Taking time out during an off-day on his current tour, magician and screen actor Ali Cook, who is known for performing big tricks in tight spaces, talks to us about his love of magic and his very highly acclaimed new show Principles Of Deception.
1. Hi Ali, thanks for your time. How’s the tour going?
“It’s going well thanks. I’ve done various parts of the show before so it all feels really smooth and the audiences are great. It’s based on an early Edinburgh show I did in 2011 called Principles and Deceptions and that went very well so we’ve just added to basically.”
2. It seems that you can turn your hand to most styles of magic, is there any particular style you enjoy more than others?
“I’ve always been a real slight of hand man so I’m known for palming excessively and doing the most complicated things. I used to do all the big competitions in the magic world when I was younger and that was something called finger flicking which was my first love. Slight of hand is also the hardest but that’s what I always found the most rewarding.”
3. Your career has taken you into the Inner Magic Circle and on shows with the likes of Penn & Teller. How did you first get interested in magic?
“My mum used to run one of those new-age Bookshops and one day a book came in called The Expert Of The Card Table which is nothing to do with meditation and everything to do with cheating at cards. I think the publisher must have published it but sent it to the wrong shop. I bought and really mastered everything in the book so that is where my interest started.”
4. You’ve also been known to do your own twist on Houdini’s Water Tank trick. Why that particular trick and what are the challenges of performing a trick by one of the legends of magic?
“I have performed that a lot yes. The main challenge is always how cold is the water (laughs). It’s always the simple things when you’re on tour doing something like that – things do they have a tap? Is the water warm or freezing.”
5. Was Houdini a big influence on you growing up?
“Not so much really but he did have a massive influence on entertainment generally. He was the first person to do publicity, he almost invented it. Probably him and Barnham they’re the people who invented the publicity stunt. When I went to Edinburgh in 2010, I did the Water Tank trick and it had never been done in Scotland before so we used that Houdini publicity stunt to get attention.”
6. There is an element of humour in your show as well. You’re even described as a comedy magician. Who are your comedy inspirations?
“All time I really like Steve Martin because he started as a magician then he become a comedian then he became an actor and I always thought that was a good route. I liked his style as he always did a surreal type of comedy which is a really difficult style that you don’t see very often. These days I’m a big fan of Sean Lock. I started out on TV with Jerry Sadowitz and Jerry is also a big influence on me. I love his style of acerbic comedy even thought it’s not my style of comedy at all. I’m kind of like a nice guy who goes a bit nuts. Someone once said that to me after a show and I guess that sums me up quite well (laughs).”
7. Have there been any magicians you’ve seen that have made you sit up and go WOW!?
Well, there is a magician, an older guy, called Ricky Jay, who was the first person on Broadway to do a close-up magic show a few years ago now. Ricky was one of those people in my generation who really did slight of hand. I saw him on TV as a teenager and he just really blew me away.”
8. On that topic, what do you think are the key elements that make a good slight of hand magician?
“Good question! I’d say you have to be so natural that the audience would have no idea if you did a move or you didn’t. Being able to do any slight of hand is a talent but to do it so people didn’t know you had actually done anything, that is an art.”
9. With the technology these days do you find it harder to fool or impress people with magic?
“No, I think what fools someone is psychology that works on a human being. It’s nothing to do with intelligence or education. Every magician performs the trick where a card is picked and signed then appears in your wallet. That trick first appeared in a book in 1548 called the Discovery of Witchcraft. Every magician still performs this trick and it still fools people. It shows you that what fools you wierdly is the psychology.”
10.Okay Ali, thanks again for your time. Just to finish what are your plans for 2019?
“I have written a film, a psychological horror about magic – a true story from the magic world. The aim is to shoot it next year. That’s the plan but we’ll see how it goes. The script has taken two and a half years to get right. As for the magic it all depends on the shoot dates for the film but, on the assumption that all goes to plan, I’ll probably do an Autumn tour as I always tend to do an Autumn tour. We shall see how all that goes though.”
Friday 2nd November
Swindon, Arts Centre
Saturday 3rd November
Walton on Thames, Riverhouse Barn
Sunday 4th November
Friday 9th November
Thursday 15th November
Tunbridge Wells, Trinity Theatre
Saturday 17th November
Bristol, Theatre 1532