Hong Kong-bound magician Luis de Matos on difference between illusion and magic

I create illusions, but magic only happens when I have the trust of the spectators, says Portuguese illusionist, one of eight who are bringing their mind-boggling show to Hong Kong in April

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 March, 2016, 12:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 March, 2016, 4:00pm

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Having been seen by audiences in more than 200 cities in 25 countries, The Illusionists is finally coming to Hong Kong in April, showcasing the mind-boggling tricks of eight magicians. Leading the pack will be “Master Magician” Luis de Matos, who is one of the most successful entertainers to have come out of Portugal. He talked to SCMP.com ahead of the shows.

Are there any differences between an “illusionist” and a “magician”?

I like to use the words trick, illusion and magic in order to explain what I do. For me these three mean different things. I use tricks like the musician uses instruments. Tricks can be invisible threads, mirrors, special boxes, trap doors and remote controls. Then with those tricks, I create illusions. Something that appears to be flying, but it’s not; something that appears to be cut but it’s not.

And then comes magic, and magic is the most important thing. For me, magic is only possible when we are able to gain the trust of the spectators. Because if I’m rehearsing at home, I’m able to use tricks and create illusions, but magic only happens when I already have the trust of the spectators, when they allow me to challenge their ability to dream, their imagination, that we might be able to achieve – the suspension of disbelief.

And for a moment, the spectators know what I’m doing is not true. I’m a liar, but I’m very honest about it. I say the box is empty, and it’s not empty, but it looks empty. Once the spectators understand how we are going to communicate, we can together go on a ride, and do a wonderful trick and experience the wonder.

Do you consider yourself a magician or an illusionist, then?

I wish I was a magician, but that depends if the audience travels with me through that imaginary ride or not. If i do not succeed to have them joining me, I am just an illusionist. If they join me, and if they have fun and feel all the emotions and give me energy, then I think I’m a magician.

At what age did you become a magician, and how did you get into it?

I started like every kid who has different interests when they are very young. They want to be a fireman, an astronaut, then they want to be a doctor or a magician and then it goes away.

In my case, it didn’t go away. I kept magic as a hobby throughout my entire youth since I was nine. I remember seeing the British magician Paul Daniels on TV and I wanted to be like him. Then I started going to magic conventions, finding books, building my own tricks. It was definitely a hobby that started getting serious. There was one moment I had to decide what I wanted to do, and I chose magic.

What’s your daily routine like?

I have a production company in Portugal. We are a team of nine, we have a library of 5,000 magic books from the 16th century until now; we do a lot of research. We are constantly working on new shows, producing events, designing, building, and trying new illusions. We have our own theatre and TV studio. We always try to look at ourselves as the biggest competition. Sometimes it’s rehearsal, sometimes it’s researching, thinking, testing; there’s a little bit of that in every day.

What has been the greatest trick you’ve ever pulled off or one that you’re most proud of?

It’s very difficult to look back and say that this one was better than the other. There were some moments that were especially interesting, or very important in my career.

Like in 1995, when in Portugal I stopped being “The Magician” and became Luis de Matos. That moment happened when I did the lottery prediction. I was on the cover of all newspapers seven days in a row, and on major TV shows. It was an amazing illusion. But, of course, is that a trick that I like more than what I’m going to perform? No, not really. I usually say my most amazing creation is always the one I’m able to do tomorrow. I’m always looking for the next more original, more evolving, [illusion] and that is something you never achieve, so the best thing is always what you’ll do next.

Tricks go wrong more or less every time
Luis de Matos

Can you tell us about a time when a trick went wrong?

Tricks go wrong more or less every time. Not in an obvious way that the audience can see it. The conditions, the audience, the choices are different. So one thing is to practise, or rehearse or plan how things are going to go, and a completely different thing is when you are actually on stage performing it. With experience and a little bit of knowledge, you can develop the expertise of being able to adapt and go with the flow in order to still create some specific illusions. No, never a disaster, but is it different from what I expect? Yes, it’s always different.

Lastly, would you be able to perform a magic trick here for me?

Sorry, no. Let me explain why, I take magic very seriously, and I never do it impromptu. Just like you wouldn’t ask a ballet or dancer to perform on the spot. Magic is also a lot more than the tricks, it’s about the ambience, the scenery, and the music.

The Illusionists, April 14-24, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, 7.45pm; April 16 and 17, also at 2pm. Tickets: HK$445 to HK$995. Urbtix, 2111 5999.