Lance Burton is one of the greatest stage Magicians of the past century. He has starred in numerous TV specials including “Lance Burton Magic Magician: The Legend Begins”, which aired in 1996 on NBC. His show “Lance Burton Master Magician” opened at the brand new Monte Carlo Hotel in the Lance Burton Theatre also in ’96. He has also performed over 15,000 shows throughout his 30-year career in Las Vegas. Today Lance Burton is happily retired and is currently working on a number of documentary and narrative film projects. Lance was also Magic Advisor on Disney’s “Oz The Great and Powerful” and taught magic to James Franco on the film. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Lance about his role on the film.
Mike Gencarelli: Tell us how did you get involved with the production “Oz the Great and Powerful”?
Lance Burton: I got a call from Grant Curtis, one of the producers on “Oz”, a few years ago and he explained that they were doing. He told me about this character, which was a stage magician and they were looking for someone to help with the magic. So I asked for the script to see what they were talking about. I read it and I just fell in love with the project. I thought it was just fantastic. I flew out to Michigan where they had the operation setup and I met with Grant and Sam Raimi. Sam explain his concept of the film to me and introduced me to all the people involved with the film. From there we just went to work.
MG: How was it working with James Franco and teaching him some tricks?
LB: I met with James for a day or so and worked with him on a couple of slide of hand tricks, a couple of months out and I gave him some homework to do. Then we all moved out to Michigan. The good thing was that we had about two weeks before filming started to practice every day. So we had a regular rehearsal schedule to work on the magic that was going to be throughout the film. So since we had a couple of weeks before filming started, that became very valuable time. James didn’t have any prior education with magic but he is a fantastic actor and that is about 90% of the battle. Robert-Houdin, the father of modern magic, has said that his classic definition of a magician is “an actor playing the part of a magician”. Sam wanted the magic to be authentic and he wanted James to play the role as a magician. Sam wanted to me to work with him on the way that he carries himself, as well as the magic. The flare of a magician, both on-stage and off-stage. So I worked with him on little flourishes that he can incorporate into different scenes. When I was on-set, I was able to chime in and throw out ideas during shoot, which was great.
MG: For you being the one always having performed the magic; how was it being on the other side of it?
LB: It is a completely different type of satisfaction. When you go out and do a show, whether it is live or a TV show, you do a good job and you feel good. In this case, I wasn’t the one performing it. But again when I saw the finished product, I felt very proud. I felt lucky to be able to contribute to this sure-to-be instant classic, “Oz The Great and Powerful”. It is almost like a pride that a parent feels about a child.
MG: How long would you say you worked on the film?
LB: We had a fun time. It was two weeks in preparation and then I was on the set for about a month during filming. I was there for the scenes in Kansas and then a little bit of when they get to Oz.
MG: What was your most memorable experience from your work on the film?
LB: I will tell you one thing to look for in the film, which was one of my most proudest moments. I had been teaching James how to twirl a cane between his fingers like a baton. I was thinking that this would be something usable that we can work into the film. The first time that he goes into Emerald City, goes into the throne room and sits on the throne, he picks up this scepter. In the script, it says Evanora is sitting there and is enraged. I thought “Ah, what if he twirled that scepter between his fingers?” I thought it would be very disrespectful and could help help get her enraged. So I went to the prop department to see the scepter. I asked them if there was anyway to make it a little longer and they said “Sure”. I talked it over with James and Sam and everyone seemed to like the idea. I wasn’t on the set when they filmed that scene but when I saw the film in theaters. I was very excited to see that twirl in the film.
MG: After this experience, do you see yourself taking on this role again?
LB: It was a very satisfying experience and it was very interesting work. “Oz” was such a huge hit. My prediction is that there is going to be a whole franchise. So who knows what the future holds.
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