EXCLUSIVE: James McAvoy & Ben Barnes were considered for PRINCE OF PERSIA!

Mike Newell reveals Charles Dickens adaptation on his future slate & more...

Introducing an exhibitor€™s screening of €˜Prince of Persia€™ at a Disney trade expo in Leicester Square yesterday, director Mike Newell suggested that Jake Gyllenhaal was cast because Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney wanted an American star on screen, saying "they want to see themselves on screen and why shouldn't they?" Gyllenhaal ('Donnie Darko', 'Brokeback Mountain') does a decent English accent in the upcoming blockbuster, and Newell explained that Bruckheimer and company sought to replicate the success of the 'Pirates of the Carribean' franchise by casting mostly British acting talent (Gemma Arterton, Alfred Molinaand Sir Ben Kingsley to name a few). But when a plucky audience member asked if the director had thought of any other actors for the role, he surprising acknowledged that there were a few other early contenders:

"When you don't use them you sort of erase them from your mind, but McAvoy was certainly someone we looked at. We also looked at the chap from the Narnia films, what's his name - you know, the dark fella ."
But Newell went on to say that he has known Gyllenhaal since he were a child and not "this big-deal actor" and so he embraced working with him on the project. Newell was understandably more cagey about whether or not the film would spawn a franchise, cautiously saying that although the studio would like to do one, they won't publicly back it "until they've seen the first two weeks box-office" and adding that "they'd have to ask me first!" The 'Donnie Brasco' and 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' helmer also revealed how he got his assistant to come into his office and play the 'Prince of Persia' video game (with tea and biscuits, apparently) for an hour each lunch time whilst making the film, as he couldn't get to grips with it himself:
"I could walk about three steps forward along the wall before falling into the spikes every time!"
Obviously not a video games fan, he was rather more inspired by the beautiful landscapes of Morocco ("the most beautiful country I've ever seen in my life") where much of the exterior shoot was done, as well as by a book of nineteenth century French paintings of the Middle East gifted to him by Bruckheimer:
"They weren't the great inventors - they weren't the impressionists... But these guys painted what they saw and they took people into another world which was, at that time, very different from Europe. Jerry told me "If you can show the audience a place they've never been before, they will come" and I think he's right... I told him I'm not giving the book back!"
When asked about future projects Newell did mention a few, saying that he is currently working on something new with 'Prince of Persia' creator and screenwriter, Jordan Mechner, as well as an adaptation of the Dickens novel "Dombey and Son", as well as (perhaps most interestingly) a film about the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. He also said he would wait and see whatever the "lucky letterbox" brings his way. But before that, he said that he wants to take a bit of a rest from filmmaking after years of quite intense projects, like 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' and this latest blockbuster. 'Prince of Persia' is released in the UK on May 28th, but Obsessed with Film will be covering it in full with a review and a podcast next week. Don't miss it!

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A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, GamesIndustry.biz and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.