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Q+A: Criss Angel’s new Spike TV series ‘Believe’ includes raising-the-dead episode



Criss Angel prepares for his next feat of magic with his trainer, Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber.

Criss Angel’s ‘Believe’ on Spike TV

Criss Angel’s “Believe” on Spike TV.

Launch slideshow »

“Mindfreak” magician Criss Angel returns to television next week with his new series “Believe” of 11 one-hour specials. He’s packed them with more than 100 extraordinary demonstrations, including numerous death-defying stunts.

Star Pulse has named the Luxor headliner (his Cirque du Soleil show also is titled “Believe”) “the best illusionist ever, period.” “He has created a live show that is everything a perfect magic performance should be — and then some. It’s not just remarkable magic — it’s transcendent art that won’t just blow your mind; it will quite possibly change your life.”

The new Spike TV series, which features guest appearances by Ludacris, Ice-T, Randy Couture and a levitation with Shaquille O’Neal, kicks off the fifth-anniversary month of his Cirque show to be celebrated Oct. 30. The specials will feature live, dangerous and unparalleled illusions filmed in locations in Las Vegas (Criss’s home) and elsewhere in America and Mexico, along with never-before-seen footage from “Believe” at the Luxor.

It’s premiere is set for Oct. 15, and Spike execs are so impressed with the footage that they have decreed an advance and edited sneak peek of all 11 episodes next Tuesday after the live, two-hour season finale of its top-rated “Ink Masters” hosted by rocker Dave Navarro, which was just renewed for a Season 4 and is often shot here.

Then every week, Criss’s “Believe” will be 10 p.m. Tuesdays with a repeat viewing of the previous week’s episode at 9 p.m. for a two-hour viewing block.

I spent an afternoon with Criss at his secret Las Vegas warehouses and offices where he builds new tricks and edits his videos. I sat with him as we watched the new show’s incredible opening sequence, and he fine-tuned the final version. Then we settled in at his office for our interview.

What follows is Part 1 concentrating on the new TV production, and we’ll post Part 2 about the fifth anniversary of “Believe” and the major news he’ll announce reaching that milestone closer to Halloween.

The last episode of “Mindfreak” was some three years ago. Fans and viewers have been waiting anxiously for new Criss Angel television, so why did it take so long to get you back on television?

I didn’t take long at all to go back to television. It was my choice to work on the live Cirque show and to get that where I wanted it to be. Now that that show is just humming and doing amazing business — it’s the #1 bestselling magic show in the world as far as ticket sales and the perception that people are experiencing and coming back to see it multiple times — I felt it was in a great place and I could think about television again. Obviously, “Believe” will continue to evolve until its last performance because I always want to add new magic, I’m always tweaking and transforming it. I missed being on television, I had something new creatively to say, and Spike became the perfect home to do it.

The sneak peak will obviously tease everybody with a quick look at excerpts of everything we can expect through the December finale. But what’s on the first full show 10 p.m. Oct. 15.?

It’s “The Blind Walk” we filmed at Fashion Show mall, and you’re in it, Robin, because you watched it close-up yourself from start to finish. It was the most dangerous and frightening thing I’ve ever done in my life. I balanced on two narrow, swinging steel beams two feet apart, with the gap in between, and had to leap from one to the other. You know I was totally blindfolded with a tight hood over my head, so there was no trickery.

I remember those 10 nail-biting minutes, Several thousand people stood in total silence, including me, scared stiff for your safety. But you’ve got an even more dangerous dicing with death stunt yet to film .When is that planned for in New York?

I can’t say because the Police Department there is concerned about the crowds being too big, so they wont let me publicize when I’m doing the stunt. They basically said that if I do that and a huge crowd turns out that they’d shut it down. So we don’t want to take the risk of being shut down because that happened to us at the Mirage the first time I wanted to do the “buried alive in cement” demonstration. So we will abide by what the city of New York, my home state, is requesting. It will be sometime in the next couple of weeks, but I can’t tell anybody the exact date.

OK, understood, and that goes live into the show?

It wont be live; that will be taped. It launches the series from a publicity perspective, but we will do the Dec. 17 finale live from Las Vegas.

Obviously the season finale is going to have more danger than you’ve faced in the previous 10 episodes?

Yeah! What’s so different about this series and anything else I’ve ever done is that each episode is completely it’s own being. It’s not the same theme every episode. Everything is diverse and really gives the viewer an appreciation for everything in the art of magic. It also keeps it interesting because we go in so many different directions every week, so we’re not repeating ourselves.

