Opening this Friday is director Don Scardino’s magician comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. The film stars Steve Carell as a Vegas magician whose relationship with his partner (Steve Buscemi) becomes strained as the two start getting upstaged by a hipper illusionist (Jim Carrey). The screenplay by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses) takes the story to some deliciously dark places while maintaining a sincere center, and Carrey is fantastically over the top with his David Blaine-esque magician character, harkening back to the actor’s classically nutty performances from early in his career. You can read Matt’s positive review here.
I recently got the chance to attend the press junket for Burt Wonderstone in Las Vegas, and while there I participated in a press conference with Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde, Steve Buscemi, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein. The cast and screenwriters talked about the experience of filming on the streets of Las Vegas, the parallels between magicians and comedians, attempting to master some slight-of-hand tricks for the film, crafting their outrageous characters, and much, much more. Hit the jump to read or listen to the full press conference, which also includes a great Rodney Dangerfield story from Carrey.
Click here to listen to the audio (which is worth it for Carrey’s stories alone), or read the full transcript below.
STEVE CARELL: Well, actors and magicians are both performers and they represent things that are not necessarily who they are. In terms of the corruption, how success corrupts. It can, I think, it certainly does in the story of this movie. This guy starts out as a boy, he finds magic, it elevates him and enables him to find himself and gives him a purpose, but somewhere along the line he loses his joy and starts to think differently about himself and about the world and about magic and about performing.
JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: Is it autobiographical?
STEVE CARELL: It is slightly, yeah. I’ve lost my will to live, yeah. Not just to perform. So goodbye [Laughs].
Jim, can you talk about those things [as well]?
JIM CARREY: I’ve forgotten everything [Laughs]. The differences between, not a lot of differences between. I think magicians are definitely more arrogant. That’s what bothered me about magicians growing up, I always fascinated by them, but they’re kind of like “Abra Kadabra, you’re an idiot,” they don’t let you in on the joke. Comedians, you’re always in on the joke unless it’s Andy Kaufman. And corruption, my character is definitely one of those guys that would mess his hair up for three hours to look like he doesn’t care. So he’s coming at them trying to undermine their confidence and their lives and pointing at them like they’ve been corrupted, and yet, he’s truly the corrupt one. He really wants what they have.
For Jim, could you talk about how you got into such amazing shape for this movie? And then, the movie’s also about the highs and lows of showbiz, how did you relate to that?
CARREY: I’ve just never taken my shirt off in a movie before so it was good to do that finally [Laughs]. I figured that was Mathew McConaughey’s thing and I was just going to leave him to it. Really it’s not a natural place to live, in that kind of shape, it looks great, it’s fantastic and gets a lot of attention, but you have to eat like anti-matter to stay in that kind of shape, it’s not a happy place to be. Somewhere in the middle, I’m back now, I’ve got mister cuddly back and I’m happy. [The highs and lows of show business is] a rollercoaster for sure. There’s so many highs, I find myself constantly working with guys like this and there’s just moments of your life where you go, “Wow I can’t believe how insanely lucky I am,” and then you can turn around and the next moment feel so completely caught up in your own wanting, and desiring, and needing and feel like somehow you’re missing something. It’s just higher the high, the lower the low.
Question for John and Jonathan: In between you guys are four immensely talented actors. Talk about writing a screenplay and the characters that they brought to life and how the collaboration went
DALEY: When we wrote it we didn’t know who was going to be attached, we had only hoped it would be cast as amazing as this. Then when they started going through the casting and telling us who they were getting it felt like a joke, we didn’t believe it, it was so incredible, I love all these guys, and Olivia.
JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: In a different way [Laughs].
DALEY: So then it was tailoring it to their voices, which are very specific and unique.
GOLDSTEIN: It was a very collaborative process; I mean all these guys they have to feel it to make it great and so it was up to us to sit with them, to some extent, and work on the stuff and let them make it their own and that was a lot of fun for us too because it elevates it when you have such talented people, it just makes you as the writer look good.
Steve Buscemi. How do you choose which projects to chase, is it a screen time thing, a short comic impact thing, and how much input did you get into Anton once you got the part?
