Steve Carell makes 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' more than illusion
Actor-producer aimed to ground new comedy in reality, too
For acclaimed comedy actor Steve Carell, funny wasn't the only element he knew he needed to make his latest film fly, even though "The Amazing Burt Wonderstone" featured fellow comedy talents like Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey and Alan Arkin.
No, the secret magical ingredient was that the stars -- including Olivia Wilde -- all had the wherewithal to play it straight, too: a crucial element if the film was to be grounded in any sense of reality, even if their characters sported wild hairdos and wore velvet jumpsuits.
"As outlandish as all the wigs and costumes are, they're not really that far from the truth in the world of Vegas. We wanted the movie to have that sense of reality and sense of accessibility, too," Carell told me in a recent interview. "We want it to be funny and silly, but at the same, we want it to be a story and have people jump on board and care about the characters."
"The things I find funny are the things that strike you as honest and real," Carell added. "When you feel like the character is actually going through something, it's infinitely funnier."
Of course, if Carell -- who's also a producer on the film -- wanted audiences to jump on board with him, emotionally, he'd have to make the magic scenarios as real as possible. In the case of the film's hilarious hot box scene -- where Burt and Anton encase themselves in a glass enclosure 100 feet above the ground -- Carell and Buscemi were really hoisted 100 feet above the street in the contraption.
"It was a little scary, and it wasn't so much the height, but the transparency of it that was disconcerting," Carell, 50, said. "The fact that you could look down onto the street was not natural. That's why I don't like glass elevators."
Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, the movie tells the story of Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi), a pair of famous magicians on the Las Vegas strip who bonded in their youth as a couple of outcast kids who shared a love of illusions.
The problem with Burt and Anton, though, is that they've been doing the same act for 10 years, and their creativity and friendship have both gone stale. The partnership reaches a boiling point, though, when an extreme street magician, Steve Gray (Carrey), bursts onto the scene -- forcing the duo into an outlandish stunt that ends up shattering both their professional and personal relationship.
Trying to press on alone, Burt seems doomed as a solo act, until fate brings him together with his childhood inspiration, Rance Holloway (Arkin). Along with the help of Burt and Anton's former assistant, Jane (Wilde), Rance helps the magician remember the reason why he started doing illusions in the first place.
The only thing that would truly be more magical to Burt is that Anton and he could make their comeback together.
While Burt and Anton's working relationship is on the skids in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," it was the exact opposite for Carell and Buscemi working together on the film.
"He's a consummate professional, a super-nice guy and has a truckload of talent, and he really just likes to play," Buscemi told me in a separate interview. "He likes to work off the other actors, and it's always great to work off of other people who have that sense of play. In that way, it felt like a real partnership."
To make the film feel as authentic as possible, Carell and director Don Scardino also enlisted the help of real-life magicians to help on "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" -- including legendary magic man David Copperfield, who appears in a cameo.
One thing that Carell realized wasn't an illusion was the amount of passion real magicians had for their craft, which led the actor-filmmaker to develop a newfound respect for the profession.
"I respect it as an art form and I think about it more that way than I did before -- to work with actual magicians, and to watch them perform and watch their actual commitment to it, it can be a very thankless profession," Carell said. "These guys are committed to it and look at it as an art form. It's something that's a very specific talent, and takes years and years to get to the point where you're good enough to perform in front of people."
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