MOLINA, ALFRED - THE PRINCE OF PERSIA
THE OSTRICH LESSON
Ostriches seem to be really dumb and have only one instinct, which is to flee,
says Alfred Molina, the man who plays an ostrich owner in Prince of Persia.
Inspired by the video game of the same name, the action adventure film was shot
over a period of nearly five months on location in Morocco and at London’s
Pinewood Studios, employed as many as 2,000 cast and crew (including Aussie
cinematographer John Seale) and involved the manufacture of 7,000 costumes as
well as construction of some of the biggest sets created for a Hollywood film in
recent years. With temperatures soaring to 51° C, Alfred Molina recorded this
interview in the middle of an idyllic oasis near Ouarzazate, Morocco, while on a
break from shooting a scene involving several horses, a camel, and a runaway
Q: So what are you filming today? And is this the first time you’ve worked
with an ostrich?
A: Yes, it’s my first time, but I seem to have built up a good relationship with
him. [Laughs] The character I play, Sheik Amar, is an ostrich-race promoter and
in the scene we’re doing today he’s lost his track and his ostriches have all
run away, apart from one, who’s admittedly his favorite, and so he’s lost his
living, his business, everything, and he’s furious and heartbroken.
Q: Are you the villain in the story?
A: Lovable rogue I’d say! Or at least he’s a baddie who ends up as a reluctant
ally of the hero. He starts off and he’s venal and self-centered and he
describes himself as an entrepreneur and businessman, but he’s really a conman
and a small-time gangster with a capacity for violence. So he’s not sweet and
cuddly, but he’s cheeky and a good talker and has a bit of an edge and some
charm to him, and there’s also a part of him that deep down wants to do the
Q: Was it the character you’d be playing that attracted you to the film?
A: Sometimes you’ll respond to the writing; sometimes it’s just a character
you’ve never played before; sometimes it might be the people who are already
involved, maybe someone you would walk across glass to work with, whether it’s
the director or another actor. And in the best cases, all those things come
together in a package, which is what happened here.
Q: You’ve worked with the director, Mike Newell, before…
A: That’s right. We worked together on “Enchanted April” about fifteen years ago
and I had a really good time on that and I’ve always admired his work. So I was
very pleased when I got a phone call out of the blue saying he was going to be
in Los Angeles and could we meet about a part. Now, I’m not a gamer, I’ve never
played computer games at all, but after Mike had told me about this film, I
asked my stepson if he’d ever heard of a game called “Prince of Persia” and he
just went bananas and told me I had to make it. So that sparked my interest and
then I saw the roster of actors that were getting involved. I’ve been friends
with [Sir] Ben [Kingsley] a long time and then there’s this new generation of
actors like Gemma [Arterton] and Toby [Kebbell].
Q: How about Jake Gyllenhaal?
A: He brings all the qualities the part needs: he’s good-looking and talented,
has a very attractive personality and is very bright. I’m also really impressed
by his willingness to just jump in. It can be very easy for an actor in his
position to sit back a little bit and play the star and let someone else carry
the weight. He has never done that.
Q: He doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously either…
A: I like that quality, and it’s not something every actor has. I think that
generally speaking British actors have a greater tendency to take the work
seriously but not themselves. We tend to rib each other a lot and the minute
someone starts being sincere or serious about their “craft” then someone is
going to laugh at them.
Q: It must be even harder to take yourself seriously when you’re sharing a
scene with an ostrich…
A: Exactly. [Laughs]. By the way, what I’m also discovering is that you can’t
really train an ostrich. They seem to be really dumb and have only one instinct,
which is to flee.
Q: You’re wearing incredibly heavy robes, we’re in the middle of the desert,
and you’re about to go back into the intense heat to shoot your next scene. Ever
wish they would make movies like they did in the old days and you wouldn’t have
to leave an air-conditioned studio?
A: No, I love this job even when there’s an element of discomfort or irritation.
So what if you’re getting hot and you’re getting itchy and you’re getting bored
and you can’t get a cup of tea and it’s taking them forever to set something up
and the ostrich won’t do what you want? There’s an element of surprise and
spontaneity when you are working on location. In the long term you realize that
it’s all going to inform and enhance what you are doing. I think it really adds
to the film.
Published October 21, 2010
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Alfred Molina - in the Prince of Persia
THE PRINCE OF PERSIAis available on Blu-ray and DVD from October 20, 2010.