STEVE BUSCEMI: Well I’ve always loved comedy and growing up it was the comedies that I really responded to. So I don’t know how it turned out that once I started acting that I started getting a certain kind of role, that I never saw myself as growing up, so I really love when I get an opportunity to play a role like Anton and to work with Steve and Jim and Olivia, I mean how could I not do this movie? When I read the script it just was like “Oh yeah, thank God,” this is the kind of stuff that I really love to do, I hope to do more of it, I’m just grateful that I got to do this.
Can you talk a little bit about your experiences with the location work with this? Both the big hot box stunt and the brain raping on Freemont Street, and whether you were able to play off your environments with those.
CARELL: Yeah it was very informational to be shooting here. As Steve said before, it does inform the characters a lot because there is obviously a different vibe in Las Vegas. At one point, or several times during the weeks we were here, I walked around in full hair and makeup and costume through casinos and no one batted an eye [Laughs]. Which led us to believe we were on the right track with the character development, because on the poster it looks absolutely ridiculous, but it’s not that ridiculous in the context of Las Vegas. Case in point, we were suspended by a crane sixty or so feet in the air in a Plexiglas box on the Las Vegas strip and we didn’t even gather a crowd, we tried to gather a crowd, we didn’t want to pay for all the extras. We figured, “Well people will just gather and we’ll just shoot that as a crowd.” Nobody cared. They were on their way to the big shows and “Oh, two guys in costumes up in a box, anyway,” and they were on their way. Yeah, which actually told us a lot about our environment.
And the brain raping?
CARREY: Well you know, it was kind of normal for me so I felt totally at home out there. It was nice, I really liked being out there, I liked being in the street in Vegas, I have trouble being in the room. I don’t know what happened to architecture I think they’re getting us ready for space colonies or something, nobody puts a window in that you can crack, so I’m literally drying out on a daily basis, I’m dryer and dryer, I’m chewing my lips right now and day three I’m beef jerky. And last night I had this crazy dream that I had been shrunk down to the size of an insect and I was swallowed by a hungry giant and I went through his esophagus and into his stomach and I was burned by the juices and then by the time I got to the lower intestine I was no longer anything that I could recognize and then the felli took everything else that I had and I woke up at that point at the cashier window at Bally’s [Laughs] begging for another line of credit, and I don’t know if it was the Ambien or I have a gambling problem, but if somebody could give me five-hundred bucks I swear I’m good for it. Seriously, I’m getting really hot ask anybody.
For Mr. Carell and Mr. Buscemi. The film opens with the child versions of Burt and Anton, who are these great child actors that are playing traits of you very well, what’s the process as actors, and in your case as a producer, to let those children bring those performances as you guys to the screen?
CARELL: Well it was really Don Scardino, our director, he was the one guiding the kids in that way, and they’re very natural performers so I was just hoping that they would pick very attractive young men to play me. That was obviously shot out of sequence and at a later point in the movie I have a breakdown and I start to whimper, and so the young actor playing me as a kid took that and incorporated that into an early scene so it kind of played well that way.
CARELL: It’s impossible for her.
What was the experience like?
OLIVIA WILDE: It was fantastic. I had a very similar experience as Jane, [she] is working away on her own, she wants to become a magician but she can’t imagine working with Burt and Anton and she finds herself there and has to be present in the moment and become a magician, and I was going through a very similar experience. I was so thrilled to join this cast and everyone says, “Well it must have been so scary, it must have been so scary among them,” but really everyone made me so comfortable and no one was patronizing, no one was condescending, I felt very much that I belonged there.
CARREY: You did. You really did [Laughs].
WILDE: Not patronizing at all. I was really happy that I had auditioned because people say “Oh isn’t it great to get offered roles all the time?” But you know what? It’s great to know you’ve earned your place and to know that you are right for the role because my biggest fear is being offered something and showing up on set and doing one day and everyone going, “Oh geez, oh no, this isn’t, she isn’t..” and feeling that way myself. So I felt that I had earned my place there and I had so much fun and I learned so many important lessons, and the stuff I’m most proud of with Jane is the result of taking risks and making bolder choices that was really just me being inspired by these guys. Once I watched what they were doing I thought, “Ok, I can swing a little harder.” For instance, when we decided she would have this crippling stage fright we had Jane pushed onto the stage and then she awkwardly tries to assume the role of the magician’s assistant but she’s terrible, totally ungraceful. That was physical comedy that I really have no experience with but I have so much fun with and it was only because of the encouragement of my fellow cast members that I felt comfortable doing it.
