With Prince Of Persia, Jake Gyllenhaal does his first big-budget actioner. Paul Byrne met up with the reluctant hero in LA…

Jerry Bruckheimer, the man who made pirates cool and lucrative again plainly knows how to deliver a big, old-fashioned, state-of-the-art swashbuckling blockbuster but we’re not sure if he’ll manage to strike the same success with Prince Of Persia.

Based on a video game franchise first launched in 1989 and set in the pre-Islamic Middle East. Gyllenhaal plays Dastan, the street urchin who, adopted by the king because of his valour in battle, finds himself hooking up with Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) to, eh, rescue the Sands Of Time from the nasty nobleman Nizam (Ben Kingsley). A gift from the gods, the Sands Of Time is a handy dagger that controls time.

When I met up with Jake at the Casa del Mar in Santa Monica recently, he was, as I say, a happy camper in regard to his first big-budget, balls-out offering.

Dressed up in leather mini-skirt and knee-high leather strapped sandals, buffed up and bouffanted to within an inch of your life – this is a look that has great potential for looking ridiculous. Was that a fear?

Yeah. There was a lot of focus on the visual aspect of the movie, and they’re incredibly talented people involved in all of those things. John Seale, who shot the movie, Penny Rose, who did the costumes for the movie, the hair and make-up team that I worked with, you know; we wanted to be truthful to the video game, and be faithful to what it was, and at the same time develop a character that was different than all that too.

And the choice of having long hair, or the choice of having a British accent, or the choice of… all the things, the many things, you know – the commitment, the level of commitment, was important. Mike Newell was saying, ‘You have to believe. When you see that dagger, I want you to believe that this could actually happen’. I know that’s an acting thing, and you would anyway, but he meant in this world, in Persia, this fantastical world, this is actually real. It was hard for me to put my head into, but once I did, everything went that way.

And how did you put your head into it?

Well, I said from the beginning of this movie that this character has to be a real character, and I went to Penny Rose, who designed the costumes, and she and I worked hand in hand to develop the look of the wardrobe. And each piece of the wardrobe has a different story that isn’t necessarily in the movie, but that I know about. I mean, at the beginning, there’s a coat that I wear in it, and if you look closely, there are different things hanging off the coat, and we came to conclusion that maybe there were pieces of women’s hair that he had, like, you know, somehow had a thing with, and then tied them up onto his coat. You know, little things that helped me, that are not in the movie at all, but they’re pieces of the character. When I started doing the accent, that was the next step. I worked with this woman, Barbara Berkery, who’s extraordinary, and soon as the accent started to come, the humour started to come, because suddenly a line I would say in an American accent and wouldn’t be funny, all of a sudden it’s witty and wry with a British accent.

Yeah, the British accent – Hollywood’s catch-all accent for ye olde times. Even if those old times are Persia. In the sixth century.

Right, right. Well, first off, in the videogame that this is based on, this character has a British accent. Interestingly, the time period and the fantasy nature of it, Jerry said, the British accent seemed to encompass – and strangely, although I don’t know why, but it does seem to, almost unconsciously – many, many cultures. It’s a weird thing, and it signifies a kind of ancient thing, to me, and maybe it’s Shakespeare. I don’t know necessarily what it is, but that was just a choice that was made. Primarily also because Mike Newell is British, and the cast that was assembled were all from Britain, with the exception of me. So, that was why that was done…

The movie is largely about destiny. Do you believe in destiny?

Wow. As I get a little older, I definitely believe in destiny. I said to somebody the other day, before, in my life, I could only look forward, and now that I’m a little older, now I have perspective of forward and backwards [laughs]. And with the perspective of looking backwards, you know, really comes the foundation of maybe we do have some kind of destiny…

Was there any kind of reluctance to stepping into this big arena, given that there will be that shift in how people perceive you onscreen, if this is a monster hit?

Yeah, of course. Perception is always the things with an audience. You take your shots at different things, and… Look, the same thing is, you make a movie about two sheep herders who fall in love in Wyoming, and there’s a whole perception with that. You know what I mean? And you live with, one way or another, all this stuff that’s around the story that’s told. And then maybe that’s changed. You make a movie about the Prince of Persia, and all of a sudden, it’s… I don’t know, I think it’s… the thing about a movie, and the thing about the conversation with you guys, when we’re making the movie, we’re making a movie. It comes from my mind, and I just try to put it out there, and that’s what it is. These are the choices that we make, and suddenly, the choices have some resonance outside of it, and it’s like, you know… To me, whatever happens, I’m proud of it. I really am proud of this movie. I think it’s actually a really great movie. I keep saying, ‘You guys only saw scenes? Really!?’ – because it really is a great movie. Thank God! And that’s what I care about. You can look any way, people can perceive you any way, but as long as I’m proud of the story we’ve told, that’s what I care about.

There’s more pixels than sand here, so, I’m guessing it wasn’t until the finished film that you knew whether or not the film worked?

This movie is so big, this movie is so big, that, every aspect of it, all the time, I had pretty much… It’s hard to know when something’s working or not. It’s so massive. A lot of times, you think, okay, that shot works, but I didn’t know while we were shooting it. When I finally saw it, I was, I have to say, greatly relieved. But, I wasn’t just working with green screen. It was all around me all the time. The sets were three-quarters built. That big castle – there’s this one scene where the king rides in on his horse, and there are thousands of extras, and buildings, and that’s all real, with the exception of the top half of it. All of it was amazing to be in, as an experience. But, in regard to the movie working, I’m thrilled. It’s what you wish. I watched it like I was a kid again, going, ‘Oh, my God! That’s me! That’s so cool!’.

You made Brothers recently, with the fine Jim Sheridan. Have you finally made it over to Ireland?

Talk to our mutual friend. I’m just waiting for the right invitation. Any invitation, in fact…

Words – Paul Byrne

Prince Of Persia: The Sands of Time is now showing at cinemas nationwide