Prince of Persia catapults you to action hero status. Why did you decide to do this kind of film at this point in your career?
If you look at the work I’ve done, there’s not a lot of consistency. Maybe the only consistency is that it’s inconsistent. Whether it’s an obscure movie about two sheepherders who fall in love in Wyoming or an epic action movie like Prince of Persia, it’s the people involved who give you the confidence to do your best work.
But what attracted you to the action- adventure genre? It doesn’t seem your sort of thing.
I’ve always loved watching epic movies and dreamed ever since I was a little boy of being a character like Indiana Jones or Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood. They are cool but full of humour. I read this script and felt that Dastan was that classic kind of character. He was wry. He was cool. But most of all he was not taking himself too seriously.
Were you familiar with the Prince of Persia video game series prior to filming?
I played the original version of the game when I was a kid. I started to play it again for research during the movie. There were times during production where I would be playing the video game and say, ‘Maybe we can try to do this move in the movie?’ and I’d bring the stunt guys into the trailer and show it to them. Then the guys would incorporate that move into a scene and all of a sudden I would be up on a wire for two hours thinking, ‘Why the heck did I mention that move?’
The film is pretty fantastical. Did you ever think it was a bit too silly?
[Director] Mike Newell had a great point of view for the movie. He showed me a painting of a sixth-century Persian man lying on a rug, dreaming – almost hallucinating. Mike said, ‘That’s what I want this movie to be. I want this movie to be based in the mentality of sixth-century Persia, where they believed in fantasy becoming reality, that you could find a dagger that could turn back time and have no doubt in the possibility of that happening.’
There are some mind-blowing stunts in the film. How tough was this movie physically?
I’m an active person in my daily life, so I loved training for this movie and I loved doing the stunts. When I learned that my character could run on walls in the video game, I knew I was going to learn how to do parkour [the physical discipline whereby you use only the body and the environment for movement, such as jumping and climbing]. I was fortunate enough to meet and train with David Belle, the inventor of parkour, and he taught me to actually run on walls and jump from rooftops safely. It’s not fake. We actually did it.
How was the training regime?
Initially I worked with gymnasts and acrobats in Los Angeles and did daily workouts in the gym. During the month of pre-production and rehearsals in London, the stunt choreography and fighting choreography began to intensify. It was a straight month of ‘Persian prince boot camp’.
Did you feel intimidated by any of the stunt work?
I wanted to do everything. Why do an epic movie like this if you’re not going to do your stunts, or at least try them? I admit there are takes in the finished movie that aren’t me, but I did try them even if it’s not me in the final film. The first jump I did was a 35ft jump and I was pretty nervous about it. We were on top of this building in Ouarzazate [in Morocco] and I was supposed to run and jump off it. It was the first time I had put on a harness to do a jump in the movie. I looked down over the edge like a hundred times. I remember just thinking: I have to trust these guys, they’re the best in the world at what they do.
There is a riveting ostrich race scene in the film. How was working with the ostriches?
The scariest days of shooting this movie were the days the ostriches worked. They are some mean birds. They are really, really dangerous. They can kill you with their beaks, tear off your face with their claws. And they’re big. They can trample you. There’s a scene where I stumble into the middle of an ostrich race and I am literally running for my life with eight ostriches chasing me. After the first take of that scene I was like, ‘Phew! That must have looked amazing!’ And the crew were like, ‘We rolled and you ran. We let the ostriches out after you finished running.’
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is in cinemas now.
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