I absolutely loved Now You See Me. It’s easily one of my favorite films of the year so far as it was entertaining, fast-paced, and most importantly, fun to watch. Plus there was a bunch of magic, which is always awesome. So with all that considered, having the opportunity to talk exclusively with the magic caper’s director, Louis Leterrier, in order to promote the Blu-Ray release, was something that I was absolutely thrilled about.
Over the course of our discussion, we were able to talk about how much he enjoyed working on the film, casting Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine outside of their typical characters, his involvement with the upcoming sequel, and much more.
Check out the full interview below.
WGTC: What was it when you first read the script that made you know you had to be the one to direct this?
Leterrier: It’s funny, it was exactly that – I had to be the one. I had to fight very hard to do this, because I’ve never done something like it before. The script, we changed some but not that much. The experience you had watching the movie for the first time was similar to the one I had reading the script for the first time. Obviously when I read a script, I get completely engrossed in it and imagined the movie it could be. But I read a lot, so I quickly see the formula and see where the script goes. I see the characterization, I’m never really that surprised. But with this one, I could not put it down.
I have a tendency to be able to read a script very fast because I know what’s coming up next. The description of the action, the description of the characters, and everything falls into the three-act structure. This one, I had to pay so much attention, almost write notes. I read it once. I read it in one sitting without taking notes, loving everything, loving the magic, loving the characters, loving the twist, loving everything. Went to grab a glass of water, came back, was looking at it and just sat down and read it again taking notes and jotting ideas down. Seeing if there were any plot holes or anything. It was just that fantastic. After that I called my agent and was like, ‘That’s the one. That’s the one I want to do.‘
It was a smaller movie, in the $30-$40 million range, in the beginning when I attached myself to it. It was that good though, for me to leave the giant mega-production world and go to more of a smaller production world. It really, really grabbed me. So I fought pretty hard to do it. Many directors wanted to do it. Very talented guys. I had never done something like that. So I had to prove I was the right guy to do it. I showed them my ideas, my notes. Things like more magic, more characters, more twists, everything linked together, etc…
I eventually got it, but it took us a year and a half after that before we started production just because of the complexity of casting this kind of a movie, and everybody being on board, and learning to do the magic, and coming up with all the great magic tricks, and coming up with the visuals and everything. Just fool-proofing this movie before we shot it. There was not a single day where I came to work saying, ‘Ugh, that boring magician movie.’ I was so excited. Every day I knew I’d get a new idea from somebody bringing something to the table. It was fantastic.
WGTC: All four of the main magician cast members are excellent, but you also got to work with two icons in Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. Could you talk about getting them involved and working with them?
Leterrier: The first one to sign on was Morgan Freeman. I had worked with him before in this movie called Unleashed. We kept in touch and had a great relationship. In this movie, the misdirection is on many levels, and once you’ve cast your movie right, your job is much, much easier. With Carmen Cuba who was our casting director, she was with Steven Soderbergh, and she’s used to casting out of the box. Not just getting the one actor who has so much for the box office, but putting packages together and bringing really interesting actors out for the role. But this one was different. You have expectations of what Morgan Freeman will do in a movie, and he doesn’t do that in this movie. That’s what it was. Morgan was very cool when I called him and sent him the script. He was very excited to play that. To play a trickster. Somebody with tremendous complexity where finances are as important as words.
I told all my actors when I was casting them that I think it’s going to be a very interesting movie and eventually it’s going to be great to see you guys think. To see people think. I think often in those kind of movies you don’t do a cutaway to an actor just thinking. You just do: shot, reverse, shot, reverse, line, line, line, line. Then you move off. Here, because there were some long explanations. It was giving me time to get great cutaways of people thinking. Morgan really loved that.
Michael Caine same thing. He’s obviously a legend, but he’s just so lovable in real life that you have a tendency to give him the good guy spot. To use that as a misdirection and twist it. To spin it 180 degrees in seconds on screen, only a great actor can do that. Only a great actor can switch from being the most lovable person in the world to the worst, most hated man on stage. I’ll tell you, when you direct these two guys, when you have these two guys in your viewfinder and just give them small notes and you see them reacting and turning on a dime, it is beyond exciting. It makes for moments where you pinch yourself and have that sort of out-of-body experience where you look at yourself directing these two guys and be like, “Remember that moment. Remember that moment, because it won’t happen ever again.” It’s unbelievable.
WGTC: So the opposite of usually playing the good guy, Jesse Eisenberg. He seems to just play the arrogant, extremely intelligent asshole so well. Why do you think he’s so skilled at that?
Leterrier: Well in real life he’s really a jerk and it really helps to have that. (Laughs) No I’m kidding, he’s the nicest guy. That’s the opposite of who he is. The only thing that Jesse Eisenberg has in common with the character he plays in this movie and in Social Network or any movie is that he’s the fastest talker you’ll ever meet. That’s who he is. But it stops there. He’s the kindest, most generous, altruistic human being you’ll ever meet. He’s just so unaware of his talent, yet gifted and generous about his time and his acting. He’s willing to try everything. He comes in extremely prepared. He’s amazing with lines, knows his lines, everybody’s lines, he has that, but on top of that he works on his magic, and really inhabits the characters. It’s funny, it just goes to show that these guys are tremendous actors. As soon as the film starts rolling through the gate and I call “Action” the personality goes from laughing and cracking a joke to killing a guy with two sentences. Two very long-winded sentences. He’s amazing.
What was interesting also with this whole group is they’re rockstars with improvisation. It really was exciting. We were throwing stuff in the air and they were catching it and playing with it. It just made for a great work atmosphere and much better scenes. I would have a tendency to get a lot of coverage and get the right shot and everything. You don’t get to do the scene only three or four times, you get to do it twenty, twenty-five, maybe forty times, and it becomes extremely stale and boring, but if you add improvisation and you make yourself laugh or you make it dangerous, you have to stay on your game. It was great to do that.