Ali Cook talks Principles and Deceptions, Get Lucky, Epic and The Anomaly (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
MAGICIAN and actor Ali Cook took time out from his busy schedule to chat about his current tour, Principles and Deceptions, and his latest movie, Get Lucky, in which he stars alongside Luke Treadaway as a petty criminal on the run.
He also discusses forthcoming projects, including Noel Clarke’s The Anomaly (with Ian Somerhalder) and Epic with Matthew Macfadyen.
Q. How is the current tour going?
Ali Cook: Well, I’m not actually touring at the moment. I’m at a magic conference in Edinburgh, which one of my friends has organised. So, I’m doing six dates up here and kind of using that to warm up for the tour. But that’s been great. We’ve been sold out each night.
Q. Where did the idea of the Principles and Deceptions tour come from?
Ali Cook: Principles and Deceptions was actually the name of a book written in the ‘40s by an Australian magician named Arthur Buckley, in which he categorised deception and all its different types. So, the idea of the show is to do a demonstration of every type and style of deception there is. I remember seeing a talk at a shop called Then School of Light where it was suggested that the world functions on a niche… we all think we have to be part of some sort of niche. So, if someone is a magician they are a mind reader, or if they’re a surgeon they are only an eye surgeon, if you get what I mean? We somehow think that works better for us. But if you’re doing a long magic show, it’s actually a bit boring to watch the same thing. I’ve seen mind reading shows where all they do is tell you what you’re thinking for two hours. So, I had this idea: ‘why not do a magic show where you have bits of mind reading, sleight of hand, levitating people, vanishing people?’ We’re doing magic that hasn’t been seen for a long, long time. So, we do vanishing women and things like that. It’s every type and style of magic.
Q. Does that make the show more of a challenge? Is there more that can go wrong during performances from a technical point of view?
Ali Cook: It’s a big show. We have a lot of kit. One of the other problems when you see a lot of touring magicians is that essentially they’re doing close up magic on stage because that is easy to transport around. But as I said we are vanishing a woman, we’re vanishing people’s shoes and levitating people from the audience, so it’s much larger than you would normally see. But we don’t really have many technicals. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now and we sort of honed it in Edinburgh. So, it’s a pretty smooth show now. But you never say never [laughs]!
Q. You also seem incredibly busy with your acting. How are you finding the challenge of balancing magic with acting?
Ali Cook: Well, again it’s one of those things where people tend to think that ‘I’m either this or that’. But I don’t tend to think of it in those terms. I’m more like: “Why not just do the stuff that I’m really into?” And I’m into both magic and acting. There are points where there are clashes. I’ve certainly done TV shows with magic where it might take up a long, long time. So, I tend to just play it by ear really. The show that I’m touring at the moment [Principles and Deceptions] is an existing show. I’ve done four films this year so I’ve not had the ability to write a new show, which is usually what I would try to do. But you take it as it comes. And acting work is very unpredictable work… incredibly so.
Q. But do you feel that your acting profile is being raised with each role that you take now?
Ali Cook: Well, certainly with the acting credits I’ve had in the past year I feel I have gone up a level. I’m now in films that are being distributed by Universal, so it’s beginning to change a bit for me now. But again, I don’t really think about the profile. I always remember reading an interview with Michael Caine and his whole thing was he always used to do as many gigs as he possibly could because he felt that the only way he could get getter was to keep working at it. And that makes a lot of sense. You do it in stand-up comedy and you do the same in magic. The more and more you do, the better you get. I’ve never seen anyone in anything that I do who is any good who doesn’t work hard. To be good at anything in this life, you have to keep working at it.
Q. So, you have Get Lucky as your next film (coming out in August). And you play Kirby. Can you talk a little about the film and your role in it?
