You’re in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Four magicians take the stage. They ask a random man in the audience, "What’s the name of your bank?" The man tells them it’s a bank in Paris, to which they respond, "We’re going to rob your bank." In an instant, the giant monitors are playing security camera footage from this man’s bank. They bring him up on stage, strap him into a device and – poof! Not only does the man disappear, but he reappears on the monitor, in the bank! And that’s not even the best part of the trick. The magicians instruct the man to stuff the vault’s money into the air ducts and, moments later, Euros are raining down on the MGM Grand audience. So it goes with the group of magicians known as the Four Horsemen.
The Horsemen are the centerpieces of the upcoming Summit Entertainment release, Now You See Me. Turns out, that little trick they pull at the MGM Grand isn’t an illusion at all; the bank really gets robbed. The FBI comes after them, but how can they possibly pin a crime committed in Paris on four magicians performing in Las Vegas? And so the chase begins; will the Horsemen complete their string of performances or will the FBI figure out the secrets behind their tricks and put an end to it first? Now You See Me isn’t just a movie about magicians trying to conduct the ultimate show; it’s a magic trick in itself.
Even after visiting the New York City set of Now You See Me with some other journalists back in April of 2012, I still can’t tell you how to keep ahead of the slickest sleight-of-hand artist, but a rundown of the film’s main players will at least warn you of what everyone’s capable of.
JESSE EISENBERG as ATLAS
Key Personality Traits: Leader, Showman,
Skill/Position: Sleight of Hand, Card Trick Artist
Introductory Scene: Making Money as a Street Magician
Eisenberg noted, "As a magician, you’re in control of everything. You’ve preplanned every aspect of your behavior," and that’s something his character, Atlas, thrives off of, leading him to live a life that merely consists of performing or waiting to perform and nothing more. It’s clearly not a well-balanced existence, but it’s actually something that drew Eisenberg to the role.
The actor explained: at the time he first received the script, he was doing a play in New York City. "I really liked doing the play, but the off time was torturous because you’re just anticipating this significant thing that you have to do every night."
Another link came up between Atlas and Eisenberg's performance as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. "This character is a performer, whereas the character in that was really a hermit, so that’s pretty different. But in terms of their need to control and to manipulate, their need to be in their element at all times, that’s probably similar."
Those traits come in handy after the Horsemen wrap up that Vegas performance and are interrogated by the FBI. Executive producer Bobby Cohen revealed, "Mark Ruffalo comes in and interrogates them and we’ve written Jesse some really, really cool, nice, long speeches where he completely turns the table on the FBI."
Cohen gave us one example. After the Las Vegas show, Atlas is arrested and interrogated by Ruffalo’s character. When he’s finished trying to shake him down, Atlas calmly retorts, "I want you to be following me. I want you 10 feet away. I want you 5 feet away, because the closer you get, the less you're going to see."
ISLA FISHER as HENLEY
Key Personality Traits: Confident, Fearless
Skill/Position: Illusionist, Escapologist
We Meet Her…: Trying to escape from a piranha tank
Henley was once Atlas's beautiful assistant who aspired to be a headliner herself, and the two parted ways when he wouldn’t give her equal billing. She eventually went out on her own and became even more famous than he is at the film's start.
And it’s no wonder someone like Henley went on to become a headliner herself. Fisher proclaimed, "I like to think of her as a lion tamer or an anarchist, somebody who’s pushing the boundaries, somebody who’s fearless, somebody who is in their element taking really big risks." And for Henley, at the start of Now You See Me, those big risks involve being submerged in a tank of piranha handcuffed, facing a Houdini-style escape stunt.
Fisher also pointed out that when Henley isn’t functioning as "the wildest, bravest one of the gang," she’s earning her title as "the smartest." Fisher hinted, "She builds all of the really complicated machines," but stopped short before giving away too much of the story.
WOODY HARRELSON as MERRITT
Key Personality Traits: Down and Out, Endearing
We Meet Him…: Hypnotizing Tourists in New Orleans at Café du Monde
Woody Harrelson’s Merritt once lived the good life as a famous mentalist, but his career hit rock bottom and he’s scrambling to earn a living by hypnotizing tourists at New Orleans’ Café du Monde. Harrelson wasn’t available to vouch for his own hypnotizing abilities himself, but Mark Ruffalo confirmed he can really do it. He laughed and recalled, "We were out one night and I don’t know if something was dropped in my drink or Woody actually hypnotized me, but something did happen to me."
When Harrelson isn’t putting his mentalist know-how to use playing Merritt, he’s busy hitting on Fisher’s character. Fisher explained, "My character is kind of exhausted by it, but vaguely amused. He’s such an endearing character, Merritt, where he’s come from, his backstory."
