it, but in Bond, my part it doesn’t really have any action, whereas in this, I have a lot. It’s sort of a full-on action role, although she’s a high priestess so she’s not a typical kind of gun-wielding knife… she’s very spiritual, so it’s an interesting take to have someone that’s action-driven but has got religious beliefs, it was an interesting character.
You look so different now than you did in the Bond movie, so which is closer to your actual look?
Arterton: Well who knows? It’s all a front. No… probably this is. I’m not as tanned as this usually, but I’m dark naturally. With the Bond film, they made me look completely different. (laughs) I don’t even recognize myself in it but yeah, ’cause the other day I was looking at a kind of line-up of all of the roles I’ve played and I just don’t recognize myself in any of them, which is great.
Is it inspiring or intimidating to work with so many experienced actors like Daniel Craig and now Ben Kingsley?
Arterton: Absolutely inspiring. I tend to go into things head first, not really thinking about what I’m doing, which is sometimes better, then going, “Oh My God, I’m about to act with Ben Kingsley!” because then you’re all yourself, and that’s what they want ultimately anyway, and you’re just another actor working with them on this film ultimately, so that is brilliant, but I don’t really get to worry about it. I probably should. (laughs) I probably should when I’m being all cheeky and campy with Sir Ben Kingsley, but no, it’s brilliant and an honor.
We heard how hot it was when you were shooting in Morocco.
Arterton: Well, it got sort of progressively hotter as the shoot went on and we got further into the desert. At one point, it was 58 degrees, which is 100 odd, something like that but I was alright because I’m wearing clothes that were suitable but the boys were all wearing… you’ve seen some of the costumes. Leather and loads of black, and it was unbelievably hot, but alright. I quite like the heat, so I was okay. We were really sort of grateful to come home and be in a kind of controlled environment again, because we were also filming when Ramadan was on so all of the poor Moroccans that were working on the film, not being able to drink water in that heat and stuff. So it’s incredible but it was an experience. (laughs)
To prepare for this, did you play the computer game at all or read a lot of Persian fairytales? What did you do to prepare for this role?
Arterton: (laughs) I didn’t play the computer game. I’ve done sort of research on where it came from, but the story’s quite different to the computer game. The character’s a little bit different as well. I’d sort of read up on Persia and the history, but this film is completely sort of fantasy. You can’t really place it I don’t think or compare it to anything else, so I thought the best thing to do was just to approach it with a fresh mind and just your own intuition, and so that’s what I did.
Were there any particular kind of skills you had to learn for this film, like any type of fighting?
Arterton: Yeah, I, well I had to learn how to horse ride ’cause I’d never done it before in my life, and it’s kind of become a real new sort of passion for me. Pretty much the whole cast went to Spain and learned to horse ride for 2 weeks, which was incredible to have that opportunity and then we all kind of continued it. Then I have to do loads of fighting but there isn’t a particular style to my fighting. It’s quite wild ’cause she’s never really been trained to fight so it’s just kind of go “aaaagh!” like that, but just doing it with some sort of skill. Where I went to drama school I trained in stage combat quite heavily so I had quite a bit of experience before.
What’s your favorite part of shooting the film so far?
Arterton: Oh, God… I love all the action stuff. I think I should have really been a stuntwoman. I really enjoy it even though sometimes you think, “Oh, God, there are actually people that are trained to do this and they’re trained to get battered and bruised” but I’ve loved doing all of that and the fighting. It’s gobsmacking the sets and the costume and the sheer scale of this film and then you’re kind of put into into this completely different world and that is really, really fantastic. You don’t have to really imagine much ’cause it’s there designed right in front of you, and so that’s been brilliant as well.
Can you talk about the relationship between your character and Jake’s character?
Arterton: Yeah, so I play Tamina, who’s the princess of Alamut, which is a city that the Persians invade. I’m kind of kidnapped so I hate the Persians, although my character doesn’t really feel hate. She’s very spiritual so she just dislikes them (laughs) and they have this real kind of love-hate kind of relationship. It’s very full of banter and I like to compare it to Beatrice and Benedict in “Much Ado about Nothing.” Obviously, they fancy each other but they don’t show it. They find out all this stuff about the bad things that are happening in Persia, and so they kind of join forces and learn from each other and the film kind of like a journey. It follows them a lot, mainly Dastan, but she’s kind of like his right-hand girl and they have their own journeys which is to find themselves in a new light through each other’s upbringings. So there’s a lot of wit and banter, there’s also a romance there, there’s a lot of comedy but also a real seriousness as well, which is a really great thing about this film. It’s not just an action-adventure, it’s not just a romance, it’s not just this or that. There’s loads of drama, and it takes you in loads of different directions all the time. You think it’s gonna be like this and then it completely changes and becomes really dark or really light. So the relationship between Dastan and Tamina has got all of that.
Do your powers involve a lot of special effects and did they have to explain to you what they would look like later?
Arterton: Well, the main power I suppose is the Dagger of Time, which is kind of what we’re all fighting over in this film and it has the ability to turn back time, so that’s the kind of main thing, but nobody apart from Dastan really has this kind of aura of magic about him. Nobody really has magical powers. You’ll see when the film comes out that all of the magic comes from the Dagger of Time.
Were you conscious of the stigma that’s attached to movie adaptations of video games? Do you think this is gonna be the one that finally kind of breaks that cycle?
Arterton: I don’t know. I think they have got huge stigmas attached to them, haven’t they? Who knows? I don’t think so. Again, I think this one it’s loosely based. The idea and the kind of characters and the ideas are from the computer game, but it’s got such brilliant actors in it and it’s brilliantly directed and it’s got a brilliant team behind it that I think we kind of can make it into something really brilliant. But it’s one of things, you have to wait to and see. For me, I’ve been on this film and I kind of doing it and sometimes it’s so huge I don’t really know what I’m doing but that’s quite exciting and just to kind of wait and see what happens, but yeah, well I think it’s got something else to it but we’ll see.
It seems like there might be some political undertones to the story, because there’s an invasion, which might be… suspect. Can you talk about that?
Arterton: Yeah, there’s kind of a looking for weapons that don’t exist kind of thing. (laughs) With the target audience, it’s not to make that a huge thing, but it’s definitely there which makes it an interesting tale to tell and I think it’s fairly relevant for the times that we’re living in now, but there are lots of things like that so I think it’s interesting for many, many different sorts of audiences.
Do you feel that everything is going very fast for you right now?
Arterton: Yeah, absolutely. Actually the Bond film came out last week and everything’s kind of happened very quickly now. I’m really starting to feel it. Things have changed very quickly. Usually, I can kind of get on with my work and not think about it but it’s actually having an effect on my life now and that’s fine. I just have to kind of get used to it I suppose but it has been really, really quick and hey, why not, you know? If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen and just deal with it, but yeah, it’s mad what’s happened. In a year, I think I’ve done eight films or something. I don’t know how I’ve done it. (laughs) I don’t know how I have the energy but I do somehow.
What are you gonna do next?
Arterton: Well… at the moment, I feel like I wanna go and do some theatre, because I’ve been doing quite a lot of film work and big films as well, but there’s lots of new doors that have opened, which is very exciting so we’ll see but I wanna do something completely different ’cause I try and do that with every part, do something completely different so maybe I’ll play some fat old drug addict or something next. (laughs)