Ben Kingsley discusses his latest evil role as the villain Nizam in the new Disney film based on the fan-favorite video game
Academy Award winner Sir Ben Kingsley is best known for his work in serious dramatic films such as Schindler's List, Sexy Beast, House of Sand and Fog, Shutter Island and of course Gandhi, for which he won his Oscar. However, the actor is also no stranger to films adapted from video games after starring in '2005s BloodRayne and he now returns to the genre with the new Jerry Bruckheimer produced Disney adventure film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which opens in theaters on May 28th and is based on the classic video game. In the film, Kingsley's character, Nizam, is on a quest to seize the "Dagger Of Time" from Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and use it's power to take control of the kingdom. We recently had a chance to speak with Sir Ben Kingsley about his new film; it's ties to the plays of William Shakespeare, working with Jerry Bruckheimer and what it means to him to be in a Walt Disney film. Here is what the accomplished actor had to say:
Before we begin talking about "Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time," we noticed that you are about to reunite with your "Shutter Island" director Martin Scorsese on a new film called "The Invention Of Hugo Cabret," what can you tell us about that project, when do you begin shooting and are you excited to collaborate with Scorsese again?
Ben Kingsley: With Marty, yes I am. It's begun. He is in pre-production in London and I'll join him in about ten days and we'll get to work on it very shortly, so it's all a go. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a fantastic film, especially with Marty who is passionate about cinema and this is the film about early cinema. I play Georges Melies who invented cinema in France so it's going to be really something to be on the set with Marty who is the great aficionado of our history of cinema.
I received the script for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time half way through working with Marty on Shutter Island so that was my contact. I was sitting in my trailer working on Shutter Island and I read Prince of Persia and I just said to myself, this is it. This is what I have to do next. I got off the plane flying from Boston and Shutter Island straight to the rehearsal room pretty well for Mike Newell, sat at a table reading the script with the rest of the cast and it came to life from day one.
How often does that happen to you, that you read a script and you know right away that it is a film that you have to make?
Ben Kingsley: For about a year prior to The Invention of Hugo Cabret, give or take a couple of gigs, I have not responded to anything. Nothing. I have been pursuing my own projects as a producer and I will act in my own movies but I have seen nothing that has caught my eye. So it does require a certain degree of abstinence, of staying away. It is no good doing something that I can't bring life to. It just won't work. I've got to be part of the right process, the right director and the right script. You know, I'm not saying that I can guarantee success but I can try not to make too many mistakes. I have made mistakes in the past but then again if I had the "Dagger Of Time" I wouldn't go back and change anything because it gets me to where I am now, sitting here talking to you after a great premiere of a great movie so why go back and change anything? But I have to try and do what I can envision as being an interpretation of some depths.
With Prince of Persia, I can view my character's journey with a lot of perspective because I had the privilege of spending the first fifteen years of my career working with the great plays of William Shakespeare. There for I have a very keen eye for the authority of a script, for the script behind a script, for the real story, for the real patterns of human behavior. Not a copy of a copy of a copy, I'm tired of that. No one wants that any more. We need genuine stories about genuine patterns of human behavior. Now having spent all this time exploring great characters with great writers, I can then see with my laser eyes. I can read a script and throw it away in ten minutes or I can read a script and say, "There you are! There you are, there is that ancient, beautiful, storytelling devise that has been around for thousands of years."
Now someone has given it to Jerry Bruckheimer, he knows what he's got and he knows what he is doing. It's great! It's bomb proof. You can't go wrong if you start your life as an actor on stage. You cannot go wrong because it gives you a devise like a GPS that will guide you through a script and you hear that voice in your head, "There it is." There is the script I must do and there is the character I must play. I recognize him and he comes from a great classic line of people. Just like my guy in Sexy Beast, just like Gandhi, just like Schindler's List, just like House of Sand and Fog, so it was with Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island and so it is with Prince of Persia. These are pure, real guys that I have played.
You mentioned William Shakespeare and there are a lot of similarities between this film and "Hamlet." In fact, the relationship between Dastan (Gyllenhaal) and your character, Nizam is very similar to the relationship between Hamlet and his Uncle Claudius. Could you talk about how your Shakespearian experience and knowledge of his work helped you prepare for this role?
Ben Kingsley: Yes, he's very much like Claudius, and the relationship between Hamlet and Claudius is similar. It's related to the relationship between Dastan and myself, absolutely. You know it does, is it gives you the confidence to pursue that line because you know that it's worked for five hundred years and it isn't going to stop now. That line between the uncle and the betrayed nephew is not going to stop working now. It's worked since Shakespeare's time and it will carry on working for another five hundred years at least. It gives you the confidence to walk on the set and say, "I know this pattern works." You know, it's like a great soccer player or a great basketball player who says, "I know that this move works and if I do this and I do that it's going to go through the hoop."
You've worked with some amazing filmmakers in your career, Sir Richard Attenborough, Steven Spielberg and most recently Martin Scorsese, so how would you compare working with Mike Newell on a Jerry Bruckheimer film to some of those other experiences?
Ben Kingsley: It fairs very favorably and very easily. Jerry Bruckheimer brings a balance. It's a balance between Mike and Jerry. Jerry has brought an extraordinary perspective and vision on massive filmmaking. But what Mike Newell brings to Jerry, and don't forget, Jerry chose Mike, Mike Newell brings to Jerry the authenticity of a family drama. A film about a struggling family, a family struggling with heritage, destiny, lineage and a family struggling amongst themselves to fulfill their destiny. That's at the heart of this film. So you get that extraordinary combination of Jerry Bruckheimer's massive vision and Mike Newell's microscopic examination of betrayals in a family. There you have a great movie with a big heart, a heart pumping away at its center.
Can you talk about the idea that Newell and Bruckheimer had to base the film in the reality of 16th century Persia rather than focusing on the source material, what was the importance of that for you as an actor and how did that help you create and understand your character?
Ben Kingsley: I think that it was a great gift to the actors to be given an historical culture. A historical period that was totally real to be in and amongst the authority that and Mike Newell, the designers, costume people and the set builders brought to our royal court in this film was astonishing. It was as real as the hotel room that I am sitting in now. Once you've walked on the set you felt that you were secure in a landscape that was real. It was so huge and real. This is what makes all the difference. You don't get that from the script but my goodness you get it when you walk on the set.
Finally, you've said in the past that you were a big fan of Disney films while you were growing up, could you talk about the personal importance to you of starring in a big Disney adventure film like this? Do you consider this to be a milestone for you in your career and what does "Disney" mean to you?
Ben Kingsley: It's the perfect arc really because I remember when I was a kid watching Bambi for the first time and Dumbo, actually I never saw that whole film because I was removed hollowing with tears for disturbing the rest of the audience. I hasten to add that I was very young. "When you wish upon a star," triggered something in me, that song, that logo, that magic palace. The Disneyland palace and logo did trigger something in me that's very deep. To be inside that Disney experience for me is very gratifying. It's a huge wheel that has turned full circle and there I am in the Disney experience. Wonderful!