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Now You See Me (2013)
Opened: 05/31/2013 Wide
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Trailer: Click for trailer
Rated: PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content.
The closer you look, the less you'll see.
Four talented magicians mesmerize an international audience with a series of bold and original heists, all the while pursuing a hidden agenda that has the FBI and Interpol scrambling to anticipate their next move in Now You See Me, a visually spectacular blend of astonishing illusions and exhilarating action from director Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans).
The Four Horsemen, a magic super-group led by the charismatic J.Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), perform a pair of high-tech, high-profile magic shows, first amazing audiences by remotely robbing a Paris bank while in Las Vegas, and then exposing a white-collar criminal and funneling his millions into the audience members' bank accounts, baffling the authorities with their intricately planned capers.
FBI Special Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is determined to make the magicians pay for their crimes--and to stop them before they pull off what promises to be an even more audacious heist. But he's forced to partner with Alma (Melanie Laurent), an Interpol detective about whom he is instantly suspicious. Out of desperation, he turns to Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a famed magic debunker, who claims the Paris bank trick was actually a meticulously planned illusion. Dylan and Alma begin to wonder if the Horsemen have an outside point person. If so, finding him (or her) would be the key to ending the magicians' crime spree. But who could it be? Or could it really be... magic?
As pressure mounts and the world awaits the Horsemen's spectacular final trick, Dylan and Alma race to stay one step ahead of the magicians. But it soon becomes clear that outmaneuvering these masters of illusion is beyond the skills of any one man--or woman.
Now You See Me stars Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Zombieland), Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers, Shutter Island), Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games, 2012), Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers), Dave Franco (21 Jump Street, "Scrubs"), Common (Terminator Salvation, "Wanted"), Jose Garcia, with Michael Caine (Inception, The Dark Knight) and Morgan Freeman (Olympus Has Fallen, Million Dollar Baby).
The film is directed by Louis Leterrier (Clash of The Titans, The Incredible Hulk) from story by Boaz Yakin (Safe, Hostel) & Edward Ricourt and a screenplay by Ed Solomon (Men in Black) and Boaz Yakin & Edward Ricourt. Producers are Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek, The Proposal), Roberto Orci (Star Trek, The Proposal) and Bobby Cohen (Cowboys & Aliens, Jarhead). Executive producers are Boaz Yakin, Michael Schaefer and Stan Wlodkowski (Monte Carlo, Eat, Pray, Love).
Directors of Photography are Larry Fong, ASC (300, Watchmen) and Mitchell Amundsen (Red Dawn, Odd Thomas). Production Designer is Peter Wenham (21 Jump Street, Fast Five). Editors are Robert Leighton (People Like Us, The Bucket List), and Vincent Tabaillon (Taken 2, Clash of the Titans). Costume Designer is Jenny Eagan (Contraband, Cowboys and Aliens). Original Music is by Brian Tyler (The Expendables, Law Abiding Citizen).
About the Production
The fascinating and alluring realm of professional illusionists provides a glittering backdrop for director Louis Letterier's electrifying heist thriller Now You See Me, a love letter to the world of magic. Cops and criminals jockey for the upper hand as the film reveals ancient secrets and invents new ones, updating classic illusions and taking the audience on a journey that embraces the idea of the impossible.
Producer Bobby Cohen, president of K/O Paper Products, admits to being what he calls "a secret magic geek." "When I was a kid, my grandfather would take me to the local Holiday Inn to see magicians who designed their own tricks and sold them there," he says. "You could buy special decks of cards or wands or cups of balls. He'd buy me three or four tricks every year and I kept them all in a little tackle box. I would annoy the relatives at Passover with my repertoire."
Cohen, who has served as producer on dozens of feature films ranging from the Desert Storm drama, Jarhead, to the wacky Robin Williams comedy, RV, had been trying to develop a magic-themed action picture for years. "My partners, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are interested in magic as well," he says. "We were looking for this script for a very long time."