DAVE FRANCO as JACK
Key Personality Traits: Rookie
Skill/Position: Pickpocket, Card Slinger
We Meet Him…: Pickpocketing in New York (possibly on the water taxi)
Unfortunately Dave Franco wasn’t on set either, but we had proof of his character, Jack, at work courtesy of the playing card-induced gashes painted on Mark Ruffalo’s face. Cohen explained, "The magician Ricky Jay does this trick where he can take playing cards and from like 40 feet away, hurl them at a watermelon and it’s so fast that the card will go three inches deep into the watermelon." Franco isn’t chopping up any watermelons on the set, but Cohen warned, "I have to say, I would duck when you see Dave because, literally, he’s gotten really, really good at it."
When he’s not slinging cards, Jack is functioning as the group pickpocket. While he’s skilled enough to earn a spot in the Four Horsemen, the others still treat him like the young gun of the group. As Cohen described, "[Jack] very much wants to be in the big leagues and they’re sort of saying, ‘Well, you have to earn your dues. You’re not ready yet.’ So there’s the maturation from rookie to man that takes place."
MICHAEL CAINE as ARTHUR TRESSLER
Key Personality Traits: Supportive, Determined
Skill/Position: Billionaire, Benefactor
There's a reason (unexplained to us) why the gang comes together, but the man behind it all is Michael Caine’s Arthur Tressler. Cohen called Tressler "a cross somewhere between a Steve Jobs, Donald Trump and, you know, Richard Branson." He didn’t elaborate on Tressler’s ultimate goal, but there’s very clearly a major reason he needs the team to complete all of their show. Little did Caine himself know, the cast and crew were also aiming to complete that first Vegas act to get the chance to celebrate his 79th birthday.
It turned out, the final day of shooting the MGM Grand sequence happened to be Caine’s birthday. The production outfitted the University of New Orleans’ 12,000-seat basketball arena to look exactly like the MGM Grand. In the film, the Horsemen announce, "Before we finish, we want to thank our benefactor, our friend, our supporter. Arthur Tressler, ladies and gentlemen," and then Caine’s character takes the stage.
Instead, the Horsemen said, "We want to thank our dear friend. You know him, we all know him, Sir Michael Caine." Cohen laughed and recalled, "All the crew, probably about 600 or 700 people were singing Michael Caine ‘Happy Birthday.’" Even better, the cameras kept rolling and not only was Cohen planning to work on turning the footage into a little birthday present for Caine to keep, but also, he revealed, "That’s absolutely going on the Blu-ray."
MORGAN FREEMAN as THADDEUS BRADLEY
Key Personality Traits: Charming, Sly, Money-Hungry
Skill/Position: Magic Debunker
The truth about magic is you want to be tricked, but the second it's over, you want desperately to know HOW you got tricked. Morgan Freeman’s Thaddeus Bradley is in charge of handling the latter.
Cohen explained, "Thaddeus Bradley is a former magician himself who has become very famous and very successful in debunking magic." He's driven by making a profit from his magic-debunking DVDs. Whether Thaddeus winds up on the right side of this battle or not, you can still expect quite the duel between him and Arthur Tressler.
Cohen explained, "Once the Horsemen start to pull off these spectacular illusions, one after another, Thaddeus is determined to prove how they’re doing it." The FBI recruits Thaddeus to help them figure out the Horsemen’s plan so they can put an end to it once and for all while Tressler is vying for the exact opposite. Cohen teased, "There’s a great tension between Michael Caine’s character and Morgan’s character, and certainly once we knew we had both of them, we went back to the script and amped up those scenes." He added, "It’s just the two of them and you can get to watch two just, you know, true acting legends just sort of throw haymakers at each other for a couple minutes."
MARK RUFFALO as DYLAN
Key Personality Traits: Sassy, Unorthodox
Skill/Position: FBI Agent
When the Four Horsemen catch the FBI’s attention, Dylan him on the case. Ruffalo dubbed his field agent "mangy and a little sassy" and noted, "most of the cops I’ve played are pretty straightforward. He’s much more an outsider…he's tough and he doesn’t shave, he doesn’t really follow the rules. He’s something of a lummox. He’s always screwing things up, but does it with a lot of authority."
While Dylan is hell-bent on bringing the Horsemen in for what he labels a crime through and through, Ruffalo himself recognizes the Robin Hood appeal. "Right now there’s definitely a populist sort of view of the world that, you know, people are being taken advantage of and the big people are taking advantage of them, and so the idea of taking from the rich and giving to the poor seems to resonate quite a bit right now." He also pointed out, "There’s a great quote, ‘Behind every great fortune, there’s a great crime,’ and so this kind of turns that on its head."