This month, Derren Brown brings his ‘best show yet’ to the Wales Millennium Centre. He’s made a career of exploring other’s minds, so Stuart Fagg put the shoe on the other foot…
Firstly, how? You’re very busy performing, so where do you find the time to plan out the intricacy of each illusion?
For TV, my little team of two or three talk ideas over a couple of weeks. I find a strong dramatic hook – the end of the world for someone! – with a good reason for doing it – valuing what you already have. With stage, we take a month coming up with ideas and shaping the show, then another month rehearsing as well as we can without an audience. We try it out in preview nights and the details just grow in time as the audience shows me what works best.
What’s your method of thought? To leave the likes of Stephen Fry in complete awe, it must be something close to genius…
Ha – nothing genius, sadly. My toolkit is seeing something from another person’s perspective. Once you’ve got your head round doing that properly, the rest is relatively straightforward.
Would you consider your mind to work differently? Is the skill to think so logistically natural or cultivated?
Like playing the piano, anyone can do it, but not everyone will. It must ‘click’. When I started, I was insecure and being ‘Mr Impressive’ was important… and grossly misjudged. That gave me the impetus to stick with it.
You’re happy to refer to yourself as being “dishonest in your techniques”. In a world so hostile towards deceit, why would you say you’re so well-received?
It’s a theatrical dishonesty. It took a while, but I’ve tried to find ways of using the inherently dishonest world of illusion to say something honest about who we are. Honesty has a lot of value as a performer. Magic has always been about posturing, so I’ve tried to undo all of that. It’s a tricky line to tread, but maybe that’s what keeps it interesting, to me at least.
Describe the buzz of amazing a crowd?
It’s difficult to compare. You get to be the most charismatic version of yourself in a well-rehearsed but seemingly effortless way. It would be nice to be like that more often, though there’s only so much ‘character’ we can stomach. I’m quite shy, but when the back and forth between me and the audience is as it should be, I’m relaxed and in control, which is nice for anyone to experience.
You wrote a book on happiness. What prompted you to search for its meaning?
By reading the Stoics [a school of Greek philosophy], which suggests we should stop trying to control uncontrollable things and take responsibility for our emotional reactions to things. It has its limitations, but as I explored it, I realised I should write about it. We’re told the opposite should make us happy: setting goals and believing in ourselves, but that can induce anxiety or a feeling of failure. I wanted to create something more helpful and realistic.
“You’re only sad if you tell yourself you’re sad.” What did you mean when you said that…?
Rhetorically, if we see ourselves as sad or unable to connect with people, we create that reality. Realising that we live out a self-told story as we explore the infinite possibilities for interpreting the world is, I think, enormously liberating. We sometimes need to step up and consider what our meaning is.
What can we expect from Underground? Should the crowds of Cardiff be worried?
Ha! I LOVE this one. It’s my best show yet, made up of favourite bits from previous shows, but with its own heart and narrative. Yes, it relies on audience participation but no, you don’t have to get involved if you don’t want to! The reactions have been overwhelming and Cardiff is always a great and very welcoming crowd.
Derren Brown: Underground, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Tue 8-Sat 12 May. Tickets: from £25. Info: 029 2063 6464 / www.wmc.org.uk
photo Mark Douet