The whole idea of magic evokes a dual visceral response in most people, he says. "On the one hand, we want to be amazed, but on the other, we want to know how they did it. We often talked about the best way to get both of those experiences into a movie."
Leterrier has established himself as one of contemporary cinema's most masterful visual stylists and the creator of unforgettable action films such as Clash of the Titans, The Transporter and The Incredible Hulk. He was drawn to Now You See Me's nuanced story and intriguing characters, but it was the film's sly peek behind the wizard's curtain that sealed the deal for him.
The director came back to the producers brimming with ideas for expanding the scope of the movie. He wanted to take the illusions to unprecedented proportions--and do the same for all the production elements, including visual effects, stunts, locations and costumes. He also proposed shooting primarily on classic 35-millimeter film stock using 40-year-old anamorphic lenses that would capture the lush, romantic imagery. Finally he suggested that they use two different cinematographers. Mitchell Amundsen would photograph the film's blistering action sequences, while Larry Fong would oversee the intricate illusions.
"Louis showed that he really understood what it was that we were going for," Cohen says. "A heist movie is a genre in itself. The question was, how do we inject something new into that and keep it character based at the same time? His influence on the script and the casting took the movie to an entirely different level."
"Louis and the producers brought authenticity to the magic and created fabulous sets," says Ricourt. "It was awe inspiring to watch. To see the hundreds of people and thousands of components that went into making this work was incredible."
To help realize the director's ambitious vision, veteran writer Ed Solomon (Men in Black) also joined the team. "It was an inspiring collaborative effort," says Ricourt. "I looked at the process as being like a baseball game. A pitcher comes in for the first eight innings, but sometimes you need a closer if you're going to win the game. But my vision was honored from beginning to end. I felt so lucky to be able work with such good, experienced writers."
Also providing expertise to the production were several top-notch professional magicians with specialties varying from mentalism to sleight of hand. Led by David Kwong, founder of Misdirectors Guild, a company that regularly counsels filmmakers on the art and craft of magic, they delved deeper than ever before into the mechanics and philosophy of onstage sorcery to provide an authentic framework for the story. In an age when CGI can achieve the impossible with startling efficiency, the filmmakers insisted on keeping as many of the elements in the illusions as possible in-camera.
"We talked about some of the basic principles of magic, as well as training the actors and helping to design the illusions," says Kwong. "One of our most important goals was to engage the audience on an intellectual level, so they understand all the preparation that goes into creating illusions. We don't expose too many secrets, but you will learn to respect what The Four Horsemen are capable of doing."
Now You See Me harks back to the days that movies were projected on a "magic lantern," reminding audiences that the two disciplines have always gone hand in hand, according to Ricourt. "When you buy your ticket and go into the theater, you're prepared to believe in magic, because that's what movies are," the writer says. "You have to suspend your disbelief momentarily for both. You suppress what you know is real and become willing to believe whatever you see. This movie reflects that. Anything is possible!"
AND FOR OUR NEXT TRICK...
With eight major roles to fill, the producers put together a company that is even more than the sum of its parts. With three Oscars® and a dozen nominations between them, the cast of Now You See Me is one of the most star-studded in recent memory, but star-sized egos were left at home.
"We put together a cast of people that we liked and wanted to work with, rather than the actors of the moment," says Cohen. "Every time we added somebody else, it made it easier to cast the rest of the movie. Jesse Eisenberg was the first one in. Then Woody Harrelson came on because he enjoyed working with Jesse in Zombieland. Mark Ruffalo wanted to work with Jesse and Woody, and Isla Fisher was excited to work with all three of them. It just came together naturally."
J. Daniel Atlas, arrogant, sharply dressed and verbally adept, becomes the de facto leader of the Four Horsemen. "He was probably a geek in high school who couldn't get girls," says Ricourt. "When he started learning a few card tricks, he started getting attention. As a stage performer, he gets the girl and he commands attention."
