To me, Book of Secrets is like a movie unto itself.  When you change the treasure, you change the whole story.  You get new clues that are historically accurate and you get new locations.  The actors stay the same; the characters stay the same.  Having been a fan of Basil Rathbone and Sherlock Holmes, I thought, “Why not bring Ben Gates back as a sort of historical, modern version or a historical or archaeological detective looking for these treasures.  Jon Turtletaub has a genius.  He’s made a lot of movies—without a gun.  And I’m happy I did it.

What’s it like having young fans for the first time?
Children to me are of the utmost importance, and they really are the future, aren’t they?  So I want to treat that carefully. I’m one of those people who believe that the power of film is intense, and you have to really think about it responsibly.  And in this case, to get them to enjoy themselves with Mom and Dad but also look into their history books—in a way that isn’t “you must read or you must learn’ but actually helps them enjoy the ride even more, because there’s a level of believability to it.  You wonder, “Wow, why are there missing pages in the Booth diary?”  Then you go see the movie and you use a little imagination, and it makes the ride a little more enjoyable

I’m always thinking about the kids, if I make that sort of movie.  Even with Ghost Rider, I was thinking about the kids.  Walt Disney, for me, is a magnificent hero of sorts, because he was probably the most influential artist of our times.  He was such an influence that we don’t even think of him as a human being.  He did this amazing stuff. He took these classic stories like Pinocchio, Beauty and the Beast and Snow White and made them accessible to children.  With Ghost Rider, I was trying to do the one story he never did, probably for obvious reasons, which was Faust—and make that something that kids could go, “Yeah, this is just a myth, but we’re all going to get in trouble and how do you get past that?”

Did you want to do something new with the character, since it’s the first time you’ve played the same character twice?
That was my first question to Jerry Bruckheimer.  It’s been three years; I’m not the same guy.  How am I going to go back and do Ben Gates?  He said, “That’s it.  The character has changed.”  The response I got at Disney was that I seemed lighter.  I’m smiling more.  I’m happier.  I think the weight has been taken off the character.  He’s been accepted academically.  He’s not considered wacko.  So he feels happier.

Would you mind doing a third National Treasure film?
I believe that National Treasure should become more and more international treasure, and I was very happy that we went to London and Paris.  But I would like to see the movie go wider still—into Africa, Egypt and Asia—and keep going.  My hope is that Ben is recruited, and he gets a dossier from these other countries about their history and he has to download it and learn and go on these hunts for and on their behalf.  That would be a lot of fun for me.

How are you like Ben Gates?
One of the things that come to mind is ancestors.  In a lot of so-called primitive cultures, there is a tremendous respect for our ancestors that we don’t see as much, for whatever reason, in American culture.  With Ben, I wanted to make it clear that he really believes—probably because his grandfather, [actor] Christopher Plummer, knighted him at such an early age and he took it to heart—in a chivalrous way that everything he is is on account of his ancestors.  They’re not dead to him. They are still there with him, and he’s honoring them.  I like that about him, and I’m trying to embrace that in my own life.  Also, history.  It’s a quid pro quo.  I really appreciate history now, probably because of playing Ben Gates.  And I enjoy being in places where I feel the weight of past events.  I like old architecture and old buildings.  And if you use a little imagination, you can time travel.