- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2016

While “Now You See Me 2” stretches the boundaries of credulity with its magic tricks, magician David Copperfield, who served as a consultant on the film now in theaters, says that all of what is seen on screen in the movie can, in fact, be done.

“A lot of [the stunts] are things that I suggested,” Mr. Copperfield told The Washington Times. “For example, when you see it rain and the rain goes [upwards], that’s something that is a patent of a friend of mine, and it really is a practical effect that could be done live.”

Mr. Copperfield — born David Seth Kotkin in New Jersey — has been stunning audiences for decades with his Vegas shows and TV specials, which consistently attract mass audiences. His prestidigitations got progressively grander over the years, culminating in his making the Statue of Liberty “disappear” in 1983.

He was once engaged to German supermodel Claudia Schiffer — a feat in and of itself.

While audiences still like to be fooled, Mr. Copperfield said that magic-based films like “Now You See Me 2” allow moviegoers to get behind the scenes in a sort of deconstruction of the illusions.

“It’s kind of like unraveling a little mystery, a kind of tip of the hat to George Clooney and the ‘Ocean’s 11’” method of showing how the heist was ultimately achieved, Mr. Copperfield said. “The heist takes place, and you see what they did did to process it. It’s fun.”

In the first film, detectives attempt to unravel how the magicians known as “The Four Horsemen” manage to pull off bank heists during the live shows to then share the cash with the audience. In the new film — which is for some mysterious reason not named “…Now You Don’t” — the Horsemen are recruited by a mysterious figure to stage their most ambitious theft yet.

“The movie isn’t all fiction,” Mr. Copperfield said of the on-screen trickery, adding that “magic [as] a clandestine problem-solving tool is fact. It’s not fiction.

“Storytelling is extremely personal, and the magic is spectacular and also intimate,” he said. “That’s my [Las Vegas] show at the MGM, [which] I constantly find is extremely rewarding for me to perform 642 shows a year.”

Near his nightly stage in Las Vegas, Mr. Copperfield has opened the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts. Mr. Copperfield said the museum first started out as the personal library of magician John Mulholland, who was close with the master himself, Harry Houdini.

So deft at fostering trickery was Mulholland that he was even recruited by the CIA.

“He was a great magician and magic historian,” Mr. Copperfield said of Mulholland, whose virtuosity helped the CIA during the Cold War, “which is why Houdini gave his stuff to him.”

An entire cottage industry exists to try to “expose” how professional magic tricks are done, but Mr. Copperfield calls such behind-the-scenes websites and TV exposes “just guesses,” adding that oftentimes, even if they are sourced by magicians’ staffers, the interpretations are flat out wrong.

“What I do is I have four or five methods for each of the illusions,” Mr. Copperfield said, adding that each individual methodology takes years to perfect. “So when somebody goes on TV and wants to reveal what they see, it’s no problem, and I can keep changing the technology [and go to] Plan B.”

However, even for a pro, sometimes things go wrongly. During an episode of “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” the ginger-haired host accidentally used the wrong end of a gag paddle to “spank” Mr. Copperfield. Powder exploded and burned Mr. Copperfield’s posterior rather badly — and also ruining the $4,000 sweater he happened to be wearing.

“Yeah, it was bad, a real burn that went through my jeans and through my underwear and pretty deep in my butt,” Mr. Copperfield recalls of the accident. “I guess I deserved it because I always have these practical device hazing jokes that we use for initiations. I’m all ‘back together’ though.”

When aspiring magicians seek his advice, Mr. Copperfield says the key to being a great illusionist is to “listen to your audience.”

“I learn every day. I tape my shows. I watch what I’m doing, trying to constantly improve it,” he said. “That’s the advice I give people: Listen to your audience, and they will be your guide.”

Mr. Copperfield said his ambitions remain to do more TV special and perhaps to one day be the “first 120-year old magician.” In the meantime, while in the District, he lobbied on behalf of HR642, a House resolution that seeks to give recognition to magic as an art form alongside prose, theater, jazz, movies and dance. Fellow conjuror David Blaine is a part of the effort.

Its website explains that HR642, which asks for no government funding, seeks to “establish magic as the art form it is and as a result, afford magic the same protection, promotion, and preservation as any other performing art.”

“We want magic to be recognized,” Mr. Copperfield said. “We think magic has done so much to inspire the cinema. Magicians really helped create the cinema,” he said, and argument that bears weight as the industry has spent more than a century trafficking in on-screen simulacrums.

Mr. Copperfield adds that magic has also been used in rehabilitation programs in hospitals and to aid veterans.

“We just want magic to be acknowledged as an art form,” he said, “and I think it’s going to happen.”

“Now You See Me 2” is playing in now theaters throughout the District. Catch it before it “disappears.”

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