“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is a comedy about an arrogant magician named Burt Wonderstone (played by Steve Carell) and his more gentle-natured longtime magician partner Anton Marvelton (played by Steve Buscemi) and what happens when their friendship and careers are put to the test when a hotshot magician named Steve Gray (played by Jim Carrey) comes along and threatens to overtake Burt and Anton as the biggest star attraction in Las Vegas. The problem is that Gray comes up with increasingly daring “self-torture” tricks that make Burt and Anton’s magic act look stale and dated in comparison.
Meanwhile, casino mogul Doug Munny (played by James Gandolfini), who owns the casino where Burt and Anton have their show, threatens to fire them if they don’t do something about their dwindling audience. Burt and Anton have a falling out, while their magician’s assistant Jane (played by Olivia Wilde) may or may not take her fan adoration of Burt to a romantic level, but she’s finding it harder to like him has Burt’s ego gets more and more out of control. Oscar-winning actor Alan Arkin has a supporting role as a retired magician legend Rance Holloway, who is Burt’s biggest idol. Here is what Carell, Buscemi, Carrey and Wilde said in separate interviews at the Las Vegas press junket for “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.”
Interview with Steve Carell
How did you channel your inner magician?
[He says jokingly] It was just lurking underneath the whole time, and I finally unleashed it. And it just felt right. It just felt like me.
Did you find that doing magic tricks was a hidden talent of yours?
Not at all. No. It was fun to learn the things I did for the movie and try to get at least good enough to look passable on camera. But the guys who are really good at it, it’s just a different league altogether.
What was it like working with David Copperfield?
He’s a legend. And so to have him in a movie about this world. For one, he has a very, very good sense of humor about himself and about magic. But he also takes it very seriously. He’s essentially a historian and kind of the holder of the torch, as it were, in terms of modern magic. It was great
He designed a trick for us to do (he and his team), which we then did and were sworn to secrecy as to how it was done. We had to sign a waiver. So it was fun. It enriched that part of the experienced. It was like, “Wow, we’ve got David Copperfield working with us on this.”
Did you enjoy wearing your Burt Wonderstone costumes?
I might have enjoyed it a little too much. I might have taken the costumes home with me. I might wear the costumes as pajamas. I don’t know if I do, but I might.
One of the first days we shot, the first day I was in that costume, we were out on the Strip. I felt a little self-conscious. The thing’s all cut down to here. I’m all tan and I’ve got the hair. And walking around Las Vegas, no one batted an eye. No one cared. It wasn’t out of place in any way, shape or form. It didn’t stir a lot of interest, which I thought was kind of funny.
How did you like working in Las Vegas?
It was great. It was fun. And obviously, it added that element of realism. There’s a scene in which Steve and I are hanging over the Vegas Strip in a plexiglass box. And we really did it. We were really hanging in a box over the Strip by a crane. You can’t replicate elsewhere.
You and Jim Carrey previously co-starred in “Bruce Almighty.” What was it like to work with him again?
From my perspective, I am just a huge fan of his. And he can do no wrong in my eyes. That’s the way I enter into it. After college, I moved to Chicago. And I remember I was watching “Ace Ventura” for the first time. It had just opened, so it hadn’t even caught on yet.
And there were three people in the theater. And with three people, that [theater] was full of laughter. I don’t remember laughing so hard at movie. I just thought it’s inspiring to watch somebody like that. So to be in a movie with him — equally so.
What was it like off the set with your co-stars from “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”?
It’s surprisingly normal. It’s not like everyone is doing bits and being crazy all the time. Somebody like Steve Buscemi or Alan [Arkin] or James Gandolfini or Olivia [Wilde], these are really good actors. These are people who do their character and aren’t necessarily trying to be funny or say funny things. They’re just approaching it as characters, which I think is the strongest choice, because if it’s going to be funny, it’s going to be funny because it’s all stemming from the character in the situation.
One of the themes in the movie is about getting guidance from mentors. Did you have any mentors or people you looked up to as an actor?
Alan Arkin. Ultimately, art is imitating life there. I’d always been a huge fan, and then I met him on “Little Miss Sunshine,” when we got to work together. And then when we were doing “Get Smart,” I said, “Can you please ask Alan Arkin if he can be the chief?’ And he did that part.
