David Copperfield’s resume is preposterous. He began performing magic professionally at the age of 12 and was teaching it at NYU by the age of 16. He’s vanished the Statue of Liberty, strolled through the Great Wall of China, levitated across the Grand Canyon and made audience members disappear to exotic locales and return bearing photographs and signatures as proof. Though his shelves groan with the weight of dozens of Emmys and box-office records that have him certified as the 10th highest-paid entertainer in the world, he’s indefatigable. In 1982, he began Project Magic, a national program that teaches magic to those in hospitals or rehabilitation centers. He was knighted by the French government, and has begun releasing fiction anthologies, centering around magic and illusion, that feature the work of Dean Koontz, Joyce Carol Oates, Ray Bradbury and others.
The list goes on, scrolling for pages, and will likely continue ad infinitum, as Copperfield says he’s got no plans of slowing down any time soon.
Q: How many interviews are you doing today? A: Seven.
Q: Where are you now? A: Vegas. I live also in New York from time to time. But I’m here in Las Vegas and just finished doing 50 shows in 14 days, during the Christmas period.
Q: Have you been to Knoxville before? A: I have. Don’t ask me when, but I have.
Q: You’re just about to begin an exhaustive tour around the United States. How do you prepare? A: I have two shows tonight, and two shows tomorrow. Then I’ll go to New York for two days, then I start in Atlanta. I’ve got 50 people and five trucks and five buses, and they really know what they’re doing. I’m always preparing new things as we travel. The whole show I’m doing now is about making people’s dreams come true. So I listen to people’s ideas. What do they dream about? And I try to make them happy.
Q: You’ve said magic is inspired by dreams. Has magic come from one of your own dreams? A: It has. I used to fly in my show and that was based on a dream of mine, a dream I share with many people. I did a Broadway show with Francis Ford Coppola called Dreams and Nightmares because he wanted all the magic to be based on my dreams and my nightmares. I took that idea and I made it about everyone else’s dreams. For example, people don’t dream about pulling a rabbit out of a hat or making the Statue of Liberty disappear, they dream about winning the lottery or having the perfect car. So I make the perfect car appear, or they dream about traveling around the world so I send them somewhere.
Q: Your press release speaks of reuniting people with loved ones. How is this possible? A: Well, living loved ones, not dead ones…. In some cases, I’ll make somebody literally appear on the stage that someone hasn’t seen for awhile. They talk; they go off together. Your imagination allows you to imagine what must be being said during that encounter.
Q: You help the audience to select lottery numbers. What’s this process like? A: We make it very interactive. We throw Frisbees and balls in the audience. We see how it’s actually possible to use their abilities and precognition to predict what’s going to happen. We show them what they really have inside them.
Q: Do you have psychic abilities? A: I think we all do. We all have more abilities than we talk about. You have to develop those things.
Q: How do you compare yourself to David Blaine? What are the similarities in what you do and the differences? A: We both do magic, and he does magic on the street. I’ve done magic out in the middle of the street since the beginning if you look at my specials, but that is his main highlight. I like David very much, but he doesn’t do shows. I do shows and arenas. But his magic’s very good.
Q: When does magic stop being magic and become an illusion? A: You call yourself an illusionist and you get paid 20 percent more.
Q: Have you ever had an illusion fail during a performance? How do you recover? A: All the time. Plan B and Plan C, which are usually prepared and hopefully the audience never knows. There was one occasion, an illusion where a Ferrari had fallen from levitating over my head, and I was almost crushed, and you can’t really recover from something like that.
Q: How many new illusions do you develop a year? A: I want to be really good, so the luxury of doing live shows is I can sneak in new illusions and have it be organic instead of having to reach a certain deadline.
Q: When do you have time for yourself? A: Right now. If I wasn’t doing interviews, I’d be sleeping or going to the movies or to a beautiful place like the beach. I’ll make time. I’ll try to balance it some.
Q: When you see people on the street or are introduced to someone at a party, do you get the impression that they’re wary of you? A: Wary that I’d steal their watch or something like that? No. I present myself as someone that’s having a good time.
Q: To what degree can you have a normal life? A: You make your own normal, whatever that is. If you have a couple kids, you make your own normal. If you’re single and travel a lot, that’s normal. To me, I design my own life, and that’s normal for me. I love traveling. I love doing shows and meeting new people and trying to make people’s lives a little bit better in the process.
Q: Have you thought about retiring? A: Are you trying to tell me something? And do what? I love what I do, so no. You’re talking to a guy that’s very lucky and very blessed to have the option to do what he loves.
Q: How old are you? A: I’ll be 50 next year. I’m really 26, though.
Q: Are you married? A: No.
Q: If you were married, would you tell your wife all your magic secrets? A: I would hope she wouldn’t want to know. I would marry a girl that would want to preserve the wonder, where secrets aren’t important, and it’s about the experience. I wouldn’t look in her makeup case. I wouldn’t look in her medicine cabinet. I would just want to enjoy her inner beauty. I wouldn’t want to dissect it. I’d want to preserve one of the things that I hope is special about me.
Q: What did the high-profile nature of your relationship with Claudia Schiffer teach you, if anything? A: Personal life is called personal life for a reason. It’s much more fun right now. It’s been quite a few years since that dissolved, and it dissolved very amicably; we’re still friends, but the press doesn’t help normalcy.
Q: What do you consider your greatest feat—personally and professionally? A: This program called Project Magic, which uses magic as therapy and helps people regain their dexterity by using sleight of hand. That’s probably the best thing because it takes what I love and helps people’s health. And I value my professional longevity. I love what I’m doing. I stick around for a long time. We’re selling out arenas. It’s awesome. It’s pretty cool.
Q: Can you tell us the story of one person particularly helped by Project Magic? A: The best story I can tell is where Project Magic was taught to a young girl who was an ex-model who had a car accident. She learned Project Magic, got back in the public eye and actually started to teach Project Magic to other patients, so it came full circle. And I’m really, really proud of that.
Who: David Copperfield When: Wednesday, Jan. 18, 8:30 p.m. Where: Civic Auditorium How much: $25-$55