Steve, Steve and Jim, can you talk about going from character actor to leading actor, and if anything about that journey feels like magic? And to everybody, did David Copperfield teach you a magic trick that you can share?
CARELL: Well he designed the “Hangman” trick, he and his team designed that and we shot that without any sort of special effects, so that was fun, and I’m sworn to secrecy so I cannot divulge a trick, which I think is very cool. But in terms of sleight of hand, we worked for a few months beforehand with various professional magicians who tried to get us to a point where we could at least replicate because these guys are so great at what they do and it’s years and years of practice and just natural ability so just to get to a point where it looked at least plausible is where I hoped to get. I thought Jim got really good with like the fanning of the cards.
CARREY: It’s the only thing I can do.
CARELL: It was great.
CARELL: [And on going from character to leading actor] I don’t approach anything differently; I just approach it as a character. I’m always astounded at the fact that I’ve ever played a leading character in anything [Laughs]. And my wife concurs with that, frankly. She always thought I would be, at best, the wacky neighbor on a sitcom, so this is all just a surprise and a joy. I approach it the same way; it’s a character and you commit to that and let it tell the story.
Jim, did you read the script? Or did they just let you go?
CARREY: Well it was a great script, and it is great to start with a great script and a fantastic idea. I always like to bring whatever I can to something. I’m always thinking and always… well, I don’t sleep! I think about things. When we threw that wig on the character it kind of did a 180 and it required a little bit more. I asked “Who is this guy?” He immediately struck me as a guy who had a Christ complex. That kind of psychological warfare thing is something that I like to play with as a joke, so it really suited me. The combination of what’s written and just being in the moment is always the best way. You gotta start out with something solid and then you play. You know floating into the scene and touching Steve’s face and giving my little Radiohead line… those are the things that keep it alive for us.
What was your tattoo methodology?
CARREY: Well I actually designed that tattoo and the insignia with the rabbit skull and the top hat. My make-up artist Billy Corso helped me bring it to life and refine it. So that was kind of thrilling, as that was the first time any of my own art has crept into a film.
Steve and Steve, your relationship and the different ways it ebbs and flows throughout the film was interesting. Was all of that on the page? Or was some of that worked right out in front of the camera?
BUSCEMI: For me one of the most thrilling things about it was the dancing that we did. I would just follow Steve’s lead and just try and keep up with him. It was so much fun to do that stuff, and again, I think it really informed who these guys were. You know that they just probably discovered it themselves, like at a show, and just kept it up. It just becomes this thing that they don’t even think about.
CARELL: Sometimes you just go fishing. Obviously the script was great and we always would do it as scripted. But then you just sort of open the gate and see what you can find. A lot of times it’s terrible. Most of the times you improvise you’re just burning up a lot of film. Every now and then you find some little gem or something that works. It just happens in the moment. So those are fun when you can find them.
Jim, among comedians Vegas can be used as a pejorative a lot of the time. The sense I got earlier in your career is that you wanted to avoid the conventionality that would lead you here. I’m wondering if your attitude towards the entertainment in Vegas have evolved.
CARREY: Well there is everything here. There is everything you could possibly think. There is this kind of big, glitzy, Vegas-y thing that everybody thinks of as Vegas. I guess you gotta get somebody’s attention. When you look out there on the strip it’s blinding with the energy that’s happening. Last night the whole strip blacked out by the way… I was using my hair dryer. But I found the breaker turned it back on and everybody had a good time. But, seriously, you know there’s everything. Now I am not a gambler, I’m not into the whole ‘Sin City’ part of the deal, but I like the shows.
I used to open for Rodney Dangerfield years ago at Caesar’s. I would bring my dad down to see the show. So to see the name up on that big sign is such a thrill for somebody when they’re starting out. It’s just like “Wow! I’m really here.” And I did have that shift, I went away from the impressions. I started dressing weird and had spiky hair and imitated cockroaches avoiding vacuum cleaners and things like that on stage. I totally lost the audience… which I had planned to do from time to time. Now Rodney Dangerfield used to stand backstage and howl with laughter at my failure, but in the most fun way. I’d get off stage and he’d be like [Carrey then busts out a dead-on Dangerfield impression] “Man, they’re looking at you like you’re from another fucking planet!”