And in this movie [“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”], there was nobody else, in my mind, to play the part of Rance than Alan. He’s one of those people that you have these expectations, and the reality exceeds those expectations. He’s just the best. He’s a great actor. I just get excited thinking of him as my friend. I really do. It’s a big deal for me.
People have compared you to Peter Sellers. What do you think about that?
That’s nice of you to say. He’s like kind of it. What I loved about what he did was he could play a character that was incredibly broad, but you never got a sense that he was winking at the camera. He was always so invested in whatever character he was doing that you believed it. You believed that was a real human being, no matter how crazy.
Clouseau [in the “Pink Panther” movies] was such an incredible creation, because in other hands, it might’ve been just broad comedy. But in his, you were rooting for him. And I guess what I loved most was that he was trying to retain his sense of dignity the whole time. I’m an enormous Peter Sellers fan.
Why do you think “Anchorman” has such a huge cult following? And what can you say about the “Anchorman” sequel?
I don’t know. We’ve talked about it. It was 10 years ago that we shot the [first “Anchorman” movie]. When the movie opened, it did well. It wasn’t a blockbuster. But I think in subsequent viewings, and then it went on cable and on DVD, I think people found it later on.
And somehow, it became one of those catchphrase movies, I guess, that people introduce other people to, and other people started sparking too. I don’t know. It’s a phenomenon to me. I can’t wait to do [the “Anchorman” sequel]. I was just there a few days ago rehearsing. It’s going to be insane. It’s really going to be good.
Interview with Steve Buscemi
How did you get involved in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” and what did you think about the script when you first read it?
I got involved primarily through Don Scardino, who I worked with on “30 Rock.” So the script was sent to me to look at this character of Anton. And I loved the script and the characters. And when I heard who was involved — Steve Carell — I just thought, “This is going to be fun.” And it was.
How would you describe Anton Marvelton?
He’s really a good guy. He’s the best friend of Burt Wonderstone. And he loves what he does. He loves magic. He loves being in show business. And he loves Bert. He loves their friendship, and it’s all he wants to do.
Why do you think Burt and Anton’s friendship goes sour?
I think when you do anything for a long period of time, you have to find ways to keep it fresh. And I think that’s the problem that Burt and Anton are facing when we meet them 10 years down the line. They’ve gotten very successful, and so they’re playing it safe.
Anton is frustrated. He wants to try new things, but Burt seems very happy and content to just do the same show, pick up the same sort of girl each night, and just ride that crest. But it’s sort of starting to falter now that this new magician has come on the scene, played by Jim Carrey. And it causes a breakup between Burt and Anton, which is probably the best thing to happen to them, because it’s probably what they needed to shake things up.
Can you describe Steve Carell as a co-star?
Steve is one of the most generous and giving and nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. You watch this film, and it’s so hard to believe that this guy is so arrogant and mean. And Steve is the complete opposite.
What did Jim Carrey bring to role of Steve Gray?
He brought this other-worldly sense to it. It was kind of like, “Where has this guy been? Was he in India for 30 years and he came to Las Vegas?” I just loved what he was doing because it was so intriguing.
How did you prepare your character of Anton Marvelton?
For me, if you have a good script, that’s most of it right there. And just talking with Don and Steve in the rehearsal period. We had a lot of conversation about what their friendship meant. And, of course, practicing some magic and hanging out with David Copperfield.
What was it like working with David Copperfield, not just as a consultant, but as an actor, since he has a small role in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”?
It was a real honor to have him on set and to have his blessings. Here we are playing magicians, and when we did the read-through, I think he was laughing the loudest. It was nice to see that he had a sense of humor about being in this business and the showmanship of it. And he taught us that illusion we do in the film: the hangman’s trick. It was great. It was one of the most exciting days on set.
Can you describe how it was filming the scenes with the magic tricks?
They’re really a lot of fun. Part of it is how you present yourself. So Steve and I just really had a lot of fun just hamming it up — and Don let us do it.
What kind of director is Don Scardino?
