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Jake Gyllenhaal was game for all the challenges he faced while filming Disney’s “Prince of Persia”

Jake Gyllenhaal was game for all the challenges he faced while filming Disney’s “Prince of Persia”

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Super Mario Bros.,” “Doom," “Resident Evil: Apocalypse."

The battleground for films based on video games is littered with the corpses of artistic and commercial flops. Even Angelina Jolie couldn’t save “Lara Croft - Tomb Raider,” although that’s considered among the best in a pretty mediocre group of movies.

But there’s a lot of excitement for “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and the Walt Disney Studios.

Bruckheimer, director Mike Newell, game creator Jordan Mechner (also credited for the screen story) and star Jake Gyllenhaal talked up the film during a news conference and panel appearance at WonderCon in San Francisco.

The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time film frame
Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

“I’ve been making games for 20 years and I love games, but not every video game should be a movie,” said Mechner, who launched the popular “Prince of Persia” game franchise in 1989.

“But I think ‘Prince of Persia’ lends itself well for a lot of reasons,” he continued. “One of them is that it’s set in this fantastical world of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ that hasn’t been brought to film in this way in a long, long time. And, of course, there’s this dagger that can turn back time and who hasn’t wished that they could turn back time and do something over?

“Games and movies are really different art forms. The big difference is that games are written to be played and movies are an experience to be watched by an audience. So it’s really a very different approach to storytelling.”

With help from Bruckheimer, Newell and a screenplay by Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard, Mechner adapted the game into a story for the big screen. The job was a bit easier since the original inspiration for his game was those “great old-fashioned romantic swashbuckling adventure movies” from Hollywood’s golden era.

Jake Gyllenhaal hangs between two walls in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Jake Gyllenhaal (center). Photo
by Andrew Cooper.
Copyright 2010
Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry
Bruckheimer, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The film promises action, adventure, a bit of mystery and romance. It’s set in the mystical lands of Persia. A rogue prince — now named Dastan (Gyllenhaal) — reluctantly pairs up with Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) and together they race against dark forces to safeguard an ancient dagger capable of releasing the Sands of Time and rewriting history.

The action required a lot of physical work from Gyllenhaal — parcour training with David Belle, gymnastics, horseback riding, swordfighting, even work with a dialect coach to perfect a 6th century English accent, which Gyllenhaal says he now will use occasionally at the dinner table to amuse his family and friends.

“We did all the normal training you’d do to get ready cardio-vascularly and then you listen to all of the experts and they teach you how to do it,” Gyllenhaal said.

“I’ve always found myself inhabiting a role starting from the physical level. Whether you’re changing the shape of your body, losing weight, gaining weight, figuring out what the character would look like ... For this, it was very physical, which I love and which I’ve never really done this intensely before. But I don’t think it’s any different at all (than playing a part in a drama). When you’re committed, you’re committed. Soon as I decide to be in a movie or play a part, it’s 120 percent commitment no matter what. ...But I’m an active person anyway. I’m pretty athletic and I enjoy that as part of my daily routine of keeping my sanity. So I do keep it up.”

When asked about the difficulties of working on a film with a number of special effects shots added in post production, Gyllenhaal said it’s simply part of his job as an actor.

Claudio Pacifico in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Claudio Pacifico (center). Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and
Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“To me it doesn’t feel different. From the outside ... it probably does look different because it’s such a spectacle. But for me, the work is the same, always,” he said. “Everything as an actor requires imagination, whether you’re playing with someone across from you who is playing another part ... (or) if you’re dealing with something that doesn’t necessarily exist yet. You’re imagining what that is just like you’re imagining that person sitting across from you in that drama ... that smaller film, is who they are playing.

“So you’re constantly using your imagination as we all do when we eventually watch the movie."

One of the few things different about Gyllenhaal’s preparation for the role of Dastan involved playing games from the “Prince of Persia” series.

“Yes, I played this man’s (Mechner’s) video game first when I was a kid” going all the way back to 1989 with side-scrolling action and a soundtrack of beeps and buzzes. “But,” he admitted, “I only started playing the game pretty intensely when we were really doing research, particularly for stunt research.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Jake Gyllenhaal (center).
Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and
Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“I’d be in the middle of shooting and we’d go back to the trailer and I’d be playing the game and see something, a move, and I’d call the stunt guys into the trailer to show them and see if we could try it. So I played it and I continue to play it to this day.

“I’ve never played video games as research before. Sometimes, I’ve read books or hung out with Marines, but playing video games was great fun for research.”

The film also gave Gyllenhaal an opportunity to star opposite Academy Award-winning actor Ben Kingsley.

“Well, working with Ben Kingsley was different than a video game, that’s for sure. It was an honor. He is Sir Ben. Working with someone you can play with, someone who is so experienced, so wise” and someone Gyllenhaal called a “fierce competitor” when it came to swordfighting.

