Monday, October 30, 2006


Neil Burger's sleeper hit The Illusionist and Christopher Nolan's The Prestige have more than their Victorian era settings and magician heroes in common. Both pictures have Ricky Jay -- the sage prestidigitator and magical arts historian -- onboard in key capacities. For The Illusionist, director Burger hired Jay and his consulting firm, Deceptive Practices (providing "arcane knowledge on a need-to-know basis"), to give Edward Norton's sleight-of-hand act just the right authentic air.

Before Burger embarked to Prague, where The Illusionist was shot (subbing for Vienna), he met with Jay. "I worked with him for about a week," Burger recalls, "to fill in some holes in the illusions themselves, and there were certain things that I wanted slightly different takes on. I just had a lot of questions for him about the period and how the magicians conducted themselves and what they thought of themselves.... But in a sense the best thing that I got from him was his blessing -- that he loved the screenplay, loved the spirit of the film....

"And then he also worked for a week with Edward Norton, teaching him the tricks. Everything that you see Edward doing in the movie he’s really doing -- no hand doubles or anything like that."

For The Prestige, Jay -- a familiar face to anyone who's seen a David Mamet movie (he's had a role in nearly every one) -- appears as Milton, a music hall illusionist who employs both Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman's characters as ringers, fake audience members.

Jay has a cool official website,, which, although it isn't terribly up-to-date (the most recent film credit is Last Days, from 2005) includes a link to a Mark Singer-written New Yorker profile, "Secrets of the Magus." Worth checking out.


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