Has anyone one of you come to Vegas, and gone to a show and expected it to be kind of cheesy, perhaps with that performer being past their prime, but then pleasantly surprised by how good they still are?
CARELL: I saw Tom Jones here. It was the first show that I saw in Vegas and it blew me out of the water! To this day it is one of the best shows I have ever seen. His voice is unreal. I mean I think you can go with a sense like “Oh, this might be fun… ironically.” But it wasn’t. At all. It was just fun for the performance sake of it.
CARREY: Oh, I love Tom Jones! He’s amazing. I used to watch his show from London when I was a kid. I met him one time in an airport and he’s such a great guy, really wonderful. So, yeah he was a hero at one point. I think anybody who gets to Vegas and stays here for any length of time is, first of all living in a Martian environment and should be commend, but also they have to be good to a certain kind of extent. It might not be your kind of good, but it is ‘good’. They know how do it. I came here to do showcases at the Aladdin during the strike…this was way back. I was a kid really. I went to see Lola Falana with Fred Travalena opening for her and it was always a great show. They know how to entertain here.
There are magicians that devote their whole lives to their craft. Now you guys are dedicated actors, but you have a few months to prep for something like this. Was there pressure to just look amazing in the movie as a magician?
CARELL: Part of it is just replicating the showmanship of it all. I learned in going to all these performances that so much of it is the build up to the actual illusion. So much of it is the layering and the sense of mystery that they try to create. In speaking to these professionals it is something that they really found important. I tried to emulate that more than anything else.
Can you describe what it is like doing a magic trick without Hollywood trickery or effects?
CARREY: [Very deadpan] No.
WILDE: I can make a dollar levitate, which might come in handy one day. Now they changed it in post, in CGI, but it’s okay ‘cause I know I can do it. I could do it here… the problem with it is that it takes 20 minutes of set-up and I would need everyone to turn around and close their eyes… and I need props…
WILDE: I tried to do it at dinner. I really wanted to show off my levitating dollar. So you’re supposed to have invisible thread, which is a trick that many magicians use, and I didn’t have it, but the magician told me I could use hair. So I plucked one of my hairs while my companion was going to the restroom. I didn’t tell him anything. So I took the hair and rigged the trick, which is just sticking one end of the hair on the table and the other end on your [clothes] button. I put the dollar on there. The trick is that you lean back and it rises. Again it’s the pageantry that sells the whole thing. But as I was waiting for him to take forever in the bathroom, the waitress kept coming over and asking if I needed anything. I didn’t want to move because I was attached to the table, so I’m like “No, no, no, I’m fine, I’m fine!” I was so stiff. I think by the end of it I had been waiting for 20 minutes for my companion to return and by the time he did the hair had snapped and the trick was ruined. But if I one day get some real magic thread I feel confident I could do this trick. I also learned how to steal someone’s watch, which I am not very good at, and also… the card tricks… Now, it’s all so hard. It is harder than you think!
CARREY: I loved that hair trick though!
WILDE: You can’t move. You have to be very stiff to make it work.
Jim or Steve, what is the craziest rumor you’ve heard about yourself coming out of these types of comedic movies?
CARREY: The craziest rumor I ever heard about myself was that I had an iguana and they had to hire a chef for my iguana. Now, I did have an iguana at one point but I did not specifically have a chef for him.
Steve, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up Alan Arkin. Could you mention something about his performance?
CARELL: It’s the third time I’ve gotten to work with him and I could not be a bigger fan. He is never not good and this movie is no exception
So why are audiences going to love The Incredible Burt Wonderstone?
DALEY: I think for the world of magic, for anyone whose been to Vegas… you don’t have to do much to exaggerate it, so it’s a really funny look at something that already exists.
BUSCEMI: For me it’s the characters. These guys wrote a really funny story but with characters that I find really compelling and very funny. I’m just so happy to be in it.
CARELL: And in addition to that if this movie can just get one person to vote, then we’ll have accomplished something.
CARREY: [Clapping enthusiastically] Yeah!
WILDE: I think it’s very rare to have all these incredible actors in one movie. So I think people will really enjoy seeing them all work together.
GOLDSTEIN: I would say because Jim needs an iguana chef.
CARREY: Truly, truly. If there’s anybody out there…