Some already consider the holiday season a “magical” time of year, though perhaps not in the same way Steve Valentine does.
The Scottish-American actor and magician, known for his roles in shows such as “Crossing Jordan” and in video games like “Uncharted 2,” is spending his holidays wowing audiences with some of his favorite tricks and parts of The Illusionists.
The show, which is also playing on Broadway, brings together a cast of tricksters, each in certain roles that play into their favored illusions. Florian Sainvet is the Manipulator, Stuart MacLeod is the Delusionist, Sos and Victoria are the Transformationalists, Jonathan Goodwin is the Daredevil and Valentine is the Showman.
The Gazette spoke with Valentine shortly before the touring production made its way to the Palace Theatre on Tuesday:
Q: What got you into magic and acting?
A: When I was a child, I was drawn into the arts. I think when I was 10, I met a local magician who became my mentor. [He] introduced me to this whole world of all these other amateur magicians who lived in my hometown that I wasn’t even aware of. That was huge. I always did both [acting and magic]. I always found I could do television and film, and then pop off and go do something live and get that live feedback. But it’s interesting because I was doing a lot of stuff at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Las Vegas and these private parties in Beverly Hills -- it was actually detrimental to my acting career in a really strange way. I would turn up at auditions and they just didn’t take me seriously. I quit magic, and it was very difficult because I love it so much. I literally got rid of everything and was never going to do it again.
I started to work a lot as an actor and then three series later, I was doing a movie in New Zealand called "Avalon High" for Disney and there was a local magic shop in Auckland. So I go into the shop and there was a guy who had moved there from my hometown who was part of the magic club when I was a kid. . . . So we had dinner and he had video of all these old magicians, these mentors when I was young, and it just came flooding back. I was like, “This is silly. I love this art form. Why shouldn’t I do it?” Everything just came flooding back. It’s an interesting thing, when you don’t do something for years your subconscious still is playing with it, because when I picked up a deck of cards I would come up with solutions to things that I’d had trouble with years ago. It’s crazy.
So here we are. I did a one-man show. I ended up being on the board of directors for a couple years of the Magic Castle in Hollywood and now we’re touring with The Illusionists, which is a ton of fun.
Q: You’re the Showman in The Illusionists. What does that mean in terms of the tricks you do?
A: We all get to pick out little nom de plumes. It helps delineate the different disciplines in magic. To me, the Showman is about being the ringmaster. It’s about being the host of the evening, which is kind of what I’m doing, as well as my own spots within the show. It means I get to wear clothes I would never normally wear in public. I get to be a little flamboyant under the guise of the Showman.
Q: What are some of your favorite tricks to perform in the show?
A: Well, what’s really interesting coming back to magic after all these years is that you never used to be able to do close-up magic onstage. It was all big illusion, or moderate-sized tricks and props. Now, I can go onstage, do something with a coin and 5,000 people can see it because we have cameras and screens. I love that. There’s a piece that I do with a little girl from the audience that has to do with holiday angels and a playing card. I make the angels on the backs of the cards move. It’s just a very simple, sweet [part]. I usually pick a 5- or 6-year-old and you never know what they’re going to say, how they’re going to react. But whatever they’re going to give you is going to be honest. So it’s one of the moments that I really look forward to. And the finale of the show, which has to do with snow, is very personal because it’s about my daughter, well, both my kids really. We moved from California to Toronto this year and so she had her first experience with snow a couple of months ago, being a California baby. It was about how I prepared her for snow. There’s this amazing snow trick, but I wanted to make it personal because I’m away from the kids for the holidays because we’re doing the tour. So I wanted to invoke my kids in the show as a way of having them with me while I’m on tour. There’s this whole piece that’s based on a conversation I had with her about snow. I get a little girl up from the audience to play the role of my daughter.
Q: In what other ways is the show holiday-themed?
A: I do a [trick] with a cage. Normally there’s a bird inside the cage and it vanishes in a split second. But instead, I took an Elf on the Shelf. I do a trick with chocolates, one of the most popular gifts that people like. The snow thing that we have at the end is stunningly beautiful to the show and it’s family-friendly. It’s not a kids’ show -- we have Jonathan Goodwin doing some pretty scary escapes and even one piece with a scorpion -- but it is family-friendly, and I think that grandparents [and] parents can all come and enjoy the show and each one will enjoy it on a different level. That’s what’s really clever about how they put the show together.
Q: How long have you been touring with the show?
A: I’ve been touring with this now for just over a month. We’ve got another four or five weeks. The whole tour will go [for] six months, and will leave the holiday theme in January and move into a different theme. I’m heading back to LA because I have a pilot that I wrote that I made. So I’ve got to go back and focus on that for a little bit.
But then I’m hoping to join the cast in the West End in London in the summer. It’s my first-ever tour. I’ve never done anything with this size of organization. We have two massive trucks of equipment, we have holograms, lighting and illusions, and there’s so much that goes into this and then there’s me with a deck of cards and a camera. Johnathan Goodwin is doing an effect called “Buried Alive” onstage, which is so dangerous. I’ll stick with my card tricks, thank you. I’m good.
Q: When you see a new illusion or trick, do you immediately try to figure it out?
A: Absolutely. I think all magicians are kids who hated being fooled by magic tricks. So we all decided to get to learn how to do it and actually enjoyed doing it. The holy grail for any magician is to completely flummox another magician. It frustrates me when I don’t know. So then I will either try to figure it out myself or try to do my own versions and say “OK, they must have done this, this or this.”
Occasionally, which is really fun, you sit down with a magician in question and you barter secrets. “I’ll tell you this for that.” Sometimes they’ll go for it and sometimes, frustratingly [they don’t]. I’ve been doing magic now since I was 5, so I’m a big historian on magic as well, so it might be a little hard to pull the wool over my eyes. But it does happen, and when it does it’s simultaneously amazing and frustrating.
The Illusionists: Magic of the Holidays
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Palace Theatre
MORE INFO: palacealbany.org