Ali Cook: Well, Kirby is sort of an opportunist. He’s a very friendly Yorkshire thief but he is clearly an opportunist and not the brightest spark in the world. But he’s cheeky and friendly so everyone really likes him, even though he doesn’t really know quite the impact he’s having when nicking stuff. He’s the sort of guy that would normally nick £200 from a till but on this occasion he just happens to nick a couple of hundred from the Russian Mafia and that lands him in big trouble. He’s also the best friend of the lead actor, who is played by Luke Treadaway. Luke plays a getaway driver called Lucky and I cajole him into being the driver on the job, after which we pretty much get chased for the rest of the movie because it goes so badly wrong.
Q. Luke is hot property following his Olivier win for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. How was working with him?
Ali Cook: Amazing. He mentioned he was going to be doing that play at the time we were filming. But Luke’s a really nice guy and we got on really well together. But then everyone on the set was really cool. It was a nice friendly environment. And while it may sound like a geezer film, it’s actually more of a heist flick. And I get to do a lot of cool stuff in it because there’s a lot of action. There are car chases. There’s a chase through the Blackwall Tunnel. It’s all things that I’ve not had the chance to do before. Sacha Bennett, the director, was really very, very efficient and knew what he wanted.
Q. You’ve also been working with Noel Clarke…
Ali Cook: I’ve literally just finished with Noel Clarke. The Anomaly is a very exciting film. It’s quite a step up for Noel. Universal have bought the world-wide rights, which is pretty phenomenal for an English independent film. But they’re backing him all the way. He’s re-written the script, he’s producing and directing and acting in it. It’s the first time I’ve met him but he’s incredibly hard working… a real, real grafter. I always find it incredibly impressive when you meet people like that. He’s always first there [on-set] on the day, he knows his lines inside out, he watches all the playbacks and is ready to re-do them if needs be – that takes a lot of thinking about! But The Anomaly is an interesting one. I’m a big sci-fi fan, so the chance to be in a sci-fi film was a great opportunity for me. The lead is Ian Somerhalder, who is in The Vampire Diaries…
Q. Did that mean a lot of screaming girls to contend with on-set whenever he was filming?
Ali Cook: [Laughs] We weren’t even allowed to tell anyone where we were filming because of that! But there are teenage girls all over him all the time. I did my scenes with Noel and a great Scottish actor named Niall Greig Fulton, who was in Cloud Atlas. I also worked alongside Luke Hemsworth, who is another of the Hemsworth brothers. Basically, me and Luke were playing Secret Service agents. The film is set roughly 20 years in the future and we do a series of interrogations of various people throughout the film. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say about the plot but basically there’s nasty scientist who is developing horrible things with DNA and horrible viruses, with a view to them being used as a form of chemical warfare against people. I’m the equivalent of the FBI Agent Smith type character…
Q. Or SHIELD?
Ali Cook: [Laughs] Exactly… that sort of generic type of character. He’s trying to help but he’s hindering a lot of people in the process. I’m basically part of a double act with Luke. He’s the brawn and he goes around water boarding people and playing Russian roulette to get information from them. I’m actually interrogating people in a more manipulative way and when that doesn’t work Luke comes in and does his thing. Again, there are loads of stunts in the film, so that was really good fun. I remember on the first day of shooting I was rolling around on the floor having loads of fights with Noel. It was hilarious. We had to get on with it because we had so much to shoot on a small budget but we were just rolling around the floor, pretending to hit one another. There was one take we did where I got punched in the face by Noel. So, I now know I can take a punch of Noel Clarke. It wasn’t a massive connection. He just clipped me. But we had a good laugh about it at the time.
