Following Up with Now You See Me Director Louis Leterrier


The magic-based heist film Now You See Me was one of the summer’s biggest surprise sleeper hits, and as luck would have it, those who may have missed it will have another chance to see it now that it’s being released on DVD and Blu-ray just as summer comes to an end.

In the movie, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco play the Four Horsemen, a group of the country’s best magicians, each with a special skill, who come together to pull elaborate illusions, the first one being the robbery of a Parisian bank of millions of dollars in cash. That gets both the FBI and Interpol on their case in the form of Mark Ruffalo’s FBI agent Dylan Rhodes and Melanie Laurent’s Alma looking into how much of the Four Horsemen’s act is real and how much can be deemed as “magic.” The cast is rounded out by Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman playing key roles in the intricate relationship between the Horsemen and the law.

With an original script and a cast as impressive as that, the movie ended up being far richer and more complex than most summer movies, ably combining Las Vegas-style magic with an “Ocean’s 11”-like plot that spends as much time with the people chasing after the Horsemen as the magicians themselves. It also featured a couple of surprise twists and an ending that bodes well for a sequel, and fortunately, the movie did well enough to warrant one.

At the time that spoke to Leterrier back in May, we hadn’t had a chance to see the movie yet, so with its home entertainment release on September 3, we thought it would be a good time to ask him some of the questions we didn’t have a chance to ask back then. Since we last spoke, I had a chance to see the movie so now we can talk about the movie after I’ve seen it which is probably the way I should have done it the first time.
Louis Leterrier:
That’s the way to do it, see?

CS: There’s so much stuff you talked about and after seeing the movie, I was like “Oh, that’s why he did what he was talking about that way…”
That’s why I was saying that.

CS: Anyway, congratulations on the film’s success. I’m very happy that the movie has been doing so well, because I know you’re really proud of this movie. I’m glad people found it, because it’s really tough in the summer for a movie that’s not a sequel or a remake to be seen by people and to do really well.
Kudos to Summit/Lionsgate for taking this bold approach to counter-programming and just going “non-sequel, original idea, a different kind of a cast with no action star” and seeing it through. It didn’t grow, but it just didn’t leave. People just kept going and recommended it so it was very enjoyable. And it’s not just an American phenomenon—the same thing happened around the world. Everyone was like, “Yeah, magic, yeah Jesse Eisenberg…” and then people kept coming and coming and coming, so the first week they had say 100 prints and then they were growing them to 150 and that’s the way it is. It was a very smart approach. I have nothing to do with it, but I’m enjoying its success. (chuckles)

CS: I’m not sure if you had “nothing to do it,” but it was a great example in my opinion on how to do summer movies right and I hope other studios see this and try to take more chances, because this really was a big risk. Like you said, you didn’t have a huge name star but a great mix of actors who worked well together.
Ultimately, and I can say it from experience, is that for this one, Summit really respected the vision. No one was fighting me on choices. No one was like “There must be a better idea out there,” it was like, “No, I want that guy to play this role, that’s who I want. I want this action to take place in this city.” Obviously they cared, but ultimately it was about them trusting a director’s vision and you see it. Far from me to compare myself to Christopher Nolan, but Christopher Nolan was able to do these amazing movies because Warner Bros. leaves him completely alone, and they’re a true reflection of what the director wanted them to be instead of being a compromise of studio notes. That’s the problem sometimes with studio movies or summer movies when the price is so high that it’s a compromise and then you eventually end up with something that… I’m not going to cite any of the names of the movies, but I saw some movies this summer that I was like, “And now, the friend of the hero dies and now…” I could literally just call the shots, and for me, as a moviegoer, I’m more excited when I see something that is a true representation of a director’s vision. Otherwise, stop hiring directors, just hire camera operators. You know what I mean? There’s no use in having a director.

CS: Especially when you have someone who has made a lot of movies as you have and can bring a lot to a movie even with half the budget of some of the movies you’ve done previously.
Yeah, but I’m not talking about myself. I’m talking about in general. I think even like a first-time director. Help them to bring their vision to the screen, but leave them alone. Nothing good comes out of the studio being up your ass all the time. It’s never good. It just becomes a compromise because you can fight as hard as you can, but all the energy that you spend fighting the studio you end up not putting it on screen. Long story short, I feel that ultimately it was an interesting and different, bold script that they allowed me to populate with amazing actors that normally don’t populate these kinds of movies at this time of the year. They left me alone and they were very generous in allowing me to use my gadgets to shoot the stuff differently, and I think it ultimately made for that little special package that we have.

CS: I wanted to ask about some of the illusions. I know you had David Kwong there as your magic consultant, but as far as some of the bigger tricks the Horsemen do, are any of those actually possible?
Yeah, the Paris one, we can do it tomorrow, it’s just a matter of price, but it’s possible. It’s actually a David Copperfield invention. Did you see the Michael Jackson tour movie? Remember they had those super-fast elevators that just shoot them up on stage, it’s called “toasting”? That was invented by David Copperfield so it’s that technology of the toaster, it’s literally like reverse toasting, but instead of throwing someone in the air, it’s the opposite so that’s that. Another one where we stretched the reality is the one where she pulls out the scarves and it becomes the teleportation device, that’s actually a Cirque du Soleil trick and you can see it in “Ka” and it works. Then there’s the bubbles. You can make big bubbles, but they’re never that round and they’re hard to do and floating someone in it, but David Copperfield says we’ll be able to do it. It’s not technology that we have, but what I wanted was that they’re supposed to be the best four magicians in the world that has amazing technology. If I was just to go and just do the same thing you see around the stages in Las Vegas, it would be a boring movie, so I wanted to bring magic that would be possible in five years from now with the right technology and study and everything. David is actually working on it. He loves to do the Wizard of Oz flights within the bubbles and stuff like that so they’re working on all that stuff. Projection, 3D projection, holographic projection, all that stuff obviously we’ve seen a thousand times before so everything is real. It’s just like how I used it through the prism of our movie and the storytelling of having the camera go this way and that way, but it’s still the case that 100% of the tricks are real even in the extended cut, there are tricks in there and they’re real.

