Mike Newell discusses 'Prince of Persia'

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What’s the British director of ‘Four Weddings’ doing making ‘Prince of Persia’ for Jerry Bruckheimer? Tom Huddleston meets Mike Newell to find out

Mike Newell’s journey as a director has taken him from the early days of ‘Coronation Street’ through British successes like ‘Dance with a Stranger’ and ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ to Hollywood blockbusters like ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ and new video game adaptation ‘Prince of Persia’, for which he was hired by maverick movie mogul Jerry Bruckheimer (‘Black Hawk Down’, ‘Armageddon’). Newell talks to Time Out about politics, power, producers and getting ‘out-punched’.

Is this the most expensive Iraq war movie so far?
‘I’m sure it is! We were, of course, completely aware of that. When we started work, the whole business of weapons of mass destruction was a huge thing. I knew quite well that I was making a genre movie, and the genre was Jerry Bruckheimer. What I didn’t want to do was wander up some side-trail of hand-wringing political concern that would mean nothing to Bruckheimer’s audience. But the guys I worked with on the script were two young Californians who were hopping mad. They didn’t vote for Bush. So that was the political water that the movie swam in.’

Were you surprised that Bruckheimer picked you?
‘I did wonder. I’m not Michael Bay. I asked him, and he said, “I hired you because of the characters and the story”. He was quite clear about that. It wasn’t always easy. I’ve never come up against a man who is his own brand. A man who says, “There are certain rules in this genre. Do you understand them?” The thing that Jerry knows above everything else is the audience. He knows that people in one-horse Midwestern towns still say, “Oh, gee, it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, we must go.” But he wants some emotional resonance too, to have a bit of a tug on the heart.’

Did you have a good relationship with Bruckheimer?
‘At one point I had produced a version which I thought was terrific. He said, “It’s not sharp enough and I want to take a whack at it.” That can mean month after month of fighting, very exhausting. So I said, “All right, tell me what you want,” but he couldn’t.
So he brought in another editor, Michael Kahn, and my heart sank. But I was restored somewhat when I realised that not only was I not allowed in the cutting room, but Jerry was locked out as well. At the end of three weeks, all Michael had done was cut eight minutes off it. He’d made a much wittier, faster relationship between the boy and the girl. It was certainly not one of those ghastly Hollywood slash-and-burn things.

I said to Jerry, “Is that what you want?” And he said, “It’s what you shot.”
He simply out-punched me. Not in a devious way, which is what those guys often do. He just said: “You did shoot it, but you didn’t see that you shot it.” I learned a lot from that.’

Disney ran into some trouble with their depiction of the Middle East in ‘Aladdin’. Was that a concern?
‘The studio was very concerned. They were anxious about the use of certain words, like ‘God’ and ‘gods’. We were not allowed, nor did we particularly want, to talk about the Prophet. What they wanted was a very general historical period and geographical place.’

Were you surprised at Jake Gyllenhaal’s action-hero physique?
‘I’d known Jake for a long time because I’d known his parents and worked with his sister, but I’d never worked with him. His face is his fortune. He looks like he has one layer of skin fewer than anyone else; he’s tender and vulnerable in a way that a lot of people aren’t. But then he made himself into an action hero. I saw him do it, step by step. Of course the stunt man is there, because of insurance, but Jake did all his own riding, his own fighting, his own gymnastics. It’s something that you don’t see until you look at the whole movie and think: Christ, he actually did that. On the one hand he gave what I expected him to give, which is the sensitive actor stuff. But on the other, he really worked hard.’

It’s taken you 30 years to get from ‘Coronation Street’ to Hollywood. Is this a place you always wanted to be?
‘I don’t think you can ever know. You follow where opportunity leads you. But I also think that I wanted to recreate the great movie experiences I had when I was a kid, and maybe that did lead me towards Hollywood. I want to backtrack as well. I’d like to make something very small and domestic. I’ve got the script.’

Is this the film about the death of Alexander Litvinenko?
‘It is. I’d love to make that movie because I think it’s a great character piece. There’s a story about Litvinenko getting his British passport, only a month or two before he was killed. He took his son, who he was crazy about,
to see the crown jewels. And he said to the kid: “That’s the crown that appears on the front of the passport that gives us our place in the world and our freedom and confidence.” And now, God help us, we know who killed him and we can do nothing about it.’

Read our review of ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time'

Author: Interview: Tom Huddleston



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