Newell enjoyed helming big-budget 'Prince' 

If Mike Newell seems an odd choice to direct “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s big-screen adaptation of the popular 2003 video game, the English director of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” would be the first to agree.

“I didn’t think I would ever be the guy Jerry would want to work with,” says Newell, 68, who broke into the blockbuster business five years ago with “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” “I’m not that sort of person. But out of the blue, I got a script from him, and I fell in love with the idea of doing a sort of ancient-history story.

"If you think about all of our greatest legends — Noah’s ark, Troy — they all have some basis in reality, be it a flood or an epic battle. That was how I wanted to approach ‘Prince of Persia’ — not as a video game, but as an adventure, a comedy, a romance — all inspired by a specific period in history. And Jerry gave me the freedom to do that.”

For Bruckheimer, the producer with the Midas touch whose credits include “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the long-running CBS procedural “CSI,” recruiting Newell paid immediate dividends.

It was Newell’s presence that persuaded Ben Kingsley to look past his initial misgivings about appearing in a game-inspired fantasy. And Newell’s decision to base the movie in something like reality appealed to its star, Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays a swashbuckling prince wrongly exiled after the murder of his adoptive father.

Looking back, Bruckheimer, 64, sees nothing unusual about his choice of directors.

“Mike can do just about any kind of movie,” he says. “He has a wonderful palette that he paints from, and that’s important. We wanted an entertaining film that appeals to a broad audience, but also something special, that concentrates on character and story.”

Newell, who tried playing the video game but quickly deemed it a lost cause — he had his assistants play while he watched, picking up visual cues he would use during filming — still considers “Prince of Persia” an improbable coup for a director accustomed to smaller productions. But he’s enjoying the ride while it lasts.

“The more exquisite, the more dark, the more agonized, the more true to our fallible human natures a film can be — that’s a good Brit picture,” Newell says. “But lately, I’ve been really interested in great, big entertainment. ‘Prince of Persia’ is exactly that, and I’m very pleased to have it.”


Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina
Written by Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernar
Directed by Mike Newell
Rated PG-13
Running time 1 hour 43 minutes

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