Criss Angel Party

Launch slideshow »

What secrets can you tell me for the show in New York and then the live finale?

I’m going to New York specifically for two reasons. One is because I grew up in New York; I did thousands of performances there, and also because Houdini hung upside down in New York in a straight jacket, which is his signature piece. It became something that people really connected to. I wanted to go back to New York to see if it’s possible to take the historical references of what Houdini had done and kind of catapult it into today.

I want to take not one straight jacket, but also a transport jacket, combine both jackets with a 45-pound plate that will be l hanging from a rope, and the other end of the rope will be a noose around my neck. Being that I’m a big fan of mixed martial arts, I wanted to try to escape both straight jackets while hanging upside down by my ankles and do it before I choke out.

I’m not going to even ask if you’ve practiced or rehearsed this.

I have not. I have trained a little bit with UFC star Randy Couture here in Las Vegas. I needed to talk to an expert that deals with choking and tapping people out. For him to be able to put me in that condition and choke me out was an experience that I needed to have so that I know what the signs are that I’m going to be unconscious hanging there trying to escape. I worked with him a little but have not had the opportunity to get into both jackets yet and really train with everything yet. I hope to do that this week.

And the teaser for the finale in Las Vegas?

It will be something called “Trinity.” It involves an escape, a vanish and an appearance within a specific time countdown. Whether I accomplish it or not, there will be something that will detonate inches away from me. We’ll have a live audience in a safe zone to watch it here in Las Vegas on the Dec. 17 finale.

I think what makes this series so exciting for me and I think will be compelling for the viewer is that not only are you going to get more than 100 engaging demonstrations that we’ve never seen before, but you’re also going to get to know the process and my incredible team. You’re going to get to know these characters and what their responsibilities are and how the pieces of the puzzle come together to make that demonstration.

You’ll also get for the very first time the answers to “how does he do that.” We’re going to show you that process, we’re going to show you some secrets, we’re going to teach the audience how to think about it so that they can have a greater appreciation when they see me do these things.

But you don’t want the audience hanging themselves upside down in two straight jackets at home.

There’s a severe warning that’s different than my other series at the beginning of the show. No, we don’t want that, but we believe, like many other shows, when you have an understanding of what it takes to do something, you can appreciate it more. You feel like when you stop watching the show and the episode is finished and you move on to your daily life, that you will look at life and your day from a different perspective.

Criss Angel Launches

Criss Angel launches at Bare Pool Lounge in the Mirage on Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. Launch slideshow »

You’ll be able to see things that you wouldn’t see in the past. We have some really wonderful demonstrations that show people how they take each moment of their life for granted, not absorbing what really is going on around them. We break it down and show people exactly how caught up people are and focused on a very specific thing in their peripheral vision.

Explain how you show people how the illusion is put together and pulled off without giving away the actual secret? Or do you in fact reveal some of those magician’s secrets?

The great thing about the show unlike anything that has ever taken place on television with the theme of magic is that we’re really giving people the understanding of the process. The evolution from the seed that begins in my mind and how it comes out, it’s nurtured, it evolves, it transforms into the actual performance of that demonstration and how difficult that process is. We believe showing people that process will give them a greater appreciation for the trials and tribulations that I go through and what the team goes through.

Although it might look simple, I’ll show how it’s incredibly technical and very, very challenging. Kind of like if you wanted to be a tattooist or wanted to make a motorcycle; if you see that process, you have a greater appreciation for what the end result is. I think with this series, it really gives people a peek inside the secret society and actually see for the first time on television my 60,000-square-foot factory here.

We’ll show all the excitement, the drama and the challenges that go into making each of the 118 demonstrations that will be featured this season. It’s the hardest work of my career. I’ve never worked so hard in my life.

When you talked about your demonstrations and magic being so challenging, does that also mean dangerous and dicing with death?

There are definitely some life-and-death episodes, but the season is not just based on that. “Mindfreak” had that in a lot of the episodes, but this I want it to go in a different direction. When I came out with “Mindfreak,” we in a major way were responsible for transforming magic into something very viable. I think it reignited the interest in magic in a big way, and now we’ve raised the bar even further than what we’ve done in the past. We’ve kind of reinvented ourselves.