Played by Jesse Eisenberg, an Oscar® nominee for his work in The Social Network, Atlas is a sleight-of-hand specialist and all-around illusionist. The actor learned to do actual card and coin manipulation for the role. "Jesse is great as Atlas," says Cohen. "The character is a true hustler with an enormous amount of charisma. It is something that no one has ever seen him do before. He stretched himself and gave 100 percent."
Even more than the other Horsemen, Atlas is conscious of his audience even when not on stage, allowing the actor to create a character within a character. "He is 'on' all the time," says Eisenberg. "He's cocky and self-assured, always performing. But really, he's playing his idea of a magician and hiding behind that persona. Atlas needs to always be in control, which is one of the reasons he's able to do these incredible illusions."
Like his three partners, Atlas is at the top of his particular specialty, creating competition in the ranks. "They're all posturing a bit as they try to assert dominance, but once they get that, they meld together well," Eisenberg says. "Atlas differentiates himself by saying he's the best 'sleight-of-mind magician' around."
As the Horsemen mount two highly publicized public performances, they are also working on an even bigger "show" that they keep under wraps. "Atlas feels like he's so far ahead of the FBI," the actor says. "And in many ways, he is. Magic has taught him to always consider what the other side is going to do before he does anything. He loves that the FBI is following him. He loves the fact that the magic world's foremost debunker is following him. Anything they do just makes him look better, because with all the resources they have at their disposal, they still can't keep up."
Because the Horsemen are interested in the illusions, rather than the money they steal through them, they become more sympathetic for the audience, says Eisenberg. "They need to prove that they can do this, to themselves and to someone else. And there's a duality at the heart of it all that keeps your allegiance shifting. On the one hand, you're with the cops as they unravel the illusions. On the other, you're behind the scenes with the magicians, seeing all the work and cleverness that go into these shows."
Working with Leterrier was a first for Eisenberg, whose previous work hasn't included epic-scale action. "Louis has made enormous movies in the past," he says. "I wasn't sure how interested a director like him would be in working with actors, but he had so many ideas about my character and so many references to actor-driven movies. It was eye-opening for me to learn that you could do that in this kind of big, visually arresting movie."
Isla Fisher had been working as an actress since the age of nine before her breakout role in the 2005 blockbuster comedy, Wedding Crashers, made her an in-demand Hollywood actress. In Now You See Me, Fisher plays Henley Reeves, an escape artist whose signature trick is getting out of a 100-gallon, piranha-filled water tank while shackled hand and foot.
"Henley's role was originally written for a guy," says Ricourt. "Through the course of development, she became a woman, which added some layers to the character and complicated the relationships between the Horsemen."
As Atlas's former assistant, Henley used to carry his props and get sawed in half nightly. Now an equal, her unbridled feminine spirit helps keep the team's male egos in check. "Her brilliance and audacity are intimidating to Atlas," says Fisher. "Once she came into her own, their relationship metamorphosed into more of a sibling rivalry. She's fearless, which is a lot of fun to play and a big reason I took the movie. In real life, I'm kind of a fraidy cat."
Fisher pictured the character as a cross between Lisbeth Salander, the protagonist of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the independent and iconoclastic film star, Katharine Hepburn. "She has to be better just to hold her own with the guys," the actress says. "She's feisty, but she never acts like a man. Her feminine side is the key to her power."
Fisher studied the life and work of illusionist Dorothy Dietrich to prepare for the role. "I wanted Henley to be as to be as daring and dazzling and surprising offstage as on, so we never know what she is thinking," she says. "Dorothy is a real female escapologist who is working today. She was the first woman to capture a bullet between her teeth, which is an amazing feat. She's not only good at misdirection, but she also connects emotionally with the audience, so she's better able to involve them in the stunts."
Working with friends and peers like Eisenberg made the shoot enjoyable for the actress, but sharing the screen with two veteran performers was a career highlight, she says. "Working with Michael Caine was probably the greatest buzz. He was an utter gentleman on set, a consummate professional and obviously brilliantly talented. It was a little bit like winning the lottery for me.
