Jake Gyllenhaal has been drawing a steadily growing fan base ever since his iconic portrayal of a disturbed yet good-hearted teenager in the surreal 2001 cult classic Donnie Darko. His unique performance in that film and all-American charisma has since served him well in an array of the decade’s most challenging films, including Jarhead, Zodiac and last winter’s underrated and beautiful film Brothers.
Now, however, he’s finally taking a big swing at the kind of blockbuster success that has eluded him so far. With Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Gyllenhaal is taking on the title role based on a popular series of video games and is buffed-out and ready to take on all summer blockbusters.
Relevant caught up with the new action star at the film’s press day in Los Angeles.
What attracted you to Prince of Persia?
Gyllenhaal: The sheer scope of it, the size of it, when I first read the script I thought I’d never been involved in such a big project and I wanted to know can it be pulled off? For me, selfishly, creating an iconic character that could be fun and funny and have a great time just seemed like a huge challenge. That for me is what I really wanted to do and it was set in such an interesting world. For me, the movies I love are those that are in sort of other worlds, where you have the capability to do almost anything but stay a human being but still be a human being. It goes beyond that level of a normal human being, but just beyond that, and that’s what makes Prince of Persia great.
You did tons of your own stunts in the film. What was that like?
Gyllenhaal: I think what I’ve read is that most stuntmen and coordinators want the actor to do it and enjoy when the actor does it. That’s what makes the process so much fun when you get into that world. It’s all the stunts that makes these movies what they are, so why not be involved?
What did you like about your character, Dastan?
Gyllenhaal: It starts out he’s a kid from the streets, not very well off. His heart and his goodness bring him ultimately into the king’s court. He saves a young boy and is seen doing that by the king and is eventually taken in. He grows up in the shadow of the two brothers of his—step brothers in a way, not his blood brothers. He’s always having fun, looking for the most dangerous fun and pushing the limits.
The film has a big mix of perilous adventure and comedy. What attracted you about this kind of tone?
Gyllenhaal: The tone of the movie is a real hero’s journey, but it’s comedic too. There’s moments of fun, funny stuff. I hope there’s that wonderful balance of not assuming they’ll get out of a situation, that you’re gonna be scared when you see these characters go through things that are scary, and have a good time with them at the same time. It’s a hero’s journey, a love story and a comedy.
This is a big step up from the kind of political and personal movies you usually make, to the iconic kind of blockbuster that can only come from Jerry Bruckheimer. What was it like working with him?
Gyllenhaal: Working with Jerry from the beginning has been a wonderful collaboration. He’s given me a lot of say over my character, the look of him, his personality, and he gives everybody in the process the ability to do that. He has a very specific way of making moves that has worked pretty well for everybody at this point, and it’s an honor to be a part of it.