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THE SUNDAY CONVERSATION

Criss Angel

There is more to the illusionist than meets the eye.

August 16, 2009|Choire Sicha

Criss Angel's "Mindfreak" is back on A&E for its fifth season. He may be an expert illusionist, but he admits he is a one-fingered typist. We spoke by phone; he was in his dressing room at the Luxor in Las Vegas, home of "Believe," at the end of his pre-show massage.

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Is your room like Celine Dion's?

Luxor's been very kind. They take very good care of me.

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You've been doing the show at the Luxor for not a year yet, right?

The one-year anniversary is Halloween. Of 450, 500 shows or something, I haven't missed one.

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Do you have good financial advisors?

A good businessman always wants to be the dumbest person in the room. We have so many different people on the team. I have three stores, two in the Luxor, and I have a new location at Circus Circus. I don't license anything out. It's all stuff that's self-produced and manufactured by my incredible team. I'm definitely an artist but without money you can't create art.

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Looking at the new season of the show: Do you find you have to stretch to find crazy, good-looking stuff to do?

It's been amazing, considering I've done about 1,000 or so demonstrations since 2005. It's a tremendous amount of material in a very short time. It's a tribute to the amazing team I have. I wouldn't do anything for the money for the sake of doing it. I have to have something artistically I want to say. I'm always creating stuff, I have pads of paper around me wherever I am. I hardly sleep.

Seasons 2 to 4, I really wanted to expand my horizons with "Mindfreak." This season, I really want to get back to the guerilla style I used to have. I want to try to get back to my roots and make it crazy. In the first episode, I get buried alive in a coffin, six feet under 5,000 pounds of snow. I want people to realize I'm not complacent because I have a little bit of success and a little money. Hopefully in return I can raise the level of the art form to the level other art forms receive, like the cinema.

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It's true we don't exactly treat illusionists like movie directors or ballet stars.

And I understand why! Magic is a beautiful art form. But magicians have been beating the . . . out of it for so long. I'm not trying to put them down, but they're shoving a girl-in-leotard in a box. I said, 'You know what? Get rid of the box altogether.' What I try to do is reconnect people with that childlike quality. When you have that, you have a real connection with the public that goes beyond doing enigmas, puzzles -- I don't give a . . . about puzzles. I give a . . . about connecting with people on the raw emotion of wonderment.

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Why do you have this urge?

At some point, like most kids, you bought a magic kit or did a trick. It became really an obsession when I was probably 10 or 11 years old. I struggled for years -- my overnight success took 15, 16 years. I'm from New York. I had a show on Broadway and 43rd. I refinanced my mom's house. I just really loved the ability as a kid to do something that adults didn't understand. It was like power. Then I realized as a teenager that there was more to the art of magic than how you did it. It's trying to connect to somebody.

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That's a way more earnest desire behind your work than I expected from you.

If you scratch the surface, I like to think there's a lot more there than just the trick.

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So you look like a bad boy but you're a secret sweetheart?

I appreciate that. I never set out to be a bad boy, I just set out to be me. And me, like you, is very complex. I'm sure you can be . . . crazy, and sides of you can be a charitable person. Unfortunately sometimes the press will pick up what works for them to write about.

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The other thing is, deep down, we all want magic to actually be real.

When we're kids, we sit there and play with mom's brush and pretend it to be an airplane, because we're able to suspend our disbelief. But as we get to be adults, society tells us that's wrong and we have to conform. I try to be the guy who thinks like a child. We don't want to grow old!

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What do you do right before you go onstage?

I say a little prayer. That's the God's honest truth.

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Who do you pray to?

I have my beliefs. And my belief is very personal, but I believe in God. And I say a little prayer because, really, every show I do, I put my life on the line. I just wanna be mind, body and spirit at peace and work these three things in harmony -- and do the best show I can.

Those people in my theater, I'll never have them in front of me again, so I have to give the best performance of my life.

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