Magic has ‘special effect’ on people!

 In Articles about Paul Kieve

Article from, Apr 14 2005.

Illusionist Paul Kieve created many of the magic effects in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and was personal magic tutor to Daniel Radcliffe. Now working on the lavish stage production of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, he spoke to Laura Kendall.

Bills, traffic jams, late-running trains: these are the biggest problems most of us face each day. Spare a thought, then, for Paul Kieve, whose daily challenges include shrinking children, drowning theatre critics in buckets and persuading maps to fold themselves.

One of Britain’s most sought-after illusionists, Kieve’s day job involves making film, theatre and television audiences believe the unbelievable.

From working as a performing magician, his career has evolved into consulting and creating illusions for more than 100 international productions including West End musicals, opera, ballet and blockbuster movies.

And it all started when he was given a magic set as a birthday present. “I’d always had an interest,” says Kieve. “My older brother was quite interested in magic and I can remember him playing around with quite simple tricks at home. But I did get a magic set for my 10th birthday, which sort of triggered it.”

His big break came at just 16, when pop star Sade chose Kieve to appear in the video for her song Your Love Is King. That experience, he says, fired his determination to become a professional magician. “I think that was the turning point,” he says. “I remember having such an amazing time with it and so much fun with Sade and the band.

“I had a series of lucky breaks when I was at school and was given the opportunity to really enjoy it and it seemed daft for me to even consider anything else.

“I don’t think, at the time, it was based on a sensible decision but it seemed very exciting to me. My parents were very supportive, though my father was very keen I should stay on and do my A levels, so I did that.”

In 1986 he formed a double act, The Zodiac Brothers, which performed around the world for five years – but a new challenge soon presented itself. “My local theatre was the Theatre Royal Stratford East and, in 1991, they’d just started a production of H.G Wells’ The Invisible Man,” he says.

Kieve created more than 50 special effects – a world record – for the production, including the astonishing moment the title character removed his bandages to reveal absolutely nothing – his head and face were “invisible”.

“I didn’t really imagine anything would come of it but there was a huge fuss about it and it moved into the West End,” he says. “I’d worked very hard on it and had amazing reviews. I didn’t even think it would go beyond Stratford but, even now, I get work from that show.

“The business is quite small, in a way, if you’re specialised, and I think I became known as the guy to get in to do funny moments on stage.”

He is now busily creating rather more gruesome illusions for the play Theatre of Blood, which stars Jim Broadbent as as an actor who kills critics in the style of Shakespearean plays. “I’m spending all my time electrocuting people and drowning them in buckets,” he says.

He is also working on the hotly anticipated Lord of the Rings stage musical, which has its world premiere in Toronto next February. The production has a budget of £11.7 million.

Kieve’s magical prowess can currently be seen in Birmingham Rep’s production of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story, The Witches, at the New Wimbledon Theatre from Wednesday.

He worked on the original production – the tale of a young boy who is turned into a mouse after stumbling across a witch’s convention – in 1992 and was “delighted” to have the chance to refine the illusions he created. “It’s lovely to be able to return to it,” he says. “The Witches is still one of the trickiest shows I can remember working on because the particular challenges are very specific. The idea of children shrinking and turning into mice on stage was not easy.”

Nor was creating a myriad of magical moments in the last Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Kieve is the only illusionist to have worked on any of the films. “They had a new director, Alfonso Cuaron, for the third film and he was keen to explore the idea of using real live magic in addition to the effects,” he says. “He wanted to create an extra layer of magic so they wouldn’t have to rely on computer-generated images alone. His idea was there should be lots of stuff going on in the background.”

Kieve was summoned before “everybody involved with the film” to demonstrate his bag of tricks.

“It was pretty terrifying,” he says. “It was in a funny, cold marquee and I felt I wasn’t just representing what I could do but the possibilities of illusion in general because no one else had ever been given that opportunity.”

Among the illusions he devised for the movie was the Marauders’ Map, which cleverly folds and unfolds itself according to who wishes to use it.

He also filled a classroom with levitating orbs – after practising the illusion with a £1 Christmas bauble bought from his local corner shop in Hackney. “It gives me an enormous joy to see my illusions sit alongside the CGI stuff,” he says. “I constructed that map and operated it and invented it, so to see it gives me a real sense of satisfaction.

“It’s unbelievable when I think about how many people have seen these things.”

However, millions of cinema-goers weren’t the only ones to be dazzled by Kieve’s skills – the star of the Harry Potter films, Daniel Radcliffe, was so impressed he became Kieve’s pupil. “Like me, he’d been given a magic set and was curious about it. It was joyful teaching him, not because of who he plays in the film but because he’s a really fun, bright, intelligent kid,” he says of Radcliffe.

“He worked really hard at it and became really good, I have to say. He definitely had an aptitude for it. I learned a lot by teaching him. He was very insightful and asked some really good questions.”

Radcliffe was apparently also quick to pick up on magic’s mischievous side. “He spent a lot of time on that film going round showing people tricks,” Kieve says. “He told me the first time he ever met Emma Thompson he showed her a card trick I’d taught him and she screamed.”

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