So in the illusions that I saw here, you were buried alive under concrete, you avoided being impaled by falling steel shafts live on Fremont Street, and you miraculously walked across the ceiling of the shopping mall; all the more extraordinary because that wasn’t trickery — that was for real. The magic is the miracle that you made it to the other side. What else am I missing in terms of standout stunts and illusions?

Twelve people lost their life attempting to catch a bullet throughout the course of history, and they were using trickery. I figured with technology and the advances that we have in being able to control the ballistics of a round, we would ask is it possible to break down the physics and science to see if it’s possible to catch a bullet for real. No B.S. Can you really catch a bullet?

Criss Angel's Birthday and 1,000th Believe Show

Criss Angel's birthday and 1,000th Believe performance at the Luxor on Dec. 11, 2010. Launch slideshow »

No magic?

No magic. Can you really catch a bullet? Can you break down the science, can you control the bullet, can you embrace technology, and with all of these different tools, can you really look at a way that’s plausible to even attempt this? We were able to get the chief of the Henderson Police Department, his complete department and the SWAT team to help me in my quest.

You don’t know what happened yet because, honestly, a lot of these things that we’re doing is a process. Some we haven’t even shot yet. I’m doing an episode where I'm going to attempt to revive the dead. It’s a very controversial subject matter, but I want to see if it’s plausible to take a human being who recently passed away and see if I could reignite him or her with a soul. For one more breath; just a breath more. I just feel that that will show people how fragile life is and how we should appreciate every moment we have on this earth.

When you say it’s controversial, it’s because you believe it will be controversial or it’s already started a controversy?

Well I think it has internally because we’re dealing with the psychic matter that makes people feel really uncomfortable. You’re dealing with religion, you’re dealing with the dead, respect, which we treat this matter very, very seriously, but we’re also in the very unique state of Nevada where in Las Vegas you can display the deceased, which they do in the “Bodies” museum at the Luxor. So it’s a very interesting state to be in compared to other places that won’t even let you consider doing something like this.

Then I go to Florida where I do a demonstration with 250 alligators. I think we have amazing and revolutionary demonstrations that raise the bar in my art, and they have certainly raised the bar in my career for anything I’ve ever done.

We have been working around the clock now for about a year on this project, and it’s been the most challenging, painstaking, trying, difficult and painful emotionally, physically and spiritually. It is really, really the most difficult project of my life.

I’m a pretty tough worker, I can work and work and work, but I’ve been doing 18 to 21 hours every day now for almost a year, and I’ve not had a break. Even when I was supposed to have a break in Hawaii, I wound up working every day. I was really annoyed, but I knew we had deadlines with so much going on.

I’m not complaining. I’m so blessed and grateful for the opportunity. I could not think of a better home than Spike to partner. They’re behind it in such a meaningful way. I’ve never seen a network in my career and entire life that has been so supportive of a vision, a series and a project like Spike has been with this.

If we just project forward that the ratings for “Believe” on Spike will be fantastic like “Mindfreak” was around the world in 100 countries, do you go back to do a second year?

I honestly don’t know. I’m leaving my options open. It’s so crazy because we’ve already had a couple of networks reach out to us, but we have explained I am committed to Spike and this is what I’m doing right now. At this point, we’ll see what happens. I have to tell you, this new series took away several years of my life because the process was very challenging.

In the past, when anybody had a TV special and they had a live show, they would close the live show to work on the TV special. A TV special is just a one-hour or two-hour show, but we did 11 hours, 118 pieces of magic — and while still performing two shows a night at the Luxor — filming before and after that show.

Plus, everything else that I’m doing, so it has truly been an exhausting process. The only thing I can think about is making this season, this series, as successful as possible. Hopefully the public wants to see it and winds up loving it.

We did six seasons of “Mindfreak.” I’m going to take Spike one season at a time, because let’s face it, the viewers will be different and the world is fickle. Audiences are fickle today. You look at musicians and their careers; they are a lot shorter today than they were a number of years ago. That’s because people’s tastes change; they have a shorter attention span.

I’ll be very grateful to have that type of success again, and let’s just see what happens. I’m very proud though about what we’re doing and what we have accomplished. It’s the best work of my life, and its magic and demonstrations that will blow everybody’s mind.

Our second part of this extensive interview with Criss about the fifth anniversary of “Believe” and where the show and he go from here at the halfway point of his 10-year contract will be posted closer to the Oct. 30 celebration, along with news of his next big project next year.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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