"And just hearing Morgan Freeman speak every day!" she adds. "Everybody knows that deep, soulful, calming, godlike voice."
Woody Harrelson joined the cast to play the subversively funny mentalist, Merritt McKinney, a former star who has hit hard times and is now hustling on the street-artist circuit. "Merritt doesn't have a squeaky-clean past," says Ricourt. "There's a bit of mystery to him. He's had some troubles. I liked the idea that he was once popular, but now he's like an old rock musician trying to relive his glory days."
A two-time Oscar® nominee (for The People vs. Larry Flynt and The Messenger), Harrelson worked closely with professional mentalist Keith Barry to ready himself for the role of a down-on-his-luck mind reader grabbing at a chance for a comeback. "I also read a number of books to prepare," says the actor. "There have been some fascinating mentalists over the years who have done incredible stuff. I'm a long way from knowing how it works, but I have done a few experiments. Since Merritt also works with hypnotism, I studied that a bit as well and I tried hypnotizing people--to no effect, but I thought I came close one time."
Harrelson says Eisenberg introduced him to the script. "I really wanted to work with Jesse again," he says. "It just got better as the rest of the cast came together. It was an honor to be able to work with two legends like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. Isla Fisher was already a friend. I knew Melanie Laurent's work from Inglourious Basterds, and she was just incredible in that. And Dave Franco, who I didn't know at all, was relentless in his pursuit of excellence. I was jazzed about the whole cast."
Franco, who most recently appeared in the film version of 21 Jump Street and the zombie rom-com Warm Bodies, plays Jack Wilder, the junior member of the team. "Jack is still quite young and really impressionable," Ricourt says. "He looks up to the other Horsemen and aspires to be like them. He is an expert pickpocket, so we meet him scamming commuters on a water taxi in New York."
Jack has a talent for making things appear and disappear, as well as for card manipulation and throwing, a skill that comes in surprisingly handy in the film. "He's a street hustler who has looked up to the other three Horsemen his whole life," Franco says. "He starts off as this wide-eyed kid who's just happy to be around these other amazing magicians. Now that he's a part of the group, he's trying to earn their respect. There were some similarities in the experience for me. I was working with people who I watched and admired as I was growing up. To be able see how they work and to pick their brains put me at ease."
Leterrier brought a hands-on spirit to the set that kept the energy level high, according to the actor. "Louis was like a little kid. In the middle of a huge action scene, he was the guy tossing shards of chair at you. He was always right in the middle of the action. His spirit is very infectious."
Franco urges audiences to come and be surprised, not just by the extraordinary illusions created in the film, but the unexpected plot twists as well. "Reading the script, I was shocked by the ending," he admits. "It's written very well, and I think people are going to be surprised and very happy with how it all comes out.
Yet another Oscar® nominee (for The Kids are All Right), Mark Ruffalo is on the side of law and order as Dylan Rhodes, the FBI agent in charge of investigating the Horsemen. About to break a huge organized-crime case, Dylan resents being pulled off it to pursue what he sees as a trivial matter.
"Dylan really does believe in the law--equal law for everybody," says Ruffalo. "He's a hard-ass about it. That is his principal motivation throughout the whole movie."
The cast was a big part of his decision to play Dylan, he says. "I spent the majority of my time working with Melanie Laurent, who's just an amazing talent and a lot of fun. Jesse and I have one big scene in the movie, as do Woody and I. It's kind of an all-star cast and I got to play a little bit with everybody, which was fantastic."
Ruffalo found the populist sentiments of the Horsemen's heists appealing, as well as very timely. "I got the script before Occupy Wall Street and that whole movement," he says. "But I think the theme is deeply embedded in contemporary culture and we were able to develop that into a modern Robin Hood tale with magicians stealing from the rich and giving back to the common man."