Q. And then there’s Epic alongside Matthew Macfadyen…
Ali Cook: Epic is interesting. It’s being produced by Film & Music Entertainment (F&ME), which is a different type of production company. In my opinion, it’s one of the most exciting independent producers in Britain. They do incredibly artistic films, such as White Lightnin’, which did really well on the festival circuit a few years ago for its director, Dominic Murphy. I’ve actually got a good relationship with them and have done some writing work with them. I only have a small role in Epic. But Ben Hopkins is making it and he’s a very talented writer, let alone director. What was really amazing to me on that was that I’ve only ever seen Matthew Macfadyen playing Mr Darcy and being the romantic lead in period dramas. But with Epic, he’s playing this washed up film director who gets sent over to a former Russian state (which has been invented for the purpose of the film) because the dictator of this small country wants him to make a film about that country and how he became its dictator. And a comedy of errors ensues. One of the women involved ends up leading a revolution against the dictator, the Russian mafia kidnaps a key worker and won’t release him until they get a starring role in film. But Matthew is hilarious in it. He has amazing comedy timing.
Q. Did you share scenes with him?
Ali Cook: I did. He’s really, really funny. I liken him to Martin Freeman and how he was the everyman surrounded by nutters in The Office. Epic has that tone.
Q. How much do you learn from going toe to toe with co-stars such as Luke Treadaway and Matthew Macfadyen?
Ali Cook: Well, particularly with Matthew, it’s not going to get any better for an English actor. He’s the best of the best really. I guess you just learn by doing it. But it’s great just to be able to do scenes with someone like him. And he was just really good fun to work with and hang out with. We were filming in a DIY shop and this was the most phenomenal DIY shop I’ve ever seen. It was like a giant warehouse, so in between takes we’d be walking about looking at the most amazing drills you can buy and tool-kits that only your father would want for Father’s Day… tools with stag handles and things like that. It was a really fun time.
Q. Reflecting on your own career, especially as a magician, you’ve done some amazing things, such as performing for people like JK Rowling or at Harry Potter premieres. So, what are your own personal career highlights?
Ali Cook: You know, it’s interesting, I’ve performed at all sorts of high profile events, as you say, but the things I enjoy doing the most are the one-man shows in Edinburgh. To an outsider, you would sort of think that doing magic at a premiere was really, really exciting. And it is. But when you do magic at a premiere, you’re only really doing little bits of close-up magic to all the cast and various people. But what I find more exciting is doing my one-man show at the Edinburgh Festival. I did the Houdini water trap escape in Edinburgh in 2010 and it caused a real stir. Word got around and we were sold out within days. It hadn’t been seen in Britain for 20 years, so it was quite something. But I can tell you that being trapped underwater for real on-stage is quite a harrowing experience [laughs].
Q. What goes through your mind when doing something like that?
Ali Cook: It’s actually… you sort of drill it into you much in the same way you would if you were in the Army. You train and train and train and train, so you’re not really thinking at all when it comes to it. The only thing I ever think is that I never want to get water up my nose because if you do, and the lid goes down and it’s then padlocked, you could choke.
Q. I remember talking to Isla Fisher about that trick, which she performs in her new film Now You See Me, and the stunt almost went wrong…
Ali Cook: I’ve not seen that film yet. But I’ve done that trick twice. And I did a version of it on Channel 5 on a show called Monkey Magic where, because we had no money, our friend had made the water tank out of spare bits of glass and the remains of his back garden shed! But what happened was he made the lid out of wood, which is the one thing you shouldn’t do because when wood gets wet, it swells and we couldn’t get the lid off. I was only in there for 30 seconds but it was really harrowing. Obviously, we did get the lid off but I remember being quite scared because this tank was very thin and about 8ft in height. I remember I literally rolled out the top once the lid was off and that was the bit that kind of hurt. I fell out of the tank as it were. But I just wanted to get out. The producer thought it hilarious, though, and said: “Let’s do it again now that you look really nervous.” The thing was, Magic Monkey was loosely based on Jackass really. So, when we did again immediately afterwards it absolutely looked like I was nervous because I was literally sh***ing myself!
Ali Cook’s Principles and Deceptions Tour starts on August 31 and finishes on December 14, 2013. For more information on dates, locations and to book tickets, please go to www.alicook.com
Ali Cook will also star in a hit film, Get Lucky, out in cinemas on August 9, by Universal Pictures. Check out the trailer on www.alicook.com/video/get-lucky-official-trailer-2013