Ben Kingsley, Jake Gyllenhaal and Richard Coyle in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
(L to R) Ben Kingsley, Jake Gyllenhaal and Richard Coyle.
Photo by Andrew
Cooper
. Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Gyllenhaal said he felt an obligation to both diehard fans of the video game series as well as people looking for a great time at the theater. “I just can’t wait for people to be able to see it.

“It really is an honor. ... filling the shoes in a role like this,” he said. “This is a character that’s in the living rooms of many people all over the world and has been for decades.

“We had that pressure on our shoulders the whole time. But yet at the same time, transitioning from a video game into making a movie, Mike and Jerry from the very beginning said, ‘anything the prince does has to be based in some kind of reality.’ If fact, there were some times on set when we’d do some sort of stunt that would mimic something in the game and Jerry would say, ‘now, wait a second. Why did he do that? We need to have that be based in the storyline.’ Everything had to be based emotionally in the storyline.

“So, we’d have to come up with a reason why he’d flip upside down over a horse, and we did.”

Alred Molina, Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, the movie
(L to R) Alfred Molina, Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton.
Photo by Andrew
Cooper
. Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Newell concurred. “We wanted to make it emotionally real. So we did a huge amount of work at the script stage, at the rehearsal stage ... to make it absolutely real. You should have seen what I saw, which was Jake rehearsing fights to the inch like ballet but, because it’s like ballet, it’s also got to have emotional reality to it as well. And that was always the big pressure ... to take it into an area where a game couldn’t go, while not destroying the game side of it.

“But you mustn’t let Jake’s modesty not say to you that the film would have been infinitely less unless he had done the enormous number of stunts that he actually did. ... He’s a wonderful actor and I’m sure that’s why we chose him first. But then he has this extraordinary disposition simply to take that (stunt) stuff on. The number of times that it’s actually him is a lot and it makes it all real.”

Gyllenhaal admitted that the stunt work could get a bit harrowing, but he welcomed the challenge and pushed himself “a bit.”

“It got a little bit dicey toward the end because everybody saw that I liked doing things that were a little dangerous. ... There is this one fight toward the middle of the movie that we shot near the end of production with my brother and he has an ax and I’m fighting him with my sword and a shield that I have left. We really got dangerous with that fight and there were a few times when the ax came so close to my face and everyone was saying, ‘oh, that looks so good.’

Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Jake Gyllenhaal (center). Photo by Jonathan Prime.
Copyright 2010 Disney
Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“That ax fight was an intense one and some of the jumps got pretty intense. ... There’s a big 35 foot jump I did a couple of times and that got a little hairy, particularly with me saying let me try that again.”

Newell was asked to compare his duties as director on “Prince of Persia” to “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

“It was really different, because with ‘Potter’ I was brought in halfway through a series that was already a franchise, a huge success. Here, we had all the basic work to do from absolutely the ground up with no favors done. We had no idea whether we’d find favor with an audience or not,” he said, adding that “Prince of Persia” required him to “work harder ... to be cleverer and more original and, above all, not to ever let the thing sag. But Jerry’s the boy for that.

“There are also certain factors that simply twist your arm and you have to come along,” Newell said. “If Jerry Bruckheimer, a genre in himself, is going to give me 400 Calvary and 100 camels and get them to charge, am I going to say ‘no?’ ”

Jerry Bruckheimer directs Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Jerry Bruckheimer (center). Photo by Andrew Cooper.
Copyright 2010 Disney
Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Bruckheimer, a huge proponent of 3-D, talked about how the desert heat of Morocco led to a decision to make “Prince of Persia” a traditional 2-D film.

“3-D has certainly done very well at the box office, thanks to ‘Avatar.’ It’s a new technology. It’s wonderful and makes the theater-going experience even more exciting. Hopefully you’ll see a lot more movies in 3-D,” Bruckheimer said. “I don’t know if ‘Prince of Persia’ will win the summer box office battle, but it’ll certainly be a contender. It’s a terrific film. So we hope for the best.”

Asked about whether there was any discussion about trying to launch a new film franchise with “Prince of Persia,” Newell and Bruckheimer bristled just a bit.

“Not one word did Jerry say to me about it. We were just making one movie,” Newell said.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Thomas DuPont and Ben Cooke from Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Jake Gyllenhaal, Thomas DuPont and Ben Cooke. Photo by Andrew Cooper.
Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

“Absolutely zero (discussion),” Bruckheimer said. “What you try to do is make a really compelling movie with strong characters, great themes, a great story. And, if the audience embraces it, you get lucky and then you think about another one.

“When we made the first ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie, we had no inclination that the audience would accept a film about pirates with Johnny Depp playing it like he was drunk. So you just go with it. If you get lucky and Disney wants to make another one and people embrace it, then we’ll think about another one.”

Based on the very friendly reaction that followed at WonderCon's ‘Prince of Persia’ panel — with several women whistling at Gyllenhaal — people are ready to embrace it and make it the first real hit among video game-inspired films.

‘Prince of Persia, the Sands of Time” is rated PG-13. It opens May 28.