Director's Cut: Louis Leterrier ('Now You See Me')

Louis Leterrier

The first rule of magic, as Jesse Eisenberg's character says in "Now You See Me," out in theaters today, is to always be the smartest guy in the room (read our review of the film here).

The second rule, or maybe an unspoken first rule, must be to have Louis Leterrier behind the camera. "Now You See Me" is "Oceans 11"-style heist meets "The Prestige," with an all-star cast including Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman and others. The result is a refreshing summer movie, a nice 115-minute refuge from the muggy heat of the warmer months.

Leterrier, whose prior credits include "The Incredible Hulk," "The Transporter" and "Clash of the Titans," spoke to ahead of the release of "Now You See Me" about whether he believes in magic, who his first choice to play The Hulk was and how Occupy Wall Street influenced his filming process.

I really enjoyed "Now You See Me" a lot. What drew you to the project?

The script. The script was unbelievable. I've never read something that I could do that was that fun and that unpredictable and a page-turner. We all have the issue with a the story arc structure, where we know about page study, what is happening, page 65 — what's happening, and you expect a big fight at the end and everything. And this one was so unexpected and I could see the potential, not only to cast amazing actors — we needed to find exciting actors — but also to really direct it and have a real point of view about the way you tell and retell the story. I loved the potential to actually do magic on screen. There have been a lot of movies about magic, but never a magic movie where there would be a magic show where the audiences' observation is just as important as the storytelling — the movie going audience.

I thought it was cool that you actually go inside the tricks a little bit as it happens, it's not all the big reveal at the end.

It's not all at the end, exactly. That's why I love it. It was challenging because magicians don't like to reveal how they do their tricks. So, we had to convince them that it's OK to show a little bit that will get audiences more excited about the art of magic.

Did any magicians you asked to help you turn you down?

No one turned us down. But they were like, "You can't do this, or this is impossible," or "That's never been done." And what we agreed on was that these magicians are amazing magicians — they are supposed to be this amazing group with this amazing concept — and some of this magic is very real. And you see the first trick on the audience and that throws you into the world of magic where you, the movie going audience go, "Oh wow, OK, they're serious...that's did they do that?" And some of the tricks are very possible nowadays and some of the tricks will be possible. We are doing sci-fi tricks, nothing is impossible... not like a Meta trick. Everything is possible and expandable, but acknowledging that the technology today doesn't allow you to do this.

That's what I wanted to do bring, this sort of rock and roll feel to magic and also consult with the greatest magicians. There are amazing magicians but there are also unbelievable magic makers that make the magic tricks. No one knows about that, there are people who build the machines and build the concept. Magicians are like showmen. They are great performers, but the person that composes the trick — like you would compose song or direct the show — these people are the ones that really helped us.

I thought the kind of economic angle of the script was interesting as well, the sort of Robin Hood steal from the rich and give to the poor idea. Did Occupy Wall Street or other recent protests influence you at all to emphasize this?

Yeah, it's funny because we were shooting exactly where Occupy Wall Street was. You have to understand that the screenplay was written two or three years before. We didn't know [Occupy Wall Street] would happen, so it's almost like a sign of the times. Righting the wrong and these things were very important to us. We wanted to show the idea that this secret society of magicians is helping them, which is true, in a sense. The magicians have always been involved in shaping history until now. Like, it is true that a magician was sent to Indonesia to stop wars at the turn of the century. Magicians have always been involved in, sort of like, influencing people because one feels they have something more… connected to something else. So we wanted to do that. We didn't want to make a preachy movie. We wanted them to do something for the right reasons.

Eisenberg's character, especially, is not super likable — he's an arrogant jerk — but he and the group are doing likable things and noble things.

Well that's his journey. That's all their characters and that's what we did. Magicians in general, all people, are very selfish and we are trying to take the lead for ourselves, and when we collaborate, we count on each other. That's the message we want to say: True collaboration is a real partnership...and you have to accept being in the shadow of others or be more humble about your own talent. I think that's the journey that Jesse's character has. But all of them have a defining journey and character arcs. That's why when I read the script, I loved it because I saw it working on so many levels: the characters were evolving and the same time the story and the plot was evolving. We had so many elements to grab onto and feast on as an audience member. This is really a fantastic script. Let me try to apply cool visuals to it to and cast it right because that's the most important thing at the very end.

The story takes place mainly in Vegas, New York and New Orleans, as well as a little side plot in Paris. Were those the cities originally in the script, or did you change the locations?

Paris, yes. Because I am French I was like, "I have to do Paris." Paris was. New York was. Vegas was definitely. But New Orleans wasn't. It's very past-intensive. It's a fantastic city. With New Orleans, we wanted to take advantage of the amazing past-intensive — it's amazing, the voodoo, the black magic, everything that New Orleans represents. It's really a magical city. It's also a city that has obviously been hurt. So, we sort of tied that into the plot and made it really a part of the story. All of the characters are very important, but also the cities are very important. All of them represent something very important.

