Brit actress Gemma Arterton stars opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, out this month
How does it feel to work on a movie of this size and scope? It’s gobsmacking! When we were in Marrakesh before we started filming, they took me to visit the set for the kingdom where my character, Tamina, lives and it was unbelievable. There were streets you could walk around and palaces and fortresses and market squares. And I was thinking, ‘I’m playing the princess of this place, just little old me’ (laughs). It’s humbling because after everybody’s done all this work, you think: well, now I really have to come up with the goods.
So what can you tell us about your character? I love playing her, I know that. Tamina’s very interesting because she’s not just ‘the girl’: she’s got lots of different facets. She’s a high priestess, an adventurer, a bit of a tomboy sometimes, and she even has to pretend to be a sort of fictional sixth-century cocktail waitress at one point. I’ve also got some great costumes with henna tattoos and jewels in my hair and things like that. I’m the only girl in the film, so I have to try to look good.
Do you have a favorite scene so far? The stuff that comes naturally is the witty banter between Tamina and Jake’s character, Dastan. They don’t get on to begin with, but they obviously fancy each other. And we have some really brilliantly written scenes, which are so much fun to play. But I really enjoy it all, and what’s great about the film is that it has so many elements: there’s the romance, adventure, lots of comedy, you name it. It really is an epic.
How did you get your part? Does Jerry Bruckheimer [bigshot Hollywood producer] just get on the phone and offer you a role in his latest blockbuster? I wish it were as simple as that (laughs). It was before I had done the Bond film, Quantum of Solace, and my agent said: ‘Go up for this film, but you probably won’t get it because it’s massive.’ So I met the casting director and she seemed really interested, and then [director] Mike [Newell], but you still have to do screen tests and win lots of people over and convince them that you’re right for it. I just thought I was never going to get it, so I was quite blasé about it. And there was such a long wait before I got a call that I’d pretty much forgotten about it at that point.
What was your reaction when you got the news? It was surreal. I just sat there on my bed not quite taking it in. It’s weird to think you’re going to be a princess.
At what point did you meet Jake Gyllenhaal? It was funny because I did a screen test with Daniel [Craig] for Bond, but on this I didn’t meet Jake until about a month before filming began, so it was all a bit nerve-wracking. I had butterflies in my stomach, but he was so sweet and said, ‘I’ve heard that you’re wonderful,’ and all sorts of nice things like that.
What do your friends think about you co-starring with him? They’re always asking me if I kiss him. And I say, ‘Yes, I do, so there!’ They’re all wildly jealous. But the nicest thing about Jake is that he’s such a lovely, funny, kind and down-to-earth guy. In fact, that’s the great thing about this film: that the whole cast and crew don’t take themselves too seriously. They take the work seriously instead, and I think that’s the best attitude to have, because when you are in the middle of a desert in Morocco in blistering heat and everyone is exhausted, it’s much easier if we can all have a joke about it.
Is there anything that’s been difficult for you making this film? It’s been a real adventure. Going to Morocco, I got to see places I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, but I did miss home. Also I’d never ridden a horse before, so I had to learn that from scratch. And I had to learn stunts. How about working with legendary actors like Sir Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina? I’ve learnt a lot, especially from seeing how people like Alfred Molina and Sir Ben Kinsgley are always so enthusiastic about the work and just seem to enjoy what they are doing, no matter how long we have been shooting or how difficult the conditions. Also, I get little tips all the time. I find it really hard not to cry. I think it’s because I played Tess and something unlocked in me. And yesterday, Sir Ben said to me, ‘If you rein your emotions in, the audience won’t be able to rein in their emotions,’ and that was so helpful to me.
Any plans to move to Hollywood and live like a star? (Laughs) I love London and I need to stay somewhere where I am around normal people, like my parents who really keep me grounded. I also need to be able to go down the pub. Do they even have pubs in Hollywood? Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is released in cinemas this month.