He’s just so good with character and story and listening and trying things out and constantly talking about it, so each of us could discover who these characters are.
Was magic important to you when you were growing up?
Yeah. I had some version of the magic kit that you see in the film. I just remember practicing with this little guillotine that you put your finger in it and then a carrot in it, and the you press down, and it seemingly cuts through your finger, but it cuts the carrot. It was a very effective trick.
Las Vegas is almost another character in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” Do you agree?
Well, yeah. Being here and shooting on the Strip and shooting the scene where we’re in the hot box and really being above. We were up there. That was another exciting day.
What did you think of the completed version of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” when you first saw it?
I loved it. I just love these characters. For me, when I watch a film, I’m often remember what it was like to shoot it, so I have that double pleasure of remembering. “Oh, I remember that day.” It was really a lot of fun to shoot.
What can you say about Olivia Wilde?
Olivia, I thought she really brought a lot to her character that was ever more than what was on the page. She really had great suggestions. Don really worked with her well. She just fit right in.
And what about Alan Arkin and James Gandolfini?
I always love working with Jimmy Gandolfini. When I watch the movie, it’s hard to believe we played such different characters in “The Sopranos,” but that’s what we love about being in this business: that we get to play different parts.
What do you love most about doing comedy?
I always loved comedy as a kid. I love to laugh, and I love to think that I can make people laugh. Just at its purest, it’s just fun to do.
Would you say that underneath the comedy in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” there’s also a lot of heart?
It just can’t be about the jokes. The characters have to start from a real place. That was important. And I think the film does have a little bit of heart.
What did you learn about being a magician that you didn’t know before you did this movie?
I don’t know if I learned anything that I didn’t know before, but it sort of reconfirmed how much it’s about presentation sometimes. And it is an illusion. A lot of it is an illusion, just like movies are. And there’s real magic in that. So it just reconfirmed my whole love of why I want to do films and what drew to magic as a kid.
David Copperfield’s show has a lot of humor in it. Do you think that surprises people about magic shows?
I think the humor is really important, and David is so good at it. And I think Burt and Anton are aware of that too. They try and be funny in their own. Sometimes it falls flat for them, but I love that they try and they think that they’re funny.
What did you think of how you looked as Anton Marvelton?
Once I saw myself in that wig and the outfit, that sort of takes over. You can’t help but be this magical person.
How did you keep a straight face around Steve Carell and Jim Carrey, looking the way that they do in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”?
You’re not seeing the stuff that Don couldn’t use because we were laughing a lot. Every time Jim would do something, and Steve and I were on camera, it was just really, really hard [to keep a straight face].
Interview with Jim Carrey
What did you think of how you looked as Steve Gray?
It was great. The wig did a lot for me. The tats, which I designed, were really fun. It just changes you. Sometimes you work from the interior out, and sometimes the exterior in. And this was kind of a combination. They both met in the middle.
I put this wig on, and we already created a character in the makeup test. And I walked in with this wig just to try it out. And Don Scardino came up to me and said, “Oh my God, I love this guy. Who is this?”
And I went, “This is the guy the Christ complex. And the guy who thinks he’s superior to everyone. And their puny little problems and brains amuse him” And that kind of lit me up. It was so much fun, so liberating.
You previously co-starred with Steve Carell in “Bruce Almighty.” What was it like working with him again?
It’s always great. When I heard about the character and Steve Carell and he was producing this movie, I’m like, “I’m in. I want to jump in, have fun, and play and buy myself in this character.”
Of course, Steve Buscemi, another person I’ve been a gigantic fan of since he began. These are the guys that go in your mind, “Oh, I hope I can work with them someday.” He’s one of those guys.
Alan Arkin: completely absolute respect for Alan Arkin in everything he’s ever done way, way back. These are the guys you respect. And you hope that when all is said and done, you hope that they respect what you do as well.
Alan Arkin is like meeting [Bob] Dylan or something like that. You just want to him to not tear you a new one. You just want him to like you because you admire him so much.
