MSN talks to the 'Mindfreak' star about Houdini, charlatans and which celebrity he'd like to make disappear
http://tv.msn.com/criss-angel-interview ... 9083&mpc=1
Say what you will about Criss Angel, but he's the most popular magician of his generation, starring in both a popular television series ("Criss Angel Mindfreak") and a Vegas show collaboration with Cirque du Soleil ("Believe"), not to mention a few high-profile romances, including Hef ex Holly Madison. But through it all, Angel remains a passionate evangelist of magic -- that same Long Island kid who read about Houdini and got inspired all those years ago -- only with a cooler haircut and more bling. We caught up with Angel, currently promoting the final episodes of this season's "Mindfreak" series (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on A&E), to talk about his creative process, revealing his tricks of his trade on the Internet and fellow magic man David Blaine.
MSN TV: With five seasons of "Mindfreak" under your belt, does it get increasingly hard to come up with new and original ways to entertain the audience?
Criss Angel: It's kind of weird. I've been so fortunate. I'm somebody who really loves the creation part, and the well hasn't come near running dry yet. I was always the type of kid to think of ideas and to write them down -- and that's what I do. I have notepads around everywhere, and I'm constantly coming up with things for both the live show and the television series. Some ideas take me 10 years to bring to fruition because they're so technical or so dangerous that I don't have the answers right away, so I evolve and develop them over the course of many years.
Are they all a riff on a certain genre? Do they all fit into a category, like "sleight of hand" or "illusion," for example?
I work backwards. I think about what I'd like to see as a fan, and then I do the work to figure out how to bring that to life. That could be an illusion; it could be an escape; it could be a mind, body and spirit demonstration. It's usually things that I've seen during my life that I keep catalogued back there in my brain, and then I'm in the shower or driving my car or on stage sometimes, and then, boom, it just dawns on me. There's no formula. The only thing that's consistent for me is that I never start off with method. I always start off artistically with what I want to say, and then I figure out how to say it.
Are there tricks you want to do that you haven't been able to figure out yet?
Well, the premiere episode of "Mindfreak" this season was "White Death." That was one that Houdini attempted in a test because he was always fascinated with being buried alive. Then he realized there was no way he could do it. He vowed he would never attempt it because the weight of the earth was too great. I was always fascinated with that one -- and it took me many, many years to figure out how to bring it to life.
There are clips out there of you explaining how some of your tricks work -- levitation, for example. Isn't that frowned upon in the magic community? Can't they take away your magician card for such heresy?
I guess maybe some magicians would have a problem with it because it's Criss Angel, but there are thousands of DVDs available to learn many different tricks from people who may not be as recognizable -- so it's not frowned upon in that way.
My interest is in the art of magic. The problem for me is that magic has become this kind of hokey novelty. I think it's because magicians are kind of stuck in a time warp. They're shoving a girl in a leotard into a box and cutting her into pieces. I want the art of magic to garner the kind of respect that the cinema and music does, and I think the way to do that is by having the future of it in the hands of kids who can show what they can do with it. That levitation trick I explained is a beginner version of it -- and there are thousands of techniques to levitate. That's just one.
You don't believe that people have supernatural abilities. But aren't so-called psychics just doing tricks like you are? Or is it the deception of the public that you call into question?
I think it's a number of things. What I question has been questioned throughout the course of humanity. When Houdini lost his mom, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle claimed he had a medium that could connect him to his mother, which Houdini was excited about. And he realized after he went and had that experience, that the medium was really a magician who was utilizing the same techniques he employed for entertainment purposes -- but he was using them to really take advantage of the vulnerable. Houdini was really upset with that, and he spent half of his life exposing charlatans and taking them to court and offering $10,000 to anybody who could do something that couldn't be explained or reproduced. When I was on "Phenomenon" on NBC, we were dealing with a lot of magicians -- some of whom claimed to have the ability to speak to the dead or do things that were supernatural -- and I put $1 million of my own money on the line to anyone who could prove they could do it, and none of them did. My whole thing is this: If there's somebody out there who has the ability to do something supernatural and predict the future, you're not going to find that person in a little shop reading palms for $40; they're going to be predicting the occurrence of 9/11 the day before it happens. They're going to be winning the lottery.
What do you think of David Blaine?
I'm sorry, who? [Long pause] Actually, I admire what he's done in his career. He's a very talented guy, but I don't spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder. I always look ahead at what I'm trying to accomplish.
Well, maybe that's true of your contemporaries, but there must have been people you were inspired by as you were learning the art form.
There were a few magicians who inspired me -- obviously Houdini. Even today, more than 80 years after his death, he's still synonymous with magic. Another guy who really blew me away was a man by the name of Richiardi, who was from Lima, Peru. I saw him when I was 14 years old at the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden with my mom and dad, and he was a guy who took the simplest of household items and created miracles. That was a big inspiration. Doug Henning, maybe, because he was a product of the times, but my inspiration was definitely more driven by movies and directors. Fellini movies were very attractive to me. Dali as a painter is fantastic. I was really driven much more by that culture than just magic. I was a product of the MTV generation, and magic was kind of hokey to me. I thought it was a beautiful art form; I just thought it needed to be provocative in popular culture.
If you could make one celebrity disappear, who would it be?
No one, because whether I agree with someone or disagree, that's the great thing about America: Everyone has the opportunity to do what they feel is right.
Always the politician, Criss ...
[Laughs] Maybe I'd make myself disappear, actually -- to really disappear and then materialize somewhere else, like an instant transposition. I've been fascinated with that topic, which will be coming up on an episode of "Mindfreak." See, I'm not only a politician, but I tie together the plug. You see that!
*I know this topic will probably lead to being locked, but....*