The film's impressive scope, complex narrative and magic-based eye candy make it an ideal vehicle for Leterrier's prodigious talent, the actor says. "This is right in Louis' wheelhouse," he says. "He handled it beautifully, making it a character drama that happens to be a heist movie with magic. He is master visual storyteller and yet he took the trouble to nurture some really fine performances in a big high concept movie. That's unusual, in my experience."
Dylan is forced to team up with Alma Dray, an Interpol operative who had been riding a desk in Paris until she was selected to investigate the first robbery. "He doesn't know how to behave around her," says Ruffalo. "He is a lone wolf who likes to do things on his own, and he is forced to share a case with this sweet, beautiful French woman."
Alma, played by French actress Melanie Laurent, proves to be a bit of wild card in the investigation. "What's so dangerous about her is that she in this grey area," says Ruffalo. "It's black and white for him. She wants to believe in magic. She's interested in how it's performed, and her research comes close to unraveling his plan to debunk it."
"For law enforcement, this case should be simple," agrees Cohen. "There's a crime, you pursue the clues and you catch the criminal. But Alma, who is a tough Interpol agent, is also a little bit of a romantic and she finds the chase amusing. She dives into the history of illusionists and learns to appreciate their discipline and patience."
Dylan and the other FBI agents assigned to the case are dedicated to catching the Horsemen and putting them away, while Alma alone is interested in figuring how and why they are doing this. "She really wants to understand magic, not just the mechanics, but the philosophy," says Laurent, whose first American film was Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. "Dylan just wants to put everybody in jail. Because she becomes a bit obsessed with magic, she has another point of view. I think maybe if I were a cop, I would be like Alma, for sure, because I'm very curious. She wants to know everything about everything."
The tension between the pair begins at their first meeting. "Of course they hate each other immediately," says Laurent. "But when two people hate each other so much, it's because there is an attraction between them. She brings something new to his life and his way of working."
The actress describes playing opposite Ruffalo as just like watching a magic show. "I felt like a kid all the time," she says. "I was laughing so hard every day. I have never had so much fun working with someone before. And he's so good. I don't know if it would be the same movie without him."
The filmmakers were looking for two high-profile leading men to play the juicy and crucial supporting roles of magic skeptic Thaddeus Bradley and shady industrialist Arthur Tressler. "We always hoped we would get a couple of legendary actors to play Thaddeus and Arthur," says Cohen. "But we really hit the jackpot with Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine facing off against each in our movie. Once we knew we had them, we went back to the script and tailored those scenes for their particular skills. Morgan, as Thaddeus, is perfectly elegant and sly. As Tressler, Michael shows that he still has that aggressive edge that he used so well in movies like Deathtrap, Alfie, and more recently in Harry Brown. It is so much fun watching two masters throwing haymakers at each other."
Thaddeus Bradley is a notorious debunker of magic, a former magician who realized there was more money to be made in discrediting tricks than in doing them. He might have become the best magician alive, but instead he turned his talent to exposing the secrets of his former colleagues. When the FBI hits a brick wall with the Paris heist, they call in Thaddeus for his expertise.
"Thaddeus is the antithesis of everything that magicians stand for," says magic consultant David Kwong. "Audiences think they want to know how things are done, but on some level, they really don't. Once you discover the secret, the illusion is shattered, the mystique dissolves and the trick loses the ability to create awe and wonder."
Freeman found the material intriguing and the acting company even more so. "The story covers completely new ground," he says. "But there are more ingredients to the film than just the script. There is an incredible cast, every one of whom I wanted to work with. And although Michael Caine and I worked on the Batman pictures together, this is the first time we've gone mano-a-mano.
"The magic was fascinating to learn about as well," he continues. "Most of all, I was interested in exploring this character. He's smart, but he's also very self-indulgent and egotistical. Being called in by the FBI makes Thaddeus feel very important. They are stymied and he's the person they turn to."
