It may technically be described as reality television, but CW’s forthcoming series, ‘Masters of Illusions’ is much closer to fantasy. The 13-episode series, set for February, features the best in the world of magic, and one of the illusionists, Michael Grandinetti, can’t wait for the television experience.
In a telephone interview with TVRage, the 36-year-old Grandinetti, who has been practicing magic nearly all his life, spoke about magic’s place in society and all the places he wants to take it. The West Mifflin, Pa. native who now calls Los Angeles home will appear (or disappear?) in six of the episodes. In addition to discussing the power of magic, and what we can expect from the series, he ends by answering a most pressing question on the minds of so many.
TVRage: I’m wondering if you can gauge for me and describe where our culture is in regards to magic. Where do you think we are in terms of popularity and where does it fit in currently?
Michael Grandinetti: That’s a great question. I think there will always be an interest in magic. Magic is one of those rare art forms, those rare entertainment forms that give the audience a sense of complete amazement and wonder. If you think about it, what else in life gives us that sense of just total amazement like magic does? Not many things at all. So I think the interest is certainly there.
Like anything in popular culture, things can be incredibly popular, then cool off a bit, and then become incredibly popular again, but magic has never gone away. It’s always been there. I think right now we are completely poised for magic’s next upswing. There are a lot of great projects in the works. Magic is coming back to TV in several ways; there are more magic movies in the works, more magic stage plays. It is right at that point where we’re going to see a big boom in magic again.
TVRage: How do you keep things secret? Is it that people just don’t want to know? Because today it seems that in most areas there aren't any more secrets, yet somehow magic seems unaffected. Is this one thing that people simply don’t want to know?
Grandinetti: I heard a great quote recently: “Magicians don’t keep secrets from the audience; they keep secrets for the audience.” I think that is very telling. When you learn the secret of the illusions, you’re not hurting the magician, you’re hurting yourself. The audience is receiving something from magic that they can’t get elsewhere. At the end of the day, it’s not a beneficial thing they want to know.
It’s not beneficial for them to rob themselves of that wonder because you can’t get it in many places.
TVRage: How do you challenge yourself? How do you keep raising stakes, which I feel like are hard to define?
Grandinetti: Me personally, that’s what I love to do. I try and figure out ways to take magic to places it hasn’t gone, and to challenge myself in the process. I've been doing this for, believe it or not, over 30 years. I started when I was five.
It was a constant challenge to find the next project, and ask how I can grow with this. To this date, there are so many things I want to personally do with magic; there are so many things under-explored. I think we’ve hit the tip of the iceberg of what we’ve seen of where magic has been and where it can be taken and what you can do with it. It is one of the most creative art forms around.
In addition, it’s one of the most meaningful, because you’re bringing fantasy to life. It’s kind of wish fulfillment. I don’t think there is anyone out there who doesn’t wish that they didn’t have a certain power. Magic is really uplifting wish fulfillment, and there are so many things you can do with it.
Right now, I’ve about 15 projects on the drawing board, all of which are different. There is a lot to do out there.
TVRage: It seems difficult and maybe not at all beneficial to define what you can do. I read an article where you were described as a "young and modern" magician. I’m not sure if that means anything more than just that. Are you defined as something more, is there is a direction, attitude, or theme of your magic?
Grandinetti: I certainly try to give magic a broad, mainstream appeal. I want to make it contemporary, because I think magic appeals to everyone of all ages, so that’s where we direct our show. It has a young, current vibe; we don’t dress in over-the-top show clothes, we dress in modern outfits, and the music is current.
More than this, my goal is to make the magic relatable. I want my personality to come across, I sincerely love what I do, and I sincerely love the audience being there at my show. I want them to feel that.
At the end of our show, I do an escape (one I did on an NBC special), where I’m chained between two walls of steel spikes, which are covered in kerosene and lit on fire, and I have to escape before the spikes come in. My goal is that by that point, you want people to care. Sometimes I put people on my team in the audience to take notes, to see different pieces and evaluate the audience. We’re always trying to refine, adjust, and improve to give the audience the highest quality of show possible.
