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Interview: Derren Brown on Fear and Magic in the U.S.

July 7th, 2012 by Ben Collins Editor

Derren Brown might be the first serious modern-day magician you actually want to be friends with. He’s David Blaine without the vibe of a weird guy in the corner at a house party. He also has a badass accent.

And I’m not just saying this stuff because he hypnotized me during a Skype interview last week and this is just some super slow-burn magic trick.

Damn it. Maybe I am.

But I suppose that’s the best thing about Derren Brown—his tricks are so good that sometimes you get tricked right along with the guys on TV. Watch the first bit on his Hulu special. It’s got Simon Pegg from “Shaun of the Dead” and that last “Mission: Impossible” movie, and you might end up just as duped as he is by the end of it.

It’s unbelievably creepy and mildly addicting. That’s why we’ve decided to totally preempt any of your plans for the next four Saturdays by giving you Derren’s greatest hits—as picked by Derren himself—in a month’s worth of Hulu exclusive specials starting today.

You’ll probably be charmed immediately. The first hour is in that video above. Here’s a Q+A to tide you over until next week.


Hulu: On finding a spot as a well-loved illusionist amongst comedians trying to be magicians and super self-serious escape artists.

Derren Brown: With magicians, the most interesting part of what you’re doing—normally you can’t talk about it. That’s all seen as private. So the legitimately interesting stuff tends not to be shared. So then what happens is the magicians sort of make up an interesting persona to fill that hole that’s missing. And this is fine for a bit. Normally magicians like that start off being very well liked. But that sort of in-built pomposity, I think it’s very transparent. It’s posturing, I think. After a while, it’s probably irritating.

And, right, I’ve tried to get around that. I’ve tried to be quite open about how I do it. The stuff on Hulu, it’s from early on, and every couple of years I’ve tried to change quite a lot. I’ve become less of a guy trying to do tricks now and now it’s more about following people’s journeys. I think I’ve sort of grown out of being that hey-look-at-me kind of guy.

Is there any material that flies better in the US?

From my experience with American theatre audiences, they tend to be much more vibrant and responsive. And that’s one of those things where you tend to look forward to performing in America. Then, American (performers) come over here and they’re horrified. Even if they’re warm, we tend to be a bit quiet and insular.

But in terms of how well the actual things work, things tend to be roughly the same. We’re predictable in roughly the same ways. I think the culture gap has narrowed over the years.

On magic as a bridged gap, or one of the last pieces of entertainment that speaks to everyone.

In theory, magic has this childlike sense of wonder on one hand, but also this adult, intellectual conundrum on the other.

On what he’s learned from Penn & Teller on how to create drama.

Teller said something like, “When the hero struggles—if it’s clearly difficult for the magician to do something—then that makes it much more interesting than if he can just click his fingers.” Over the years, that’s had a great resonance.

On how he’s evolved over the years.

These shows tend to be driven by what I find interesting. So as the years have gone on, I’ve driven the focus away from me and more towards the kind of things we’ve put together for Hulu—that sort of mind magic. As the years have gone on, the things that are interesting or resonant to me are those tricks that sort of fit into a larger message for an hour-long special.

On being able to experiment with people in ways you’d normally need 50 PhDs to otherwise get away with.

There are those sort of psychological experiments that I’m doing that, if I were doing them as a clinical psychologist, I wouldn’t be allowed to do them. There would be ethical problems all over the place. Because I’m an entertainer on television, I kind of have license to do them. Although they probably wouldn’t be sort of accepted by the psychological world, it sure makes for great television.

On picking out his best bits for this episode.

It’s probably just control freakery, actually. I’m responsible for them, and I’m very fond of them, so I’m very excited about this.

On how he thinks his specials will fare in the US.

I’m probably more understated than what you’re used to. I had a show on Syfy back a while ago, and they seemed to like it. But I’ll interested to see now if the American audience finds it fills a hole. I’m not the kind of showbiz character like some magicians are. I don’t take myself as seriously as others, as well.

On why to Derren’s specials instead of re-runs of Alf when you go to Hulu on a Saturday.

I guess because you’re gonna watch a guy play a zombie game then see him wake up inside the game. Then you get to see how he reacts to zombies in real life, and not just the game. I think that’s something you probably truly can’t see anywhere else.

Last comment: Jul 6th 2014 5 Comments
  • Sprecher says:

    Nice, thanks for this infos.

  • Mike says:

    Does the AppleTV version of Hulu+ suck as much as the Roku version? The Hulu app is absolutely terrible and many people are experiencing the same symptoms exclusive to this app – Hulu suddenly “hangs” and the only way to fix it is to power cycle the unit, or suddenly it will stop being responsive to button presses on the remote, or sometimes it’ll start pausing playback every 5 seconds or so, and sometimes the audio and video get out of sync. It’s absolutely excruciating and I can’t believe a company with so much money can be so un- customer oriented.

  • best ccrc says:

    I watched the videos and I am very entertained. It has a very unique ambiance and it soothes me into a wonderful place where it kept me in awe. A very good motivating videos indeed.

  • I am amazed how magicians like him can entertain people and possibly lure them to participate and/or watch what he is doing, charisma and talent I guess play an important role in this business.