Turning his back on the magic community has made Thaddeus a traitor in their eyes. "For an illusionist, the point is to make the audience think that what they're doing is actually not a trick," says Freeman. "Thaddeus' purpose is to expose the trick. It's all about finances. He makes quite a lot of money on television specials and DVDs showing how these illusions are done. I don't find him very sympathetic, because I enjoy believing in magic. "
Freeman says he finds it easier to root for The Four Horsemen. "Nothing that they're doing is evil," he observes. "In fact, I would call it vengeful altruism, this whole business of putting people's own money back into their hands. Since they're not doing this to get rich, it makes me pull for them."
Caine enjoyed sinking his teeth into the role of Arthur Tressler, the billionaire businessman who sponsors The Four Horsemen's extravagant performances. "Tressler is enormously successful," says Caine. "He moves everybody around like pawns in a chess game. Unfortunately, he's not as clever as he thinks he is. What he doesn't realize is that they are con men, but rather than doing a little con in the street, this is worked out on a stage."
The acclaimed actor says he decided to accept the role because it is a movie he would like to see. "I was really intrigued by the mystery," he says. "You may think you know where this is going, but believe me--you don't. The turnarounds are quite extraordinary. It's an exceptional film--and nothing is small. Everything is enormous."
Leterrier gave Caine an important clue to the nature of his character. "Louis compared Tressler to Bernie Madoff," the actor reveals. "Once he said that, I knew where I was going. The writing is very good and my part is meaty. When I'm there I want to really make a mark."
A highlight of the experience was working with Freeman, he says. "Morgan and I have a wonderful scene together. Tressler's relationship with Thaddeus is very complicated and a bit sinister, but it's also funny. I believe that no matter how dreadful things can get in life, there's always a laugh. And we found that here."
And is there also another unseen, but essential, character in the film--a Fifth Horseman, perhaps? "One of the big secrets in the film is how these people have been brought together," says Cohen. "And who brought them together. It's something we had fun with when we developed the film. The heists are a massive undertaking and with the amount of planning that had to go into them, we have to suspect that the Horsemen are not working on their own. And there's no shortage of candidates."
DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC?
One of the problems inherent in putting magic on film is that audiences will instinctively doubt that what they see is actually happening, but the filmmakers behind Now You See Me were determined to eschew CGI and other special effects whenever possible. They consulted with some of the world's foremost magicians to guarantee the authenticity of the film's illusions and gave the actors the means to learn and perform their tricks themselves.
"So much of what is in the movie was filmed live," says Ruffalo. "The magic tricks are actually designed to happen in front of the audience in the film just as they do for the audiences in the theater. Anyway, aren't movies the ultimate magic trick?"
The core values of professional magic and illusionism have been woven into the script. "Often people try to write movies about magic without having any real knowledge," says Cohen. "It's not just the hand skills that we've taught to people, although all of the actors learned the basics of their specialties. We brought in a lot of terrific magicians to consult, like David Kwong, our chief magic consultant and Jonathan Levit, who performs across the country."
A professional magician with a Harvard degree in history, Kwong has been studying magic since he was a teen. "Most magicians started when they are very young," he says. "I was inspired by a magician at a pumpkin patch. The moment I knew I wanted to go into magic was when I turned to my father and said, 'How did he do that?' and my dad said, 'I don't know.' The magician had put one over on my all-knowing father."
Kwong calls his approach to magic more intellectual than most. In fact his signature trick involves a deck of cards and a crossword puzzle, which has led to him creating crosswords for the New York Times.
"I want to challenge the way magic is evolving into high-tech illusions," he says. I value the exercise of mental acuity and I love puzzles. Puzzles, like illusions, challenge what we know. "We operate within given constraints and see how we can be creative given the parameters we are given."
Kwong founded the movie consulting company, Misdirectors' Guild, which has advised the producers of several movies on magic, including the recent The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. "We are a group of elite specialists in magic from all sorts of fields," he says. "We consider ourselves a semi-secret organization that specializes in all things magical. It allows me to combine my two passions, movies and magic, into one career."
