Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Magic, Magic, Everywhere

Here's a terrific article about magic in film and television from USA Today. I've posted it in full because it's worth a read:

Magic does the trick in upcoming thrillers

By Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY
Wed Feb 15, 7:24 AM ET

Hollywood is focused on hocus-pocus.

Maybe the sight of wizards young and old as they summon CGI wonders in the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fantasies has left audiences yearning for an older brand of magic.

If they are, several moviemakers have a few projects up their sleeves that may do the trick this year.

Prestidigitation performed on camera, not on a computer screen, is front and center in two thrillers set during the abracadabra heyday at the turn of the last century:

The Prestige, in production in Los Angeles and out in November, pits Hugh Jackman against Christian Bale as dueling British magicians.

"I play one of the greatest magicians of the time period," says Jackman, who also co-stars with Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie in the film directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins). "It's an incredibly original story, a mind bender with twists and turns. The entire script is a magic trick."

In The Illusionist, Edward Norton is a Viennese master of marvels whose seemingly supernatural skills threaten a dogged chief inspector (Paul Giamatti) and an ambitious royal (Rufus Sewell).

"I'm no more into magic than the next guy," writer/director Neil Burger says. "But I am interested in that uncanny sense that nothing is what it seems. All the illusions are based on existing illusions from the time. We just pushed them another 10%-25% and made them more fantastical."

For more contemporary magic, Jeremy Piven (Entourage) plays Las Vegas magician Buddy "Aces" Israel, whose fraternizing with the Mob lands him in trouble in Smokin' Aces, directed and written by Joe Carnahan (Narc).

Piven, who learned a few trade secrets from his teacher, Scottish magician R. Paul Wilson, loved the rush he felt from amazing a crowd. "The turning point for me was when I got up at the Magic Castle and pulled a trick off in front of an audience. It was completely intoxicating." He was so hooked that while on the set, "I would use my cards like worry beads."

Woody Allen, a longtime lover of legerdemain, plays a second-rate vaudevillian stand-up and magician in his next film, Scoop.

"Yes, I do magic tricks and a lot of jokes," he says. "I did them onstage when I was 15 or 16. I can still do them because I practiced so rigorously when I was a teenager and it just stays with me."

Even American Idol crankster Simon Cowell is getting into the act. He just announced plans to hold a TV talent search for Vegas entertainers, especially magicians, this summer on NBC. "Personally, I hope to find the next Siegfried and Roy," he says.

Michael Weber, a smoke-and-mirrors pro who runs a magic consulting company, Deceptive Practices, with card specialist Ricky Jay, advised on both The Prestige (the term for the residue left after a trick) and The Illusionist. "We all share a collective unconscious about some uncle pulling a coin out of his ear," says Weber, who is about to help design the con games in Ocean's Thirteen. "We concentrate on that magical common experience. Our job is to have it make sense in a movie context."

Most actors he trains tend to be naturals, he says. "As the father of modern magic, Robert-Houdin, said, 'A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.' "

Still, not every actor gets to be a magician off-screen, as Jackman learned.

"I said to the guys, 'Is there any chance you could just tell me a card trick?' " he says. "Not for the film but for parties. They said no. Their motto is, 'Arcane knowledge on a need-to-know basis.' I didn't need to know. I could have really saved money on my children's party entertainment, though."


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