The time is right for Jake
Jake Gyllenhaal is at pains to convince me that he really, really likes his latest movie, Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time. Which makes me think the movie might just suck a little. Certainly the 40 minutes I saw earlier at uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer's Santa Monica HQ left a lot to be desired.
The man who made pirates cool again knows how to deliver a big, old-fashioned, state-of-the-art swashbuckling blockbuster, but the dialogue is particularly cheesy this time round, and the special effects look far from special. But then again, maybe that's what director Mike Newell was aiming for.
This is, after all, a movie based on a video-game franchise first launched in 1989, set in the pre-Islamic Middle East. So, plenty of room for cheese there.
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. In the movie, it looks like a gift from Lidl.
Still, when I met up with Jake at the Casa del Mar in Santa Monica recently, he was, as I say, a happy camper -- even if dressing up in a leather mini-skirt and knee-high, leather-strapped sandals, while buffed and bouffanted to within an inch of his life, means he's always in danger of looking ridiculous in this movie.
"Yeah," he nods. "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; we wanted to be truthful to the video game and, at the same time, develop a character, too.
"The choice of having long hair, or the choice of having a British accent, or the choice of . . . many things, you know -- the level of commitment, was important.
"Mike Newell was saying, 'When you see that dagger, I want you to believe that this could actually happen'. He meant in 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 Jakob Benjamin Gyllenhaal get his head into it, exactly?
"Well, I said from the beginning of this movie that this character has to be a real character," he answers. "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.
"And when I started doing the accent, I worked with this woman, Barbara Berkery, who's extraordinary. Soon as the accent started to come, the humour started to come."
Ah, yes, the British accent -- Hollywood's catch-all accent for ye olde times. Even if those olde times are in Persia. In the sixth century.
"Right, right," laughs Gyllenhaal. "Well, first off, in the video-game that this is based on, this character has a British accent. Interestingly, Jerry said the British accent seemed to encompass many, many cultures. It's a weird thing . . . it signifies a kind of ancient thing, to me, and maybe it's Shakespeare.
"I don't know 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 . . .
After a run of much-loved and much-lauded low- to middle-budget films, this is Gyllenhaal's first outing with Jerry Bruckheimer, Hollywood's most successful movie producer, having given us the likes of Beverly Hills Cop, The Rock, National Treasure and Pirates Of The Caribbean. It's not exactly Robert Johnson at the crossroads selling his soul to the devil for a good career, but signing up for one of his movies can change a career -- certainly the perspective of a career. You look at someone like Nicolas Cage, who has become a very different kind of actor in people's eyes because of his many Bruckheimer outings . . .
"I agree, yeah," nods Gyllenhaal. So, was there any kind of reluctance to stepping into this big arena, given that there will be that shift in how people perceive Jake Gyllenhaal onscreen, should this prove a monster hit?
"Yeah, of course," he smiles. "Perception is always the thing with an audience. Look, the 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 that, one way or another.
"You make a movie about the Prince of Persia, and all of a sudden, it's . . . I don't 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. -- 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."
Part of Gyllenhaal's readiness to take on a big Bruckheimer movie may have something to do with the simple fact that the 29-year-old actor is far more comfortable in his own skin these days. Certainly when it comes to dealing with the dreaded press. So, is Jake Gyllenhaal accepting his role as a celebrity now?
"Because I feel more comfortable within myself?" he smiles. "I mean, yeah, I feel more comfortable with myself. As I feel more comfortable with myself, I begin to think about . . . I don't know. What I want is . . . [sighs]. This movie is really good. And I'm not just saying that."
Can you say it one more time? So I can believe you . . .
"Yeah, but I really don't say s**t like that. Anybody who spends time with me will know that, but I am legitimately excited about the movie."
Time's up. How come Jake Gyllenhaal hasn't been to Ireland. Having just made the rather fine Brothers with our own Jim Sheridan, there really is no excuse.
"Talk to our mutual friend. I'm just waiting for the right invitation. Any invitation, in fact . . ."
Prince Of Persia: The Sands of Time is out on May 21