His work began with helping the writers inject authentic magic principles into the screenplay. "I'm very proud of the way we have woven the principles of magic into this film," he says. "We emphasized things like the idea that a magician is always one step ahead of the audience, which can be seen throughout the entire film, right down to the final twist."
Kwong also helped conceptualize the illusions, sometimes stretching the limits of what can currently be achieved. "We wanted to ground the film in real exhibitions of sleight of hand to remind the audience that all of these big illusions are based on years and years of practice," he says. "We have tons of real card manipulation and coin magic, and we're very proud of that authenticity.
"On the other hand, The Four Horsemen are coming up with incredibly new and innovative things," says Kwong. "We were challenged to think outside the box and come up with exciting routines that I might not be able to pull off today, but I hope to pull off tomorrow."
Kwong's mastery of magic turned grown men into six-year-olds, says Ruffalo. "Whenever he was on the set, we all went crazy," says the actor. "People want to believe in that kind of mystery. It makes the world a more interesting place. Whether you're talking about religion or the occult or David Copperfield, they all work in the mystical. People want to believe."
The filmmakers also brought in Irish mentalist Keith Barry, who may or may not have hypnotized Cohen into hiring him. "Some people say he hypnotized me into making his deal before I was ready," says the producer. "But I believe I was already prepared to say yes, so I don't think it really worked."
Barry spent most of his time coaching Harrelson. The sessions culminated in a performance for about 25 volunteers. "We got Woody in a small theater and he did his act for them," says Cohen. "He was tireless in terms of learning the proper methods of putting somebody under."
It was Leterrier's vision that drove the film's most spectacular sequences. "Louis always maintained that these are the magicians of tomorrow," says Kwong. "It was a difficult challenge and a fun exercise. We took things like flying around the stage, inspired by David Copperfield, and came up with the idea of putting Henley in a bubble."
Stephen Pope, the stunt coordinator who worked closely with Kwong to create the scene, says all magical elements had to be carefully incorporated into stunts, as well as production design, special effects and even the costumes. "If a character had to pull something out of thin air, where does that actually come from," says Pope. "Is it a practical thing or visual effects? There were a lot of meetings between all the departments to plot out each one of the stunt elements."
In this particular scene, Henley is encompassed in a giant bubble and floats from the stage to the balcony. "Obviously, it involved wire work and the set had to be designed around the wire work," says Pope. "Production designer Peter Wenham had designed a beautiful set, but then I came in and said, that can't be there because I've got to run wires. We had to redesign a few things here and there. I'd never really worked with magic elements before and figuring it all out was fascinating."
According to Kwong, Fisher was particularly dedicated to doing her own stunts. "She was a workhorse. She learned to hold her breath for the water escape. She really does go down in that water in those shackles. It was incredible to see her perseverance and her work ethic.
In Henley's first appearance in the film, she's being dropped into a tank of piranhas, chained hand and foot. "Louis told me how impressed he was that I did my own stunts, but I really didn't know I had an option," she says. "On the third day, in one of the last shots, there was a problem with the safety and my chain caught around the bottom grid. I thought, this is how I'm going go? In front of all these extras, in my swimming costume?"
That scene tested Pope's patience many times over. "We had to make it failsafe, but every adjustment meant there were more adjustments to be made to accommodate it," he says. "Even a small set change had a trickle down effect on everything we did. We had to design a tank and safety protocols for it. If, God forbid, she had an issue in there, we had to be able to clear the tank in ten seconds. Once we had that figured out, we realized that the weight of the water was too much for the location so we had to rethink that. It worked great in the end, but it took a lot of thought."
Almost all of the actors had to perform a number of stunts themselves, Pope notes. "As a group, they were really agile and athletic. A lot of times we were pulling the actors back, because they were so gung-ho to do everything themselves."
Dave Franco had to combine both stunt training and magic skills in one extraordinary scene. His character is a pickpocket, with extraordinarily quick hands, says Pope. "One of the tricks he does is to throw cards, which Dave became very good at. He choreographed an entire fight scene based on that. He can whip a card about 40 feet and hit you--I have a mark on my face to prove it."
