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On set: Magicians

September 2006

WE’RE just in time to see some poor soul thing getting their head lopped off at the guillotine.

Magician Harry Kane, aka The Black Widower, played by Peep Show’s David Mitchell, laughs like a panto villain, smirks at the audience and drops his balls.

“Damn, sorry everyone,” he says, retrieving them from the floor.

A ginger fella runs on to reset the Balls Of Death in Mitchell’s right hand for another take. He’s the film’s magic consultant who has recently been in London working on the big-budget Houdini movie starring Catherine Zeta-Jones.

As well as appearing in Magicians he is teaching Mitchell and co-star Robert Webb a trick or two.

“The magic tricks are shot in real time,” says producer Ollie Madden.

“We didn’t want to edit them as audiences would feel short-changed. They’re done as authentically as possible.”

“I’ve learned a few magic tricks which one day, if I’m a father, may come in handy,” says Webb, drawing on a Marlbro during a short break.

“Or down the pub.”

Both he and Mitchell and the rest of the crew have had to sign a confidentiality agreement not to reveal the tricks of the magic trade.

Like Mitchell, Webb is a graduate of the Cambridge Footlights.

The pair recorded an acclaimed Radio 4 sketch show, That Mitchell and Webb Sound, before their big break on Channel 4’s Peep Show. Their new BBC sketch show That Mitchell and Webb Look starts next week.

“It’s been great — we’re really enjoying it,” says Webb.

“From an actor’s point of view there are a lot fewer lines to learn than for TV.”

So far the duo have seen little of Nottingham e but, as Webb grew up in Lincolnshire, he’s familiar with the city.

“I came on a few school trips and saw a couple of plays here. It was Shakespeare. So I’ve fallen asleep all over this theatre.”

As a Lincs lad he’ll know Skeggy — which is where the crew is off next — as well, then?

“Well, we were slightly snobsier than that,” says Webb. “We preferred Chapel-St-Leonard’s.

“Every time I had a new girlfriend I made the mistake of taking her on a day trip to Skegness. Usually the relationship recovered after a few months.”

I suggest they may like to take the notorious Nottingham-Skeggy train. No first class, screaming kids, nappies...

“No, David and I get ferried around in a diamond-covered helicopter.”

Aside from the two leads, Jessica Stevenson (Shaun Of The Dead, Spaced, The Royle Family) is on and off the Theatre Royal stage, where the Magicians crew have been filming since Sunday.

It is the tale of a successful magic double act who fall out after Harry catches Karl (Robert Webb) inflagrante with his wife, who is also his assistant. During the grand finale of their act, with his cheating wife’s head in the guillotine, Harry chops it off.

Though we’re not sure if it is intentional.

The incident seals the end of their relationship and career.

Wind on four years later and Harry is working in a supermarket while Karl has turned to a Derren Brown-style act of mind-reading called The Mind Monger.

When their paths cross they team up for a magic competition in Jersey with a big cash prize but soon fall out and compete against each other.

Filming began on Sunday with 700 local people drafted in as extras to pretend to be a magic show audience. For more than five hours they pulled suitable faces for the cameras to be cut in to the movie.

To keep them entertained, cast members told a few gags and answered questions from the audience. Some were more pleasant than others.

“Have you slept with Simon Pegg?” asked one extra of Jessica Stevenson about her Spaced co-star. No strops. Just a smile.

Backstage the director and team sit monitoring the shoot. As we’re introduced I recognise the director. It’s Andrew O’Connor. The former game show host.

As it turns out this is his post on-camera career. Magicians may be his first feature but his production company Objective created both Peep Show and Derren Brown’s TV shows.

“This is comedy and magic which is his two areas of expertise,” says Madden, from Intermedia UK. Universal Pictures will be distributing the film worldwide.

“Universal were behind Shaun Of The Dead. Peep Show has a very similar following to that of Spaced and Jessica Stevenson co-wrote Spaced, of course. So there is a similar profile.

“We have a funny script and there’s a great buzz about the movie. If we could be as successful as Shaun Of The Dead we’d be thrilled.”

Magicians is due out in the spring.

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