David Copperfield: Donald Trump Might Make a Good Magician with His Stumpy Little Hands

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The $800 million magician takes Jen Yamato on a tour of his Vegas lair, regaling her with tales of duping robbers and doing the unspeakable. “>

In the five decades that David Copperfield has been practicing magic, theres one trick he admits he maybe shouldnt have pulled. It was ten years ago in West Palm Beach, Florida, when the worlds most famous illusionist performed some close-up magic on four unwitting armed robbers demanding his wallet and passport.

When you have a gun pointed at your face, its interesting, Copperfield tells me as we sit inside his famed Las Vegas headquarters, just off the Strip and down the road from his nightly residency at the MGM Grand. Instinct and stupidity, and instinct and stupidity. They got caught an hour later. But thats true. Three girls and meand four guys each with guns.

I showed my pockets empty and they werent empty, he explains modestly, and solemnly, with no trace of the boisterous bravado he projects onstage, or the melodramatic flair the world saw when he survived Niagara Falls and made landmarks disappear on live television. But it was stupid! Because if they said, Let me check

Copperfield, now 59, was a kid prodigy from New Jersey who built an empire from his own unique brand of show-stopping spectacle; the kind of mass entertainment magic that had families glued to their TV sets in the 80s and sent fans flocking from around the globe in the decades since. Hes got 11 Guinness World Records and 38 Emmy nominations to his name, grossed over $4 billion in his career, and last year, by his count, performed over 640 shows.

But years ago Copperfield started quietly putting his particular set of skills to use elsewhere, and not just when criminals came calling. In the subtlestappearingact of his career, the biggest magic superstar of the last half-century came back around to his other first love, the movies, applying his expertise as a consultant on everything from Christopher Nolans The Prestige to Paranormal Activity to 2013s hit Now You See Me.

The beginnings of magic are the beginnings of my world, because of cinema and Georges Mlis, Copperfield says as he guides me into his private office hidden behind a storefront replica of the menswear shop his parents, Rebecca and Hyman Kotkin, ran in Metuchen, New Jersey. To enter, one must open a secret door in a faux changing room a la The Man from U.N.C.L.E.A lot of really great artists started out with their imaginations being captured by magic. It makes people dream in a certain way. Theres a power that it has.

Id rent the VHS of Terror Train but not return it hoping to eliminate all copies of it, he quips. At least it brought him into the orbit of Kubrick cinematographer John Alcott, he says. He went from The Shining to Terror Train. Were all geeks in our own way. Id watch him with his lens packs and all the numbers would be scratched off as a kind of a secret to keep. Today everybody just tells everyone what they do, but he wanted to keep his secrets. I got to hang out with him a lot, so that was cool.

Francis Ford Coppola helped him create his own Broadway show in 1996 with the late, great Eiko Ishioka, whose surreal set designs line a hangar in Copperfields massive compound. Orson Welles was a pal, too (He was a tough cookie, but he could be very sweet when an audience was there, Copperfield fondly recalls).

Frank Capra not only worked with Copperfield on his famous Statue of Liberty stunthe tried to talk him out of it. He said, Youre going to fail, you shouldnt fail, says Copperfield. He fought me very vigilantly telling me not to try, and fail. We eventually did it. But he was tough, which is why he was great.

The significance of that illusion, inspired by his own mothers first vision of the Statue of Liberty and what it represented to America, holds a special place in Copperfields heart. Its like me watching Mary Martin inPeter Pan. I flew because as a kid I watched that and it was very moving to me, the idea was so strong, he says.

There are shades of that April 8, 1983, illusion in Now You See Me 2, which delivers a series of crowd-pleasing tricks that, Copperfield teases, could be achieved in real life. (Its villain, in a stroke of perfect casting, is Harry Potter himself: Daniel Radcliffe.) But, he says, the staggering symbolism of Lady Liberty disappearing as all of America watcheda defining event so iconic FXs The Americans dedicated an entire episode to it, to Copperfields delight and rave reviewcould not have the same weight if he attempted it today.

Its a really weird time right now, isnt it? he considers, lounging on a black leather chair in a sitting room, where he half-seriously, half-jokingly played me a five-minute video reel trumpeting his greatest hits. During an election time were focused on these crazy choices that everyone has to make. During that time there was all kinds of unrest with Iran-Contra and the Reagan administration, so it was a time where it wasnt a point of decision-making that wehada choice inor a semi-choice, depending on how you think electoral voting works.

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He pauses, seriously mulling the possibility of a magic trick so timely it could bring the country together. To distract from that with a magic trick or illusion would be very, very hard, he decides. It would be hard to break through the clutter right now.

I ask Copperfield if GOP candidate Donald Trump would make a good magician. Its the illusionists with long, slender, quick fingers that seem naturally adept at conjuring magic out of thin air. Maybe, he shrugs. The great Slydini, he said, had "stumpy little hands. He compensated with how he moved."

