Director Louis Leterrier takes us inside the magical world of Now You See Me, available on Blu-ray and DVD September 3rd
After serving as a production assistant on Alien Resurrection and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Louis Leterrier served as the artistic director on The Transporter before transitioning into directing in 2005 with Unleashed and The Transporter 2. After continuing to prove himself at the helm with The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans, the filmmaker took on the world of magic and illusions in the summer thriller Now You See Me, arriving on Blu-ray and DVD September 3. I recently had the chance to speak with this talented filmmaker over the phone, and you can take a look at our conversation below.
This was honestly one of my favorite movies of the summer.
Louis Leterrier: Thanks, man. It's mine too, we have that in common (Laughs). You liked it, and thank you very much, but it didn't feel like a summer movie. You expect one thing out of summer movies, and this was just not that. It's just enjoyable to watch a movie that you don't understand what's going to happen.
I like to compare magic movies to boxing movies, in that they aren't the most popular thing in real life, in society right now, but these stories just seem to be tailor-made for the silver screen. Have you always been captivated by this world, and were you ever hoping that a project like this would come along one of these days?
Louis Leterrier: Fascinated, yes, absolutely. I remember growing up with magic in France. David Copperfield came on and became this superstar. I live in New York, and then the David Blaine thing happened, and I remember seeing him being buried for a week, not eating or sleeping or doing anything. It was pretty impressive. I was mesmerized by magic and inspired by magic for my movies. Obviously, I've done a lot of visual effects movies, so that's a visual translation of magic. I actually never felt that magic translated on film well. I felt that the act of editing a scene, and the fact that everyone knows what visual effects are behind the camera in post-production. I always felt that the power of seeing something happen in front of you as small as it is in front of you, would be diminished, if not completely erased. It's only when I read that script, that I realized it was possible. Yes, of course, The Prestige and The Illusionist and a lot of other movies have dealt with that, but I felt this script was doing it so well because it brought it down to Earth. It was very tongue-in-cheek. The most powerful element for me, when reading the script, is that a magic trick can take years to come to fruition. You can plant something and harvest it years later. There's the intellectual version of what the translation of magic on film is, but how do I do that visually? I looked through as many magic tricks, optical illusions, as possible, so I tried find the 24-frames-per-second version, almost scientific translation, to that. At the beginning, Jesse Eisenberg says 'Pick a card, any card.' It's a long trick, and it's pretty cool, but how do you do that with a smaller shutter or a bigger shutter? We had to do a scientific translation to that. It was cool. I like that. I get excited by, of course, characters, and these characters were amazing and the plot was amazing, but also the scientific approach to cinema. My day's were very full. On the technical aspect, there was this, and on the artistic level there's that, and casting. It brought layers to the film that was very enjoyable, because you saw something and your friend next to you saw something and the guy behind you saw something else. I think that's why this movie was so successful, because people went back to see it, seeing different things every time. It's only layered because it's rooted in magic, and magic is layered.
I read the casting process went fairly smoothly, with Jesse Eisenberg signing on and it seemed to start a chain reaction. Was it a dream scenario to get a cast come together like that, that quickly?
Louis Leterrier: It didn't come that quickly, but yeah, it was a dream come true to have this cast. When you do a cast like this, no one wants to be the first one to sign on (Laughs). 'Who's in the movie? Who's in the movie?' They're terrified. Although I had spoken to everyone, I needed one to say, 'OK, cool, let's do this.' That was Jesse. It was Jesse and Mark Ruffalo. I had never met Jesse, but I had known Mark for awhile, and they loved the script and committed to this movie, I'd say a year before we got rolling. A year for Jesse and maybe eight months for Mark, and they trusted me. Once you have that, you define the kind of movie it's going to be, the kind of cast it's going to be. Then came Morgan Freeman, Mélanie Laurent, and everything fell into place. Dave Franco, who I had met very, very early on, it was a case of, 'That's great, but who's in the movie?' Everything fell into position very fast.
We ran a featurette before the movie came out with the cast performing actual magic tricks. It seemed that Dave Franco became quite the wiz at card throwing. Did the other cast members really immersive themselves into these different disciplines of magic?
Louis Leterrier: It was like the student got better than the teacher. He was better than the man who taught him, by the end. It's a bit of an ego thing when you do a movie like this with this big of a cast. None of them have the same skills in the movie, so they had different teachers, but it was fun to see them train and try to trick the others with the magic they had learned, and stuff like that. Seeing Woody (Harrelson) trying to hypnotize people all the time was hilarious (Laughs). Dave was throwing cards every chance he could. We were in this theater in New Orleans, that montage where he throws a card and slices a pencil. I said I'll help you with CG, but you need to throw it this way. He said, 'I don't need CG.' I said, 'Yeah, yeah,' and he was like 50 yards away, or 40 yards. He said to put somebody there, and I put a stuntman there with a banana or something, holding it up so he could see it. He threw it, and he sliced the guy's forehead. It was unbelievable. We were in awe. Magic brings out the inner child in everyone. When somebody was doing a magic trick, sometimes I'd have to call them up. One of our DP's, Larry Fong, he's an amazing magician, so everyone was doing magic tricks all day long. All day long I was going, 'Hey guys, we've got a movie to shoot' (Laughs). It was this show and tell of magic tricks.
Is there a sequence that you were particularly worried about before shooting this. There are a lot of huge magic sequences in this.
Louis Leterrier: Yeah, I was worried about everything, about translating magic on screen, but I was really worried about making sure that you don't see the twist coming. You create enough misdirection in general to keep them guessing. If you watch the longer cut, it's like if you watch The Sixth Sense again or The Usual Suspects again, you see everything. 'Holy crap, why didn't I see that the first time?' Obviously, you see it once and you don't get it. You see it twice, and you see everything. I've seen it 30,000 times, so I see everything, but I was actually playing with the details, seeing how far I could go and how long I could get away with it. It was very enjoyable to do that and to try and test that. That was the biggest challenge, because if you figure it out, it's an enjoyable movie, but it's not as thrilling as it should be. It's rare that you get to finish a movie on its apex. You always have the big set piece at the end, and you wrap it up in a 'we've saved the world again' kind of way, but to finish with, 'Why, why why?' And then to give the answer, it's very exciting.
Is there anything else you're working on that you can talk about?
Louis Leterrier: "We're actively working on the sequel to Now You See Me, so that is happening. We're writing it, and it's pretty fun. We had such a great time doing that and we loved the characters. Our biggest problem now is that we have too many great ideas. We're sort of saying, 'What if he would do that? That would be amazing, I want to see this, I want to see that.' We want it to be intense and as twisty as the first one, but also learn more about the characters and go deeper, what a great sequel should do. That's going to take not too long, but enough so, just like in the first one, it's perfectly crafted. If you think about it, David Copperfield takes five years to prep, to create and prep. We just have a couple of years to do ours. David Copperfield was always saying, 'Your biggest challenge is you only have two years to do your movie, or one year to do your movie.'
Will the sequel delve into the actual 'society' that we see, and how that works?
Louis Leterrier: (At this point, the rep chimes in and says this is the last question). I can't answer, last question! Saved by the bell! No, no, I can't. (Laughs).
Thanks for talking to me, Louis.
Louis Leterrier: Thanks, Brian. Talk soon.