And [James] Gandolfini, I’m a big fan of Gandolfini. He’s a tremendous actor. And I think it was really something different for him. It was funny. He’s used to doing really heavy, dramatic stuff, so every once in a while during the birthday party sequence, he’d lose a line or something, and a string of curse words would come out of his mouth. And all of the children would be like [he puts a shocked expression on his face]. And he’d be like, “Sorry, kids!” He’s used to a different environment. [He laughs.]
Have you ever looked at a script and said, “Really? I’ve got to do that?”
No, it’s not something I would do that to.
Does anything scare you as an entertainer?
Well, yeah. When I did [“I Love You] Philip Morris,” there was the scary … I’ll call it the “ride him cowboy scene.” It was scary for me, but it just rang the comedy bell for me, like, this is one of those ones that is so outrageous, it could go either way. And for me, I always slide into the place of “Damn the torpedoes. Here we go.”
It was scary for everybody else. And the sex scene with my male partner was something that I fought for through the whole process of the movie. Everybody who touched that movie, everybody who bought that movie, everybody who was involved in that movie wanted to take that scene out. And I said, “Take it out, you’ll never see me again, because that’s the horse’s head in ‘The Godfather.’”
The tendency that people have, especially if they have money involved is to carve all the edges off of something. And the edge is what makes people go to the movie. That’s why I don’t really believe in the [audience] testing so much because testing is a left-brain activity.
And when people see a movie and are asked directly, “What didn’t you like?,” they’re going to want to say something, first of all, because they want their opinion to be part of the mix. If you think about a car accident, you don’t want to see it. But if you’re driving and there’s a car accident, you can’t help but see it. And that’s what drives people to the movies. They’re drawn to things emotionally that they don’t necessarily want to see in real life.
What was it like doing “The Incredible Bur Wonderstone” on location in Las Vegas?
It was really fun. The pagan idolatry here is out of control. I don’t take it seriously in any way whatsoever. I’m a pretty quiet guy in my life. I don’t go wild in the casino and lose all my money. But I love it.
I think it’s just a spectacle and the giant effigies of people on the sides of hotels are crazy. You know, David Copperfield 40 stories tall or whatever. When I play here and I do my live music rock’n’roll show, which I’m planning, I want them to build an effigy of me around the hotel, so that people have to drive into my different orifices to go into the hotel.
What can you say about “Kick-Ass 2”? How was it filming it in your native city of Toronto?
Very fun. I got to come back to Toronto finally. You know, all these movies being made up there, and I never really had one shooting there. So it was great to be there.
I love that place. I love the city of Toronto. There’s something in the air. When I get off a plane [in Toronto], I just feel better. I feel good. I feel elevated. People are so sweet.
And I go out generally at 1 o’clock in the morning, and I fly around the city in my roller blades. You can probably find some people who have seen me whizzing past them. It’s a good way to not get caught up in the crowd but you get to experience the city. I always have a great time there. My family is there, so it’s wonderful.
Interview with Olivia Wilde
What is the secret to keeping a straight face when you’re working with top-notch comedians?
Jason Bateman taught me a secret, which is a little bit dark, but in order to not break during a scene, you have to stare at your co-star and think of a reason to resent them. Think about the thing you like about them least. And you have to focus on that, and it will stop you from laughing.
The hard thing about that is when you’re working with people you have no reason to resent, who you truly adore and look up to, you have to think of something. And it could be like, “Your parking spot is so much closer to set than mine. I have to walk in the heat so much farther than you. I hate you.”
It didn’t really work in this movie. It may work for Bateman. I had a hard time in this movie keeping it together.
What did you think of the interaction between co-stars Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey?
I could watch them do anything, but to watch them play with each other was such a joy and a delight. I would spend a lot of time when I was wasn’t in a scene just standing at the monitor and freaking out because you don’t get a chance to see people with such different styles working together very often. Carell, Buscemi and Carrey are very different actors, and to see them together was kind of wild. And it was kind of a mash-up.
It was very much different rhythms, and yet they can jibe together. I loved it. And Steve Carell is also a producer on this film and such a good one. He really corralled everyone into this wonderful environment where everyone felt safe enough to come up with ideas. Our wonderful director Don Scardino was just so lovely, and I know I had a chance to improvise with some of the greatest people in the business. I feel very lucky.
