Louis Leterrier is just a flat-out fun filmmaker. Unleashed, Transporter 2 and The Incredible Hulk all contain standout action sequences. Even his Clash of the Titans remake boasts some pretty great spectacle; it was just unfortunate that a studio's after-the-fact decision turned it into a poster child for ruinous 3D conversions. Earlier this summer he got to sink his teeth into something he hasn't done since his breakout film: an original script.
The result is Now You See Me, a very entertaining heist movie about magicians who band together to pull off an increasingly bold series of bank robberies. The film sports a great ensemble (Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine), and plenty of clever twists and turns. It's the kind of movie that's just plain fun to watch unfold, and that's why we certainly recommend you check it out when it hits digital download on August 30, or when it hits store shelves on September 3. And if you pick up the Blu-ray, you'll also be able to see an extended edition of the movie.
This gave us the chance to hop on the phone with Leterrier, who explained why this extended edition is the one he thinks everyone should see (it's not only longer, but also features quite a few changes to existing scenes), but also geeks out over the time he was a production assistant on the set of Alien: Resurrection. Oh, and if you're excited about Now You See Me 2, Leterrier also shares some tentative updates about where that film is at, as well as his mysterious sci-fi film G.
Movies.com: How do you walk the line between misleading the audience and mimicking the film equivalent of a stage illusion?
Leterrier: From its conception it was not a movie with just some magic tricks in it, it was more of a movie conceived as a magic show. The tricks actually work on many levels. The first, initial, optical level of "How did they do that?" to the more complex, hard-to-set-up ideas. We were very conscious of paying attention to tipping our hand and giving out details. It was a very intellectual approach to magic, and the screenplay already had that. When I came on, I wanted to make sure we'd do magic that translates into the film language.
That's the biggest challenge when you make a movie about magic. The so called movie magic – the effects and the visuals and even the editing – breaks the concept of magic. Magic is powerful when it's live in front of your eyes when you don't understand how it's done. But nowadays everyone knows how it's done. Everybody knows how visual effects are done and movie magic is done. So you can only do so much of that before it breaks the magic. So we tried to do simple things. The movie starts with the seven of diamonds force trick, which is a very known trick, but the translation onto film is very different than what you would do in real life.
I came in with an almost scientific approach to figure out how to give an almost identical reaction to audiences sitting in a cinema, or now at home. It's a 180-, or even 90-degree, depending on how you see it, relationship with the screen, so there's a translation you have to do on top of adding character and magic beats. I was very, very cautious of this, having seen a lot of movies about magic and a lot of long-con film movies. The best tricks are the ones where the audience is involved, where you feel completely part of the trick as an audience and you sort of try to guess and figure things out at the end.
Movies.com: Did you cast actors like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, whose mere presence comes with certain implications, almost as a piece of misdirection? Was their star power part of the plan?
Leterrier: Yes, on two levels. Not only was it that, but it was also just to go against type. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are two of the nicest guys you will ever meet, and so to cast them as the "villains," even though there's more shades of grey to them than that, gives me at least bigger latitude to play with the audience. To not go for your typical bad guy, to go for, "Who are they? Are they good?" That is part of the whole misdirect of the movie, which is, "Who is the fifth horseman?" It could be anyone, and casting not only them, but pretty much everybody against type made it very joyful and enjoyable for me to direct, but also for the audience. It isn't what you're expecting from this cast.
Movies.com: Is the extended cut your director's cut or just a longer cut?
Leterrier: You get to know more of the characters. There's a little more action, but it's really more character beats and more magic. I love these characters, but obviously you don't want to do a two-and-a-half hour movie, so we had to cut and replace things. It's nine minutes longer, but in fact it's 16-minutes [of changes] because I placed some scenes differently for this version so they'd go deeper into the interaction of the characters, their histories, and what the Eye is. This idea of a secret club of magicians that is behind it all. It goes a little bit deeper into it, but you also get a little bit more action, a little bit more everything. If you like these characters, this is the cut to watch. If you don't, if you just want the action, just watch the trailer.
Movies.com: Was this a movie you had to test-screen quite a few times to play with the edit and see how certain tricks we're playing, or how much info was too much info?