CS: I also wanted to ask about the scene with Conan O’Brien and how that came about. Did someone just call him up and say, “Hey, do you have ten minutes to do this for us?”
Yeah, when doing the interviews, what will you do? Do you put a fake person or something? Bobby Cohen, our producer, knew Conan O’Brien’s manager and he just called him and said, “It’s a scene with Michael Caine, you’ll get to act with Michael Caine.” I don’t think Conan’s done that before ever and “Ah, to be in a movie with Michael Caine would be so amazing” and he accepted just based on that. It was very cool. They were in L.A. at the end of a taping and I was with Michael and we went to Michael’s trailer and I was on the phone directing Conan. I haven’t met Conan, still haven’t, and we sent him some ideas to riff on. It was completely improvised, this whole thing, and we had the Conan side and we did a couple of takes. I spoke to his director and we knew which cameras he was using and everything and then we shot the B-side a couple of days later and I had to edit it very quickly, overnight, and shot that with Michael in his private plane a couple days later. It was fun. No one was forced to be in this movie. (laughs) That’s the thing. By casting Jesse and Mark I got the rest of the cast. By getting Michael Caine, I get Conan O’Brien. When you try to make a quality movie with quality people, it brings more good will I think.

CS: One of the things that we talked about last time was how Mark Ruffalo was one of the first people you talked to for a role in the movie. At the time, I had no idea what a big part his character plays in the movie, but the movie spends just as much time with Agent Dylan Rhodes as it does with the Four Horsemen – the movie’s split fairly evenly between them. I was surprised by that since I just thought he was the guy chasing after them and we wouldn’t know nearly as much about him.
Exactly, but it takes a great actor to understand what the part can be, because ultimately, an actor doesn’t want to look like a jerk for an hour and 45 minutes and then look like a genius for three minutes. They’d rather do the opposite, so Mark understood that and from knowing him and if you look at his career choices, he likes challenges and he was really the only person that could play this part.

CS: It’s a great role and without spoiling too much, he’s almost an actor playing an actor in some ways.
Yeah, and you’ll see in the longer version, the director’s cut or whatever it’s called, you’ll see that even more. You really see the intricacy and the machinations (of his character). You see the actor acting, the character acting. It’s very, very layered and it’s very interesting to see that. Just for the performances, the long version is very interesting on top of everything else.

CS: I haven’t seen the Blu-ray yet, so are there a lot of extras on there whether they be behind-the-scenes or deleted scenes?
There’s a few deleted scenes and there’s a version that’s 16 minutes longer that’s interesting for that reason. It also gives you more insight on the characters and interaction between the characters and you get to see scenes between Morgan Freeman and the Four Horsemen that you don’t see in the movie. They’re never together except in the long version. Also, in the long version, there’s the beginning of the sequel, yeah.

CS: You did kind of set up a sequel at the end of this one, so you must have had some ideas of where this could go, but is it hard to think ahead like that, not really knowing how well this movie might do or if it will be successful?
Yeah, I’m very cautious and I don’t want to do that. It’s sort of like ending up with “onto further adventures” which is fine, but you don’t really do that, so we had a scene that we kept and when Lionsgate and Summit said, “Yeah, let’s do a sequel,” I said, “Let’s put it on the DVD on the loner cut” and it’s after the credits. Three minutes into the credits you get that scene that starts everything else. I was very cautious of not jinxing it, but this summer I saw a couple of movies that had “sequelitis” and you totally jinx it, but it’s only for the DVD and only for the Blu-ray so…

CS: Have you started talking yet about directing the sequel since you enjoyed making this one so much?
Yeah, no, no, obviously. It was always part of it. I’m currently not writing, but I’m coming up with the story, the plot and everything, the twist and the characters and everything. It was always at least a diptych, two movies with one long story, so I’m very much involved in it. I don’t know if it’s going to be my next movie. I know we want to do it pretty fast but I might be able to do another movie in between.

(SPOILER WARNING in the next question and response.)

CS: I was pretty surprised by the big twist in the movie. My boss just watched the movie and we were just arguing about that, so how hard was it to keep that a secret? Especially for Mark to do press without spoiling it.
I was terrified that somebody would say it, but it’s one of those rare, enjoyable things that doesn’t happen that often. Every weekend you don’t get a twist movie. People were sort of protective about it, protective about the twist. I looked at the forums once it was playing everywhere and I was like, “Let’s make sure no one does that” but they were very kind. When they were (talking about the movie), they were putting in the “spoiler alert” or the blank so you could talk about the twist without revealing everything and spoiling it for everyone. Yeah, I was begging someone to say “Please, please, every time journalists see the movie, let’s make sure they don’t mention anything,” because even the idea of a twist messes us up, so you’ve been very kind and the fans have been very kind, so much so that it’s been successful. For a movie that size to be that successful, it needs to be word-of-mouth but it also needs to be people going twice, going to see it again with their family or their friends to see their reaction, their reaction to the twist and the reaction to the magic.

Now You See Me is now out on DVD and Blu-ray.