IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Illusionist David Copperfield Talks 'Now You See Me' Blu-ray/DVD, Its Planned Sequel, A Possible Houdini Film, and His Own Legacy of Magic

Monday, 02 September 2013 19:16 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Illusionist David Copperfield Talks 'Now You See Me' Blu-ray/DVD, Its Planned Sequel, A Possible Houdini Film, and His Own Legacy of Magic

After the great Harry Houdini, David Copperfield is probably the most famous illusionist/magician of all-time!

Beginning his career in the mid-‘70s, Copperfield has been entertaining audiences on television, Broadway, and in Las Vegas for almost 40 years. He’s starred in 20 TV specials and is most famous for a series of amazing illusions including the Death Saw, Portal, flying, walking through the Great Wall of China, and vanishing the Statue of Liberty. Copperfield also owns the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, and has purportedly grossed over $3 billion in sales as a solo entertainer, more than anyone else in history. Recently, he has turned his attention to Hollywood and appeared in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, as well as being the magic advisor on the film. Copperfield was also an advisor on the recent box office hit Now You See Me, which was inspired by his Portal illusion and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning September 3rd. 

Now You See Me was directed by Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk), produced by Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us) and Roberto Orci (Star Trek), and based on a screenplay by Ed Solomon (Men in Black), Edward Ricourt and director Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans). The film follows an FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and an Interpol detective (Melanie Laurent) who mist track a team of illusionists (Jessie Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco) who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money. In addition to that impressive cast of actors, the movie also features Academy Award-winners Morgan Freeman (The Magic of Belle Isle), and Michael Caine (The Dark Knight Rises). It was recently announced that plans for a sequel to Now You See Me are in the work, and that Leterrier will return to direct. 

I recently had the absolute pleasure of speaking with the great David Copperfield about his contributions to Now You See Me, as well as magic, the upcoming Now You See Me sequel, and a possible film about Houdini. The legendary performer discussed Now You See Me, his work on the film, how his illusion helped inspire the story, criticism that the film relied too much on CGI, the status of the upcoming sequel, developing a film about Harry Houdini, his favorite films about magic, how the industry has changed over the years, and his own legacy as the world’s greatest illusionist. 

Here is what he had to say:

IAR: To begin with, I understand that Now You See Me was partly inspired by your Portal illusion, can you talk about that?

David Copperfield: That’s what they say. So Ed Ricourt who wrote the first script saw my show, and that illusion in the show really was something that everyone told me would never work. No one thought that you could vanish over an audience and reappear in another place. No one thought it would be creditable. Of course when people say its impossible I embrace it and try to make it work somehow. That illusion that was in my show took about three years to get it right and make it really creditable. Finally it was creditable enough for Ed Ricourt to come to the show and say, “This isn’t just rabbit out of a hat stuff. This is really a plot point that could propel a heist movie forward.” He realized that this was a cooler approach to magic than he had ever seen before. So that’s the thing that he started with. They did an excellent job in the movie to sort of do the movie version of it. 

What was your role day to day on the film as an advisor?

Copperfield: You know the first thing that happened was that they all came to see me. Producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, and director Louis Leterrier all came to see me. They spent time in my museum and they talked to me about doing magic on film and making it credible. Not all the magic in the movie was real but you have to give it a feeling of being real anyways. On my TV specials all the magic is in front of a live audience. I go to great lengths to make the audiences at home feel like they are there in the theater with the live audience. So I spent a lot of time with the whole team going through tapes showing them how you would move a camera shot through an audience to give the effect that you are really in a live theater, and lighting in a certain way to make it as credible as possible. Then I think a week later Louis Leterrier called me up and did the movie for me on the phone, literally. It was awesome. In movie terms I got the “previs” of the movie over the phone. I took that and I took my team and collaborated on a whole bunch of ideas and did a Skype session with the movie team. That’s how it happened and later on during the filming days we had to do some re-shoots so they came to us and we figured out how not only the magic would tie into the ending, but the plot point itself. My magic has always been about storytelling and my inspirations were not magician, my inspirations are Orson Wells, Frank Capra, Victor Fleming and different film directors. So I have a really passion for storytelling and magic. 

You mentioned that some of the illusions in the film were actually done with CGI rather than practically, and I know that a lot of film critics did criticized the movie for that fact. What is your opinion on that criticism?

Copperfield: I wasn’t there for those decisions, but I would always encourage it to be done with practical stuff. The other movie we worked on was The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and we created a piece of magic with one shot and no camera tricks. So we’ll see what happens on the next one.  We’re collaborating on the next one and we’re part of that team so we’ll see what we can do.

So you will be working on the recently announced Now You See Me Sequel, is that correct?

Copperfield: Yes, correct.

Have you already begun work on the sequel and have you seen a script yet?

Copperfield: Not yet but we’re about to start and we’ve discussed some stuff.

You mentioned that Orson Wells and other legendary filmmakers have been inspirations to you and your work. At this point in your illustrious career, do you enjoy being involved with Hollywood and making movies?

Copperfield: It’s very natural for me because I directed all my specials and shot all that and we did it in great cinematic terms because my inspiration being with cinema. But magicians naturally are part of the movies. In the early days of cinema, magic film was a magic effect in the show. Magicians are storytellers in a way and at one point often used projectors. But before projectors were known that was a piece of magic that we fooled audiences with. Now we made that into the storytelling aspect of it. So I think there’s been a natural evolution of magicians in the cinema and they fit in very well especially the way I approach it with storytelling and magic being my inspirations.

With the exception of the recent movies that you have worked on, do you have a favorite film about magic? 

Copperfield: Any film that has a respect for the art is good. There was a film that was made long before our time that was very good called Eternally Yours. David Niven plays a very cool magician that romances a girl in the audience. He’s kind of a cool guy that has some difficulties that he has to deal with. But the magic is really good. Obviously I like The Prestige, Christopher Nolan’s movie, as well as The Illusionist. They are both terrific films and treat magic with respect. Also of course Hugo, which is homage to the early days of magic. 

There have been several feature films made about the life of Harry Houdini over the years, but Hollywood has yet to make a big budget blockbuster about the legendary magician. Would you like to see a film like that eventually get made?

Copperfield: It’s in the works. We’re involved with a few different incarnations of that so we shall see. 

For decades now you have absolutely been at the top of your field. Your name is really synonymous with the word magic, and in many ways you are really the only game in town. You’re kind of the “Michael Jordan of magic.” How does it feel to be by far the best at what you do?

Copperfield: As long as you write that I’ll be really happy. It’s very flattering. I’m just still trying to get it right. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with this job. When you see my new show you’ll see some amazing new technology. We’re working with scientists, astronauts, and to take magic to places where its really never been before. Also, to inspire the future generation of dreamers, so apart from film I’m doing some incredible new things that I’m very excited about. 

Finally, you’ve been an illusionist for a very long time now, how has magic changed over the years, if it has at all?

Copperfield: It keeps evolving. We mutate very differently as artists. It used to be a one-way conversation with the audience and now we get to talk back with the audience through Facebook, Twitter, and social media.  So my magic has changed drastically over the years in order to make it a two-way conversation with the audience, and to inspire people and also learn from people. I learn so much from my audience. So that is what has changed. There are no longer just three networks on TV. There are many ways to communicate stories and ideas. 

Now You See Me will be available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning September 3rd. 

To watch our exclusive video interview with Woody Harrelson about Now You See Me, please click here

To watch our exclusive video interview with Mark Ruffalo about Now You See Me, please click here

To watch our exclusive video interview with Morgan Freeman about Now You See Me, please click here

A sequel to Now You See Me is currently in pre-production. 

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