An Interview with Derren Brown
He’s the acknowledged master of psychological illusion – and Derren Brown has a new show, ‘Svengali’…
Derren, you’re back on the road with Svengali. Are you looking forward to it?
Ah, hugely. Touring is the highlight of my year. And it’s a fun show. Slightly lighter in tone, perhaps, than previous ones.
Will it be exactly the same show?
We’ll be looking at making a few changes and improvements – we always do – but certainly it’ll be largely the same.
What remains the biggest challenge for you regards the show?
The writing of it, building it up from a set of ideas to a great night out. Once it’s on the road it’s then just a delight to do.
What is the driving force behind you wanting to go on tour every year?
I enjoy the TV, but there’s nothing like doing a live show every night, constantly finding ways of improving it, and of course having the immediate feedback of an audience. Plus without it it would be easy for people to think it’s the kind of stuff that only works on TV. I’d actually go as far as to say it’s better to see on stage.
Audience participation is a vital part of the show. What challenges does this present?
Every possible problem or unexpected behaviour will occur. But equally, funny moments will occur spontaneously which I then make sure stay in for the following night and beyond.
“I am aiming to do a show in New York City”
You recently enjoyed great success with your latest TV series ‘The Experiments’. What was the inspiration behind the series?
Each experiment had its own inspiration. A dislike of talent-show audience behaviour – which is why the Gameshow was in that format – a fascination with the story of Bobby Kennedy’s assassin, the manipulative use of guilt, or what it means to be lucky. Plus it was huge fun to ask ‘What would happen if…’ and then set up elaborate ways of finding out.
Personally, which programme gave you most satisfaction?
I think that The Guilt Trip was the most extraordinary journey to actually film.
Are there any plans for further TV shows in 2012?
Of course. I’ll be working on them during the tour.
There’s talk of you going to Broadway. Is this likely to happen? And what about other countries, like Australia, where you’re extremely popular. Have you considered doing a worldwide tour?
Yes, I am aiming to do a show in New York City at the end of 2012. We’re working on it at the moment. Australia would be a dream. I nearly had a tour there a few years ago, but time is always the problem. Hopefully there’ll be more time for such adventures in the future: for now the TV and touring take up all the time I have.
Talking of finding the time…is there another book in the pipeline?
Yes, I’ll probably be doing that while touring too.
What are your literary influences?
I rarely get to read fiction – though I’ve voraciously read Proust, Borges, Nicholson Baker, Alain de Botton, all of which enjoy lengthy and pedantic meanders around ideas and probably were swimming around rather grandly in the back of my mind.
When are you planning on taking a break?
I actually got a little break at the end of 2011. I don’t think I’ll get much of one in 2012 though as we’re hopefully off to Broadway at the end of the year with some kind of show for the American ladies and gentlemen.
“I once had a pet stone called Auberge”
Finally, tell us ten facts about you that we don’t already know…
I don’t ‘do’ peanut butter, mushrooms, blue cheese or sweets. My Saturday jobs as a student included fitting grooms up for suits, buying/selling antique jewellery, and working in a balloon shop. I would walk home from the balloon shop with a big bunch of helium balloons and give them to the first person who smiled at them. I don’t watch TV. I’ve maybe seen two of my own shows go out over the 10 years I’ve been grooming you through your tellybox. I once had a pet stone called Auberge. As in ‘Auberge de jeunesse’, the French for ‘Youth Hostel’. I’ve no idea why.
I shave my beard off when I go to theme parks. I didn’t see The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi until I was thirty-eight. Neither can I drive, play football without crying, or successfully use a PS3 controller. I have been unofficially asked by Marvel to audition for the role of Dr Strange if and when they make the film. I think I’m going deaf in my right ear. Apparently due to the pyros that went off every night in my first tour. That seems to be it. I can’t think of ten interesting things about myself!