Vegas magic goes Hollywood in ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’

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For six days last year, Las Vegas played host to the  incredible magical friendship of illusionists Burt and Anton. Their bedazzled, burgundy velvet suits and soft flowing hair elicited childhood flashbacks to legendary Vegas magicians Siegfried and Roy.

Steve Buscemi, Steve Carell and Jim Carrey star in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone."

On March 15, this dynamic duo will enthrall the masses when “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” makes its debut in movie theaters nationwide.

The comedy film from New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers Pictures follows Las Vegas magician Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) as he attempts to reunite with magic partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) and upstage the hip, new kid on the magic block, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey).

Directed by Don Scardino,  the all-star roster also includes Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin and James Gandolfini.

During filming in 2012, posters for Burt and Anton filled Bally's casino.

Having stumbled upon the film set at Bally’s Hotel & Casino in January 2012, I found the casino transformed into a fitting tribute to the dynamic duo of Burt and Anton. Posters for the fictional magic show filled the casino and their names appeared in lights above the Jubilee! Theater.

There was even a jumbo Burt and Anton-themed slot machine in the shopping promenade connecting Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas.

Burt and Anton aren’t likely to headline a real Vegas magic show anytime soon, but the actors did perform many of their own illusions in the film. Making those illusions appear credible on camera, on the other hand, was an entirely different challenge.

Vance DeGeneres Photo by Joanne Brooks

“We had to solve a number of magic trick problems,” said Executive Producer and “Daily Show” Alumni Vance DeGeneres. “Luckily for us, a young, up and coming magician named David Copperfield offered his help with some of our tricks. The guy has a future.”

With 21 Emmy Awards, 11 Guinness World Records and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Copperfield has decades of experience making magic believable on camera. He once made the Statue of Liberty disappear and even walked through the Great Wall of China (an illusion he re-creates for his show at MGM Grand).

As a consultant on “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” Copperfield trained Carell and Buscemi to perform one of the film’s most difficult illusions.

“My team and I designed an important illusion that had to be done in one shot,” said Copperfield. “There was a lot of trial and error, but they were real troopers about it and kept going. I was really proud that it finally came off.”

Copperfield also has a brief cameo in the film and said working on “Burt Wonderstone” was a blast as his magic career is based on his passion for the cinema.

James Gandolfini, David Copperfield, Olivia Wilde, Steve Buscemi and Steve Carell. Photo tweeted by Copperfield on January 10, 2012.

“Walt Disney, Gene Kelley, Orson Welles, Fred Astaire  … my whole career has been about bringing the same movie emotions to my magic,” said Copperfield. “So when they approached me to be involved with the film I jumped at the chance.”

He has yet to see the film, but said he believes it will shed a positive light on the world of magic.

“They honor it, celebrate it and have great fun with it, while drawing attention to this art,” he said, adding, “not that you have to draw attention to the art of magic in Vegas.”

Copperfield is right. As the unofficial magic capital of the world, Vegas has a long history with magic and magicians. There are more magic shows along the Las Vegas Strip than Cirque du Soliel shows. There’s even a Cirque du Soleil magic show.

Whether coincidental or intentional, it’s hard not to draw parallels between the film and real life in Vegas.

In the film, Burt and Anton struggle to perform a stunt while suspended in a glass box above the Strip. A similar stunt by Vegas magician Nathan Burton in 2007, in which he encased himself in a  block of ice, also ran into technical difficulties. The stunt, which was meant to go on for 24 hours, was cut short just after seven hours (due to weather conditions).

Carrey’s street magician character, meanwhile, is reminiscent of a totally different cut of Vegas entertainer.

Alan Arkin, Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Michael Herbig and Jay Mohr. Courtesy Warner Brothers Pictures.

“There’s a bit of truth to the rumor that Steve Gray … is a very loose combination of two very talented magicians, David Blaine and Criss Angel,” confirmed DeGeneres, who co-runs Carell’s production company Carousel Productions, along with actor and producer Charlie Hartsock. “He’s kind of a weird mash up of them, but also very much Jim’s own brilliant invention.”

For their next trick … I mean, film … the Carousel team heads back to Vegas for 10 days of shooting this summer on the film, “Mail Order Groom,” starring Carell and Tina Fey.

“Tina wrote the latest draft of the script. It’s really, really funny,” said DeGeneres, adding, “I’m definitely looking forward to shooting [in Vegas] again. We had such a great experience in Vegas with ‘Burt Wonderstone.’”