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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 ostrich.

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 right thing.

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.


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