Hopefully we have people who are genuinely concerned that I get out and not just sitting there passively. I want them to truly care, because by that point hopefully I’ve built a relationship with them and they see me as a person and not a distant performer.
TVRage: So you have a live audience there, but most of us will watch from home. I can’t help but feel something is lost watching on TV, how do you amend that?
Grandinetti: I know what you mean. I think when a show is done right, and this is done right, it can give you more than what you would see in person.
For example, I do a piece in the show where I levitate ten feet in the air above the stage. We do it right in front of the stage, under bright lights, and there is a good 20 to 30 feet around us in all directions. If you’re in the theatre, you see it from the front, and it looks wonderful. On television, we used a steadicam to do a 360 degree shot around the levitation as I’m floating, giving you a perspective you wouldn’t even see if you're there.
As we come around and you see me from the back, you also now see the audience watching me float, which shows you there are live people verifying everything there. We try and use the television medium to make it a better experience for the home viewer to give them something they wouldn’t see.
TVRage: You performed in the White House and at sporting events. Where does this special rank compared to other things you’ve done?
Grandinetti: This is a 13-week series, and we taped six of the 13 episodes, which I’m very excited about. For me, I moved to Los Angeles 13 years ago because I love the combination of magic and television. I love the fact that this will allow the magic to be visible to people on such a large scale, both nationally and internationally. So it’s certainly something I’m excited about and a highlight.
I love everything we’ve done. We’ve done five stadium shows, because I wanted to take magic to a place where it hadn’t been before. I wanted to do magic in a big way, stadiums are one of the most spectacular places we have: large, live audience and people with a 360 degree view. I did illusions where I read the mind of all the people in the stadium at the same time. Another time I made the Phillie Phanatic magically appear. I love asking how can I take my magic and be different.
We just did the D.C. parade. I was the first illusionist invited, though we magicians are all a team, and I am grateful. I levitated a girl above the float – it was such a thrill and such an honor. It’s hard for me to rank one over the other. The television show is absolutely a highlight. I have a lot of plans for combining magic and television, that’s really where I want to take us moving forward.
TVRage: So you’ve shot the six episodes, and obviously you’ve survived. We joke, and you mentioned an especially dangerous trick, but I feel there is an assumption that you are so talented and professional that you are above disaster. How real is the danger?
Grandinetti: It’s incredibly real, incredibly real. Everybody is human, and when you’re dealing with things of a dangerous and unpredictably nature, like fire, or being on a platform up in the air, hanging by cables, anything can happen at any point in time. The spike escape is not in this special, but it’s a great example, because those spikes are real. They are foot-long, steel, razor sharp spikes that are lit on fire and connected to a giant spring that make them thrust towards me at 50 mph. There is nothing that is an illusion about that. If I’m there when the sharps come in, that would be incredibly bad.
I think the suspense of the danger adds the extra element to the show. I like my show to have many different feelings, from comedy to drama to suspense to romance to amazement. We try to be careful, but you never know, it could happen to anyone.
TVRage: So logically thinking, what you’re doing doesn’t make sense, and it is mind blowing. You said we’re all human, but I’m not sure that’s the case. So do you have a birth certificate, and can you prove you’re not an alien? You come from a small town in Pennsylvania, and I know another famous person who came from a small town in Kansas and wasn’t really from around here and grew up to be a superhero.
MG: Yes, (laughs)…100 percent authentic real human with birth certificate. I appreciate the thought and comparison. Our goal is to make it look just like that, to be completely amazing and inexplicably.
TVRage: On that serious note, is there anything else you want to mention?
The key point I would really like to get across is just how much I love to take magic in new directions from stadiums to parades to the symphony orchestra. I love taking magic in directions that are just different. There are so many more things ahead, and I’ve been very blessed that I’ve had audiences over the years that have been very interested and stuck with me. I can’t wait to show them what’s next.