For master illusionist David Blaine, the last five years have been a grueling adventure, traveling the world and filming performances for his latest ABC special, David Blaine: Real or Magic (Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 9:30/8:30c). "My whole team has been put through the grinder and back," says Blaine, 40. "We tried really hard to make it look different from any other special you've seen."
TV Guide Magazine: Is there any special significance to the title?
David Blaine: Most people think the greatest thing a magician can do is to convince the world that the impossible is real. But when the magic is real, yet seems impossible, that's actually the greatest trick of all.
TV Guide Magazine: How did you choose the celebrities you perform for? It's an eclectic group: Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, Stephen Hawking, Kanye West...
Blaine: I went after all my favorite people. For Stephen Hawking, I asked if I went and did a speech at Cambridge if there was any way I could perform for him and film it for my next TV show. And even though he wasn't feeling so well, he actually agreed.
TV Guide Magazine: Are you a physics nerd?
Blaine: Oh yeah. I mean, as a magician, you're a nerd, but math, science, you need it all. It was amazing. I started doing magic and all of a sudden his face lit up, so it was very emotional. The show wasn't really about making a show, it was more like an incredible experience, learning and experimenting and trying new things. I had stopped doing television because I wasn't inspired. But then Breaking Bad came on, and that structure made me feel like you can do very experimental, cool, edgy, dark things on television. It was like a light went on. I watched all five seasons in 10 days.
TV Guide Magazine: Where else did you go for this?
Blaine: I was in China with President Bush, before we started really shooting, and we basically just improvisationally put a camera up at the last second, and the footage was so good I asked his Secret Service team if we could use it on the show because it was one of my favorite clips, and they were okay with that.
TV Guide Magazine: In one stunt you shove an ice pick through your hand. How long did that take to perfect?
Blaine: Oh, that took me about 13 years. There was a lot of trial and error. It started with acupuncture needles. Well, actually, it started with a lot of MRIs and X-rays, mapping out everything in the hand. There are a lot of tendons and nerves in there.
TV Guide Magazine: So what's next?
Blaine: After this I'm going to mount my tour, hopefully. That's been the one thing I've been reluctant to embark on, because that's a lot of commitment and work, to put a tour together. But I feel like I'm ready to finally do it. I have the ideas, I feel like I could be interesting on a stage, so that's the next.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you just wander around doing magic?
Blaine: [Laughs] I have a deck of cards in my pocket every day. A day doesn't go by that I don't perform magic to people that just stop me or at random.
TV Guide Magazine: Do people really stop you in the street and say, "Perform for me"?
Blaine: Yeah! And when I'm not late for something, I do. Number one, it's always good to keep practicing, and number two, even though I keep it deadpan when I do magic, I live through people's reactions. Even though I don't react to them reacting — because that would ruin their reactions — I'm kind of feeding off of that. It's always fun for me to do magic for people.