Right, I noticed that there seemed to be a big emphasis on New Orleans in particular.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's a fantastic city. It's a real city. Every city in America is very interesting, but New Orleans is more completely than everything. There's a weird feeling about it. You feel at home but in danger all the time. You feel comfortable, yet extremely uncomfortable. It draws you in. There really is something truly magical about New Orleans, so I wanted to go back and show a different aspect to New Orleans. We didn't 'wanna show — obviously there's Bourbon Street — but we wanted to show different aspects of what New Orleans. We tried to shoot in different areas of the city. And we didn't shoot in New York — of course we go to Times Square at the end because it shows the center of information, if you will — but the show is not in front of the Plaza. It's in Queens. It's in Five Pointz. It's in truly iconic, but unknown places in New York City.

Now You See Me Cast

I didn't know that Five Pointz existed until I saw the movie, even though I used to live over there. I also read that there is a battle to save it right now. It might be demolished. Did you know that?

Yes, I knew that. I knew that going in. And that's actually what they said--they really...they wanted us there to shoot because they said maybe that might be the thing that saves Five Pointz. The one movie that salvages the art of Five Points. It's amazing. Why should it be destroyed? It could be rearranged. In France I know there is a place like this that has been turned into office lofts by the city. And you can totally do that. I mean, the place outside is amazing. And fun, and a great canvas to offer. But inside it has this amazing floor plan and floors that you can tweak and make a great floor plan and great office stuff out of that. And it would be an amazing office to me...with a great subway service.

You also directed "The Incredible Hulk" It's interesting that there have been a few recent portrayals of The Hulk, and of course Mark Ruffalo is also in this movie and "The Avengers," but not your Hulk. Have you seen "The Avengers"?

Yes, I've seen "The Avengers." I know it very well because I, met, I know Mark Ruffalo. I met him on my Hulk before I met Edward. And he was my choice, my number one choice, Mark — to be the Hulk. And then Marvel, you know rightly so, thought that he wasn't known enough by the public. And when you do a movie, you have to think about the international audience. They didn't know Mark enough then. So it didn't happen. But then I met Edward and I love Edward. And it was fantastic. But you know, [Mark and I] stayed in touch. No harm no foul. When I met him again to talk about this movie was on the set of "Avengers" and I said it was "Thanks to you that I am here." So, wherever, whenever — we'll get together. When I saw "Avengers," I was like "Ah! This is what I thought he could do so well and bring to the character Bruce Banner!" And I was so happy Marvel cast him in it.

Oh, that's really cool. I saw that you are also tentatively attached to direct "Sea of War" and partner again with Luc Besson. Is that correct?

No, I'm not attached. It's a great script. I'd love to work with Luc again. And it's great, I'd like to find something, I read it, but I'm not attached. It's a rumor, it's bad journalism. (laughs) A journalist trying to get a scoop and will report anything, so...

But it's still a possibility? Or is it off the table?

Yeah, everything is a possibility. I'd love to work with Luc again. Luc is an amazing guy. I don't know what I'm doing next. This one is really my debut -- it represents who I am, my most personal movie. I started making movies hoping to work with a cast like this, with a script like this, with producers like that, with a studio like that. And now I'm doing this and I really want to take it all the way to the end and then eventually find something else hopefully as good as this one.

The last two questions I have to ask you... did you learn any magic tricks?

Yeah, I've done a few magic tricks, but I'm a terrible magician. I learned one...I can read your mind. It's really cool. I'm pretty good at throwing cards. But if someone explains a trick to you, it takes 30 seconds to understand. But it takes about 30 years to perfect. Really, magic is a simple idea, but executed unbelievably well. It's muscle memory. It's suspense.

Lastly, do you think there is actual magic or is it all illusion and movie magic?

I really think there is actual magic. Sometimes there are perfect circumstances... and whether you call it magic, guardian angels, God, whatever  — it's out there. Our movie is about real magic, it is intellectual. But, and you see a little bit in our movie, you have to take that leap of faith. A lot of magicians are lovers of Lady Luck. They embrace chance and start a culture that is unbelievable. And then they make a mistake and the card they wanted you to pick is folded in your shoe. And you haven't seen it. But they will tweak it to make you think of the seven of diamonds and then tell you to pick a card, they say you are hiding the seven of diamonds and they tell you to look in your shoe. You'll be wowed by it. Magicians are amazing at this, but I think the magic out there is really helping. So yeah, I believe in it.

"Now You See Me" is in theaters today.