Did you feel you had to bring your A-plus game?
Yeah. And they brought their A-plus game. They’re so professional and tireless and committing 100 percent. I remember watching Jim do a scene where he drills through his skull. And he did maybe four different versions of it — at least 10 takes of an incredibly exhaustive physical bit.
It was like watching a modern dancer. That’s how I describe watching Jim. He’s moving every part of his body and his voice. It was just such a lesson to watch. I was a little bit inspired to try a little bit more physical comedy after being around all these guys.
A lot of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is about mentoring. Who were your mentors or people you admired when you started out in acting?
I haven’t had a chance to work with a lot of my mentors because some of them are no longer with us. I grew up loving Gilda Radner and Katharine Hepburn and Lucille Ball. There’s a little bit of all those in Jane, hopefully. You tend to glean something from everything you love and watch as a kid and it stays with you. And I certainly always loved comedy.
And I thought Jane, the greatest thing abut her is her inner dork. She’s just an awkward little girl who loved magic. And you have to think that the kids who embraced magic as young people aren’t the cool kids. They really should be, because magic is cool.
But they’re usually not the cool kids. They spend a lot of time by themselves. We all talked about what brought all these characters together was really a similar experience as children, being the outcasts. And I thought that was kind of great. And once I had that in mind, she kind of arrived for me. She became very clear. That’s when I came up with the idea of her having stage fright.
Was magic something you were interested in before you got this role in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”?
I always liked to watch magic. As a kid, I had magicians at every birthday party. My parents spent a lot of time making sure that I had a magician there. They enjoyed it just as much as me, but I wasn’t the kid who learned how to do magic tricks.
I wanted to preserve the illusion. And I never got good at sleight-of-hand or anything. But I love watching great magicians. And for this film, I got to see Copperfield. I got to go to the Magic Castle in L.A. and I got to watch really great professional magicians.
I learned a few tricks for the film. Some of them didn’t make it. The one that I did was actually changed in post. It looked like I made a butterfly appear. What it really was was a trick where you make a dollar bill levitate, which is pretty fun, but they changed it to a butterfly. The butterfly was a little more romantic.
What was David Copperfield like on the set?
Did you know that he’s the most successful performer of all time? More people have seen him than anyone else. I just find that incredible. And he does that show every night. I don’t understand. I know he well-compensated, but I am amazed. I have a lot of respect for him.
And I really appreciated that he was on set. [He was] so warm and friendly and allowed us to ask questions — not about his tricks (that’s sealed in a vault), but he invited us to the show and I watch backstage and watch how the stagehands work together in this incredibly difficult operation to pull off these major illusions that don’t work without that team.
How would you describe doing a movie in Las Vegas?
I had always hoped to work in Vegas. It’s good. And I’ll come back here as an elderly person and work the Strip again. It won’t be legal!
No, I think there’s something about Vegas, the old-school type of energy, where entertainers weren’t necessarily the highest run of glossy, glamorous society. There’s something about the people working every night in the casinos, in the comedy clubs. They’re really grinding away.
We got to see a few shows. But really, working on the Strip in the middle of the day is pretty funny, because you see people going home after a night out — like, at 9 a.m. dragging themselves in their walk of shame back to their hotels. I had such a good time here. It was great.
What do you find harder to do: comedy or drama?
It’s funny because the best comedians are great dramatic actors. They just understand the material. They really commit to the stakes of the situation. So really, you approach it in the same way.
I think comedy has a lot to do with rhythm, and that’s incredibly difficult. And it has a lot to do with the rhythm of the other actor. In a way, I think it’s more collaborative than drama. And that probably makes it a little more challenging. But I hope to do more, because I had so much fun learning from these guys.
What do you look for when you decide you want to do a movie?
I now have the luxury of being a little bit more picky. And I try to trust my first instinct. I think in the past, I convinced myself that it could be good. I read it once and I said, “Oh, this is such a good job. I’ll convince myself that it’s a better script than it is.”
Now, I’m really trusting my instincts because I have the luxury to do so. And frankly, I want to do things I hadn’t done before. There’s a lot of things I haven’t done, so I’m looking forward to all of those scripts.
For more info: “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”