David Copperfield is the king of movie magic
05:00 AM, Mar 12, 2013
LAS VEGAS David Copperfield can poke fun at himself and his stage show and consult on a Hollywood film that lampoons flamboyant magicians. But one thing the popular illusionist doesn’t find funny? The idea that only misfits are attracted to magic.
“Magic is always blamed, like it’s the weird kid that does magic,” says Copperfield, who was an accomplished conjurer by age 12. “Well, we’re all weird kids working our way out of something, with sports or singing. Or magic. I’m certainly still the weird kid trying to get acceptance from people. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out.”
Copperfield, 56, has shown that figuring out this magic thing can have its perks. He was once engaged to supermodel Claudia Schiffer, has been listed by Forbes magazine as one of the richest celebrities (the article said he made $30 million in 2009), set records for live-performance ticket sales and performed world-famous televised stunts such as making the Statue of Liberty vanish.
He still keeps the magic going by doing up to 15 shows a week of An Intimate Evening of Grand Illusion, his decade-old tour that’s now at the MGM Grand Hotel. Add to that fresh forays into film: Copperfield consulted on The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (out Friday) and the illusionist crime caper Now You See Me (May 31).
Catching his act is almost required for anyone considering a movie about magic. Cillian Murphy talked about Copperfield’s “aura” after meeting him backstage before taking on 2012’s paranormal film Red Lights. And director Christopher Nolan attended the show before hiring Copperfield as a consultant for his 2006 illusionist film The Prestige.
Copperfield says he’s become the go-to guy because his stage act has explored everything from mentalism to big escapes and large-scale illusions.
“We have done all of these things. For the past 35 years, I have kind of been blessed to be the torch bearer for contemporary magic.”
Says Now You See Me director Louis Leterrier: “I know that if he wasn’t the greatest magician alive, he would be a revolutionary filmmaker.”
That, too, is in Copperfield’s sights. He reveals that he’s taking an even bigger step into films and will produce “at least three” features. He’s mum on the specifics, saying only that they will deal with “colorful characters from the history of magic” and “fascinating tales no one has heard before.”
He doesn’t believe it’s too big a stretch from his current job.
“The inspiration for my magic has always been from movies. Magic is hard. And it’s basically moviemaking onstage. That’s opened the door for me. Might as well turn on the camera.”
Fortunately, he is a man blessed with energy. Copperfield is so keyed up after a recent late Saturday show that he insists on giving an expansive, after-hours tour of another passion project his private International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, which is open only to colleagues and researchers.
He’s extremely proud of what he estimates is a multimillion-dollar, 80,000-item collection of artifacts, including Harry Houdini’s water torture cell and Orson Welles’ buzzsaw illusion, as well as props from his own stage shows.
“I am kind of preserving this legacy of stories and items. It’s my responsibility. I am putting lots of money aside so that after I am gone, it all stays together.”
Another part of his legacy is the super-exclusive resort Musha Cay and the Islands of Copperfield Bay, which he built on some of the 11 private islands in the Bahamas that he bought in 2006. Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz married there in 2010, while the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Mel Gibson and Tyler Perry have visited.
During the time it took to get the resort fully functional, Copperfield admits that his stage show suffered.
“In that five-year period, did I do a show where I just kind of walked through it? Hopefully not that many. But some people probably did see that,” he says.
Copperfield says his show is again hitting its stride with new illusions, each of which, he insists, takes two years to perfect.
“You’re catching me at a great time, a very positive moment of creation,” he says.
That applies to his family life as well. Copperfield announced in 2011 that he and his fiancée, French model Chloe Gosselin, 28, had a daughter together named Sky, now 3. For him, it was a mind-boggling concept.
“It’s a magical thing to see a child being born,” he says. “Do you know how it works? I don’t really know. But it’s amazing. It’s a miracle beyond any miracle that I have ever seen.”
New fatherhood has meant some changes the minivan that he keeps here features a child seat in the back. But Copperfield still keeps up the mind-bending travel schedule between homes in Vegas, New York and the Bahamas sometimes walking off the stage in Vegas directly onto a jet for the next stop in his personal “Bermuda Triangle.”
Even an incident such as last week’s emergency landing while he was on his way to a Today show taping in New York won’t deter him.
He concedes to being stumped by the question of why he maintains the demanding schedule.
“Working is a bit of a drug,” he says.”I’m a guy that never smoked, even though I sound like it because I’ve lost my voice. And I didn’t drink, really. And I was too scared to do drugs. I think the work provided the drug.”
Trailer: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone