Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the hottest A-Listers in Hollywood and it has nothing to do with his Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time beating out Sex and the City 2 from the second spot of the North American box office on Memorial Day weekend.

The 29-year-old actor’s winning attributes are talent, versatility, elegance and intelligence. Throw in good looks and innate charisma, and you have a superstar.

From the very dark Donnie Darko (2001) to the brilliant Brokeback Mountain (2005) to the gorgeously made Arabian Nights-styled fantasy, Prince of Persia, based on a video game and given the epic treatment for the big screen by movie mogul producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney Studios, Gyllenhaal has proven that he’s got the chops to carry the weight of a major motion picture. That ability, in the multibillion-dollar movie industry, is no minor feat.

Special effects and CGIs aside, it doesn’t require a statistician to calculate that the reason why Prince of Persia grossed more than $37 million in the United States and Canada, based on published industry figures, is the obvious fact that Gyllenhaal, with the physique of an Olympian, drew the public like a magnet to the their local cineplexes.

On Sunday, lists of the leading moneymakers had the divas of Sex and the City 2 following the reigning king, Shrek Forever After, among the Top 5 highest ticket sellers. Then, on Monday, updated numbers showed Prince had topped Sex‘s intake, after all, despite mixed reviews that leaned toward the darker side of the star-rating system.

Before Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time opened after a strong publicity campaign, The Herald spoke with Gyllenhaal about his latest movie. Had Jarhead (2005) and the more recent Brothers (2009), both with Gyllenhaal, been as fun to watch as this one, they may have fared better in the mainstream marketplace. However, that was then, Prince is now, and it is better than what you may have heard: a movie whose sole purpose is to entertain and does.

“It’s fun, right?” Gyllenhaal said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.

The obvious answer is yes, it is fun, because it transports the viewer to a time of myths and legends that require no explanation: a sit-back-and-enjoy adventure, and that is part of its charm. Gyllenhaal obviously loves the movie, and one can detect this by simply listening to his description of a brief moment early in the story:

There’s one shot at the very beginning of the movie where you see the king, and somehow he’s on the horse and he picks up the young Dastan. The horse is glimmering gold, and he’s glimmering gold. And I always think, when I see that shot, of all the little kids who will hopefully go [to] the movie and are going to see that. It’s going to make some kind of unconscious impression on them, even just the colors.

British director Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2005) and Australian cinematographer John Seale, who won an Oscar for The English Patient (1996), glaze the movie with golden hues — the opening scene of the fabled City of Alamut looks magnificent — and the colors, as Gyllenhaal rightly points out, enhance the mystical journey to defy the future, as the tagline on the one sheet admonishes.

If Gyllenhaal has what he calls that tendency to work in dramas, his niche may just be the action-adventure blockbuster that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is en route to becoming worldwide. Those who have seen him in Jarhead and Brothers will discover in this film a versatility in Gyllenhaal that we attribute to legendary actors like Errol Flynn, Burt Lancaster and Tyrone Power, who had the body, the face, the smiles and the athletic prowess to jump from deep dramas to light adventures, and vice versa, with magical panache.

When versatility enters the conversation it is next to impossible not to include his elder sister Maggie Gyllenhaal, one of this year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominees for Crazy Heart (2009), in the picture.

I’m just trying to catch up to her, to be honest”, Gyllenhaal said modestly. I have a feeling she’ll have a long, incredible career.”

Despite the fact that their father, Stephen Gyllenhaal, is a DGA award-winning director and their mother, Naomi Foner, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, both Jake and Maggie chose to follow in their parents’ filmmaking footsteps via the acting route.

Jake explained that during a recent interview with Radio Disney, the announcer asked him what advice he would give to kids who would want to get into acting and the performing arts.

My parents always insisted that I stay in school, much to my dismay at the young age that I was”, said Gyllenhaal. I was convinced I knew what I wanted to do. Funny enough, I knew I wanted to be an actor at the time.

Moreover, they kept on insisting that he have a proper education and learn to write in my own voice and read great books written by great minds.

At Columbia University in New York he immersed himself in the minds of great western thinkers of the ranks of Aristotle, Plato, Aeschylus, Freud, Jung, Tolstoy, among others.

Any type of mind that was coming up with great ideas,” he said.

His immersion into the masterpieces of world literature was the result of his parents saying: We know what you think you want to do, but go and learn.

According to Gyllenhaal, his decision to become a professional actor was a normal thing.

I love the puzzle of movie making”, he adds. I love the kind of strange equation that comes out, when it works and when it doesn’t. I love the idea of putting pieces together and that if you change something here, it affects everything else.

Returning to the subject of the profession that he feels grateful to be a part of, he considers Bruckheimer’s humility as one of the qualities that has led to his consistent and enormous success as a Hollywood giant.

He has a knack that movies are about fun”, said Gyllenhaal. It’s been great making this movie and then promoting it and have people see it. People just go: `I had a great time.’ I was brought up thinking that movies were very serious and this and that. I don’t believe that anymore. After working with Jerry, it’s a sense as if movies are like notes on a piano. There are major chords, minor chords, unresolved cadences, and major chords with resolved cadences. There are so many different ways of making films, and he knows how to have his audience [enjoy] an incredibly good time. He brings out the best in the people who are working for him.

Gyllenhaal says he told Bruckheimer: I want to do [Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time] because I want to have a good time. I’m tired of taking myself so seriously. He said: `Welcome.’ ”

One of the key words in Prince of Persia, which appears on screen at the beginning of the film is destiny.

I think it’s always a toss-up between free will and destiny,” said Gyllenhaal. I’m really starting to sense that destiny definitely does exist. A lot of it is about just trusting that you are where you’re supposed to be.

What Gyllenhaal says he hopes what the young people who go see the movie take with them when they leave the theaters is simple, but not simplistic.

From the very beginning of the movie, the character that I play, Dastan, always follows his heart,” Gyllenhaal emphasized. That leads him to great places. It leads him to have great fun. It leads him to enjoy his life and what happens even when he’s in difficult situations.

Another important theme in the film is the family and unity among brothers. As a homeless child surviving in the streets, Dastan’s bravery impresses the King of Persia to the extent that he adopts him as a son.

“No matter what, family is wherever you find it,” Gyllenhaal said. “Sometimes they’re not even you’re biological family. Sometimes they’re just the people you go through tough times with and who care for you. But most of all, I hope [the kids] take away from it that they get to go into a huge, amazing world.” And he adds with a touch of humor that he also hopes that “parkour becomes an important sport in many young kids’ lives.”

Parkour could be defined as a running-type of “sport” –although “discipline” is the more commonly used term to describe it — requiring speed, agility and dexterity — Dastan does a lot of climbing, leaping and jumping in the movie to evade his pursuers — that reminds us of the gravity-defying acrobatics popularized on the screen in martial arts and other action-driven films.

“It certainly is fun,” assures Gyllenhaal. “I remember being a little kid and riding in the back seat of my parents’ car and looking at the telephone poles as we drove down the highway, thinking of myself jumping from telephone pole to telephone pole. I remember that spirit as a kid. And I got to do it in this movie. I got to fulfill it in this movie. I hope [the viewers] have a great time.”