Leterrier: It's funny, we only tested it once. I don't know if you know the thing, but you get scores, and we scored across all four boxes; older women, young women, older men, young men. Across the board we scored almost 90% excellent, so it was like, "Don't touch it!" We tweaked what we needed to, but we didn't want to mess it up, so we tested only once. We did frequently watch it, and the long cut, with the studio along the way. So we did work it, but the structure was always the same. We didn't lose stuff or gain stuff or reshoot stuff, we just tweaked things just to try stuff because these productions tend to go so fast. We'd do a version where you don't introduce all of the characters. It was really about the beginning. "How does the movie begin? Do we need longer intros? Shorter? Do we need intros at all?" But once we figured that out, the cut didn't really move for a year or so. It was almost exactly the way it was written and shot.
Movies.com: You were a production assistant on Alien: Resurrection. Any favorite stories from the set of that?
Leterrier: It was fun! I started as a PA and then one day they were using an offline editing system, this thing called Media 100, and one day it broke and everything froze. The whole shoot stopped because the director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, needed it for previs and to match shots and stuff like that, so it really threw a wrench in the whole system. It was like the army. During lunch someone was shouting, "Who can operate this thing?" And I didn't know if I should raise my hand or not, but I did and I said, "Yeah, I can."
So I did fix it and I quickly became... the director, who was French, went "Oh, you're French? Good, stay with me" and I became his sort of on-set video guy, and that was pretty cool. Then in postproduction I took care of the optical visual effects, so I got to call NASA and get some plates for the visuals of when they get to Earth, so that was really cool. It was a great experience.
My favorite thing about being a PA is that you're the first and last on set, so I was left alone on set at night in this spaceship with the aliens, who were just left out on stands. So I was in this ship with these alien creatures. It was pretty cool, but I freaked myself out a couple times. It was also a long shoot. When you do a big, long shoot, you try not to do it over the Christmas break, but this one started in December and finished some time in April, and I remember we spent Christmas doing the underwater sequence.
It was great, because me coming from France, which is freezing cold, to L.A. for the first time and spending Christmas swimming around in a pool was just fun. Also, over the Christmas break, the visual effects director, this guy called Pitof who eventually directed Catwoman, stayed behind and we were shooting second unit stuff, like the two aliens eating the third one and stuff like that. It was a very small crew, like only 10 people, so it became very fun. It's not always great to be a PA, you're usually stuck in traffic and you don't get to see how they make the movie, but I got very lucky on that one.
Movies.com: Are there any updates on G?
Leterrier: Yeah, it's moving along. There's a great script, and Universal is looking into when we're doing it if we're doing it. If I get to do it, it's going to be a very different movie; very different from anything we've seen before. It's grounded with great, human characters, and it's a great "What if?" storyline and start of the movie. I love a great, big "What if?" movie.
Movies.com: Can you share what the "What if?" is?
Leterrier: Oh, no I can't. That's part of the fun! But don't worry, the trailers will tell everything, as usual. But when you do a "What if?" movie, you want to keep the secret as long as you can.
[Note: Before the interview started, we were sharing our love for The Incredible Hulk, which is when Leterrier mentioned "You know that's a special one, because every time I bump into the Marvel guys – and I saw them just last week – it feels like we never left each other."]
Movies.com: What are you working on next? Was your meeting with the Marvel guys just a bump-in with each other or an actual meeting?
Leterrier: No, that was just a bump-in at the premiere of Edgar Wright's The World's End. I'd love to do something with them again, but that's not in my future. What's next, and it's not the immediate future, but we're writing Now You See Me 2, which hopefully people would like to see me on again.
Movies.com: Will you direct it?
Leterrier: I think I will, but it just depends on my schedule and everything. We all had so much fun on the first one, but right now I'm just involved with the writing and coming up with the ideas for the second one. If I don't direct it, I will produce it, and be deeply involved. So that's that. And G, and some other stuff. I'm a lucky guy. It was a very enjoyable summer just to see how our little movie performed in the box office here and everywhere. It was incredible and I've been very, very happy.
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