The crossroads of magic and the movies Copperfield alludes to often surface numerous times as he takes me on a personal tour of the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts. Three assistants dutifully accompany us through the sprawling multilevel complex where Copperfield houses an awe-inspiring collection of over 80,000 pieces of magic history including Houdinis water torture cabinet, rooms upon rooms of immaculately preserved posters, notebooks and tools used by hundreds of magicians over the centuries, and the breathtaking automata of 19thcentury French legend Robert-Houdin.

Just past a warehouse where Copperfield keeps the towering statues from Citizen Kane, the masthead of the Black Pearl from Pirates of the Caribbean, and meticulously ordered rows of his own stage dressings and illusions, he keeps a ventriloquism room and a collection of Shari Lewiss Lamb Chop memorabilia.

Next to a wall of midcentury magic kits stands Doug Hennings metamorphosis trunk and denim jumpsuit. And next to that, the buzz saw table Orson Welles meant to use to slice Rita Hayworth in half before Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohen forbid it. Marlene Dietrich got sawed in half instead, Copperfield smiles.

Hes in the process of constructing the kind of old-timey magic shop that no longer existsthink Martinka & Company, or Tannens Magic Shop, or the Macau-based magic shop in Now You See Me 2in which hell house the works of Thurston, Keller, and Houdini. Copperfield happens to own one-half of Houdinis earthly possessions; the other resides in the Library of Congress.

Some of his fellow magicians have criticized Copperfield for keeping his sprawling collection private; its open only to magicians, scholars, special guests, and select pressand even when construction is complete on his magic shop in about eight months, he has no plans to open it to the public.

But as you traverse the museum with Copperfield, its clear hes more than just a master illusionisthes a magic historian who can and will enthusiastically rattle off the history and significance of every item in sight and has learned how to use, if not master, just about every piece of history in his possession.

Its done with paintings, and AFI does it with film, he says of the necessity of preserving magician history in a place like his. Most magician organizations are more social clubs and they dont have the kind of money you need, he adds. Ill put $100 million to run half a billion dollar collection of stuff, so that after Im done it wont get dispersed again.

People try to give their libraries to colleges and they dont take them because they dont have the money to keep them, he says. But its important. It affected the cinema, it affected theater, it affected science. It affected literaturethere are more books on magic than any other subject except medicine. Leonardo da Vinci co-wrote the first book on magic!

Hes adapted partly by going back to his influences, focusing on magic as long-form storytelling and folding in parts of his own life to create a strong emotional link with his audience. His current show, Live the Impossible, features a 35-minute segment unlike any other hes done, involving his father Hyman, aliens, and a spaceship. Its about 80 percent there, he says modestly, explaining that hell tweak every little thinga word here, a stage move thereuntil its right.

Watching Copperfield walk through one of his most special rooms of magic memorabilia, its clear that his role models werent the famed escape artists like Houdini (he wasnt a great magician) but the visual innovators and inventors like Robert-Houdin and Mlis. Copperfield winds up an exquisite collection of handcrafted 19thcentury automatathink Martin Scorseses Hugo, based on Mlis lifewith the reverence of stepping into a cathedral.

Storytellers took that technology and said, we dont have to be magicians to use this, he says. A lot of things you see in my show today will eventually be part of everyday living.

I ask which item holds the most sentimental significance as we walk into a small room, where he houses several of Robert-Houdins own diaries. In the corner, for some reason, Copperfield keeps an Academy Award statuetteand not just any Oscar, but Michael Curtizs Best Director Oscar for Casablanca. Instead of reaching for that, Copperfield picks up a small leather harness. He places it in my hands.

That. I cant tell you what it is, but it made me cry 20 years ago, he says. He picks it up and places it back on a shelf. Its the method for one of the first illusions ever done, built by Robert-Houdin. Its the technology behind an illusion he built for his son.

Magic, science, and the movies have always shared DNA and history. But later, Copperfield hints mysteriously that hes been called upon to use his skillset as an illusionist for other real world services.

Ive done things that I cant talk about, he says, lowering his voice. Today, remember: Everythings hackable. There are guys with a lot of free time that can get into the Sony [computers] they can look at your phone while youre naked and they can turn on your camera, so get your tape and cover it up. There are some restrictions; theyd have to touch your phone to get to do that, in most cases, but they probably can get around that, too.

The heroes of Now You See Me 2 use magic to serve a higher purpose onscreenand Copperfield suggests that fiction is closer to reality than youd think. Here we are, where all this stuff were using and all the pictures that you take of all the bad things that you do, because thats what young people do, they do crazy stuff and say Look at this! but its there forever, so dont do it. Now were going back to passing notes.

Now the only way to really do stuff is my kind of thing, so Im suddenly valuable. Im helpful in that way because now if you want to disarm a very bad weaponand weapons are small now, they dont have to be giantwho can handle that kind of stuff?

Copperfield doesnt elaborate on his meaning. He just smiles. Now You See Me is not just fiction. Thats real stuff. Itd be shorter and sweeter, but that doesnt make for good movies. But its all real and extremely necessaryand very scary.

Read more: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/06/06/david-copperfield-still-has-quite-a-few-tricks-up-his-sleeve.html