Kwong and Pope worked together on the sequence. "I call it sleight of hand-to-hand combat," says Kwong. "We came up with a new style of fighting that actually takes advantage of misdirection and surprise. Dave is an absolute natural at card manipulation and throwing, so we wanted him to use those skills in a new way. He worked on throwing cards for weeks and now he looks like he's been doing it for years."
"David showed me enough tricks to make me look like a legit magician," says Franco. "I got weirdly good at throwing cards. One day, I spent three hours trying to cut a banana in half that way. I kept thinking, I'm getting paid to do this?"
Along with fight coordinator Chuck Jeffreys, Kwong and Pope created a battle royale that took about two weeks to film. "He's a jujitsu pickpocket," says Pope. "We didn't want it to be martial arty, but at the same time we wanted to incorporate the kinds of evasive moves he developed to elude a street cop or just an angry guy who has been pickpocketed. David explained how pickpockets actually do things. If they're going to take your watch, they don't just grab it. They unhook it first with one move and they'll distract you with something else before they come back and take it. Information like that really helped Chuck when he was developing the fight."
Franco wasn't new to stunts, but this was challenging, even for him. "It was a huge choreographed piece and we were literally kicking the stuffing out of each other," he says. "I got destroyed. There were points when I thought I couldn't go on, but then I'd check out the playback on the monitor and it would look so amazing, I'd want to do one more take."
Cohen compares the dazzling illusions performed by The Four Horsemen to action set pieces. "Traditionally in an action movie you get three giant action set pieces," he explains. "We designed three spectacular shows for The Four Horsemen and we wanted each one of them to feel different. We decided to set them in three different cities that give each show the unique attitude and energy of that city. It starts in Las Vegas with 5,000 people at the MGM Grand. Bigger is better, so there are bright lights and huge diamond television screens. It's big and glitzy in every way that Vegas is."
For their next trick, the Horsemen move on to New Orleans, a city steeped in mysticism and tradition. "New Orleans has voodoo and the legend of Marie Laveau, the famous Creole practitioner of the dark arts," says Cohen. "That show is set in a movie palace of yesteryear, with red velvet and gold trim and beautiful candlelight. It has a certain delicacy."
There couldn't be a better place to shoot a movie about magic than New Orleans, says Kwong. "It is a city built on magic. It's the home and heart of voodoo, and the culture on the streets is one of performing. You walk out on Royal Street any day and you will see countless street performers, magicians, jugglers and musicians. It's the perfect city for illusions."
The production found the authentic heart of New Orleans, even filming on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. "That's probably the toughest place I've ever filmed," says Franco. "We had about half extras and half real drunk people stumbling through the street, as Mark Ruffalo chases me through all this crowd. He got pelted with beads by people who weren't even working on the movie. It was madness."
The cat-and-mouse game between the Horsemen and the authorities climaxes in New York City where the landmark 5 Pointz outdoor art exhibit in Brooklyn serves as a graffiti-spattered backdrop. The Horsemen perform their final illusion atop an old industrial building, surrounded by helicopters, floodlights and thousands of spectators.
"By the time they get to New York, everything has an underground feel to it," says Cohen. "The Four Horsemen are taking magic back to the streets in free performance for the people. It is designed to be covered by news choppers, like New Year's Eve in Times Square and the Yankees winning the World Series, all at the same time."
Cohen says that what he is most proud of is that the movie itself is the biggest magic trick of them all, and to understand that, audiences will have to see it. "That's the thing that really sets this movie apart," he notes. "It's a smart movie that should appeal to a broad spectrum of viewers. As a filmmaker, what I want most is for many different people to come and love the movie. Kids love magic; adults love magic. We have humor, we have car chases and hand-to-hand fighting that uses magic. We've got great tricks that are puzzles for the audience to figure out. It's all there."