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Interview with Sir Ben Kingsley on 'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time'

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Sir Ben Kingsley as Nizam photo from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Sir Ben Kingsley as Nizam in 'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.'

© Walt Disney Pictures
May 14, 2010 - Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley (Gandhi) adds another villainous character to his repertoire of film bad guys with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time directed by Mike Newell and based on the popular video game series. In the action adventure film, Sir Ben Kingsley plays Nizam, brother of murdered King Sharaman and adopted uncle of Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal). Although he initially appears to be the caring uncle, Nizam's actually on a mission to control the Dagger of Time - and he won't be putting its power to good use if he does gain control of the prized item.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Sir Ben Kingsley Interview

Can you talk about your attraction to projects like Prince of Persia and Thunderbirds that are different from your usual repertoire of realistic and dramatic films?

Ben Kingsley: "I don’t think I’m doing anything a disservice, but when you are asked by the king of family entertainment, you can’t say no. You know that it’s going to be so refined, it’s going to be so targeted and it’s going to have a message. Now the message of this film is to do with the break up and disintegration of a family through sibling rivalry and the rebuilding of that family. So for me it was a seamless jump to go from Martin Scorsese’s set on Shutter Island to Jerry Bruckheimer and Mike Newell’s set on this because this film, yes, it’s exciting, yes it’s thrilling, yes it’s an action packed drama but it’s character driven. And it’s the character driven aspect of this film that, to be honest, has elevated it into a dramatic realm that I’m very happy in. I love being in this film because it gives actors a great opportunity to delve into their characters and their cracks and their flaws."

What do you enjoy playing more - a villain or a good guy?

Ben Kingsley: "I believe that there’s good and bad in all of us. And I believe that there’s a light side and a dark side. So what I find fascinating and enjoyable is playing the balance. And in the recent movies I’ve done, what I have to do as an actor is to be unafraid of whether the audience like me or not. I’ve got to be indifferent to that. I’ve got to tell the story."

"I know that there have been twists and turns in recent films I’ve done - Shutter Island, The Elegy - beautiful films that I’ve done recently. And this one, of course, where I’m not afraid of whether the audience like me or not. That’s not the point. As long as they focus on the character and see his journey through the film that, for me, is thrilling. To tell that story. That unique destiny through that film."

Did playing Nizam let you tap into your theatrical and stage experience?

Ben Kingsley: "Playing Nizam, I must be honest, allowed me to tap and I didn’t slosh it around the film set in some grand manner - I kept it a little bit to myself - but there is...and now this is our secret, okay? But there is something Shakespearean about Nizam. And you know I did 15 years in classic theatre before I did Gandhi, and I did a lot of Shakespeare. And the brilliant thing about his guise, his characters, is that there’s a man and then there are layers and layers and layers and layers and layers and layers of magic stuff behind that man. And as you say behind the costume, which is magnificent, and the look is a man eaten up by such destructive forces presented as the most polite and helpful man in the world. So, yes, theatre I tapped into and even Shakespeare for this film."

Have you always wanted to be in a big Jerry Bruckheimer spectacle of a movie?

Ben Kingsley: "It goes back further than that. When I was a child and we had Disney on our television sets in England and when I heard "When you Wish Upon a Star," I was so choked up. I mean it still does it for me. That signature tune and that magic castle and that whole Disney logo I find so beautiful, so pure. So it means everything about family entertainment in my childhood being transported. It’s like a wheel going full circle. It’s a privilege to be in the best of the best, which is that great Disney experience."

Were there any historical figures or people you knew who you drew on to play Nizam?

Ben Kingsley: "Fortunately I don’t know anyone like Nizam, but I know that there is such a thing as sibling rivalry, that brothers can be extremely jealous of other brothers. Fortunately my children do not suffer from that. There are historical precedents where you do see people who have bizarre ambitions, dangerous ambitions to do something with the world. And when they get the equipment to do that with, the means to do that, they use it and it’s disastrous. So the worst people in the world to get hold of that dagger is Nizam. And there are historical figures who’ve got hold of some technology and they have unleashed their mad fantasies. I’m talking quite recent history, and it’s been horrific. So I look at history and I look at the realities of history and what it teaches us, and I do see Nizams in recent history."

What do you think audiences will find appealing about this film?

Ben Kingsley: "I do think that...here’s the paradox: this is a family movie. There will be families sitting down to watch this together and the great thing about families sitting down and watching this together is that it’s one of the few things that families do together anymore is they go to the movies. And as a family sitting down and watching the threat to a family and then the rebuilding of that family unit through trust and faith and experience is going to be a very, very interesting experience."

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