Interview: Luis de Matos – The Illutionists


A television star in Portugal for more than 20 years and a man loaded with professional accolades, Luis de Matos has done it all throughout his career. As the jaw dropping new show The Illusionists plays in Hong Kong, Douglas Parkes talks to the star conjurer to hear what inspires his tricks and what special things are in store for Hong Kong audiences

Born in Mozambique, Luis de Matos became interested in magic as a nine-year-old. Almost 13 years later, he secured his first TV show – the first of many – titled Isto é Magia! (This is Magic!). All this was contrary to his parents’ wishes, who insisted throughout his childhood that he put aside his interest in magic and focus on a ‘real’ career. Dutifully, de Matos went to college to begin work on an agricultural technical engineering degree. Perhaps it was the uninspiring subject matter, but two years into his study, he made the fateful decision that he’d rather put magic first.

The risk paid off. In 1999, seven years after Isto é Magia!, the Academy of Magical Arts named him Magician of the Year, an award that put him in the same category as the likes of David Copperfield, Paul Daniels, David Blaine and Penn & Teller. A member of the Magic Circle, de Matos is the youngest member to be honoured with The David Devant Award, in recognition of his significant contributions to furthering magic in the media.

Still enthralled with magic to this day, de Matos’ irrepressible enthusiasm shines through down the telephone wires as we speak to him ahead of new showThe Illusionists’ debut in Hong Kong. We begin by finding out how he got started…

What was it that made you interested in magic as a child?
I think it was the range. It could be fun; it could be up close or there could be huge stunts, and it was absolutely complete. It was about the fact that nothing is not important. That it’s not just about the tricks, but it’s about the occasion and the pleasure of being entertained, too.

And I think for many magicians, magic is something that helps shy kids communicate and to be admired by their peers. Even a little trick properly performed creates a sense of, “Oh! How did you do that? Hey, come and see this!” So it’s something that helps all of us shy kids.

What do you enjoy most about magic?
Above all, what really fascinates me about magic is that often with other art forms you must use your imagination. Like when you read a book, you need to imagine the tale by yourself. With magic, no, because magic happens live, in front of your eyes. It’s real. And it’s such a sense of wonder that is impossible to feel in any other form. It’s amazing how the only thing you need to enjoy magic fully is that you be present and that you be ready to be astonished.

The best part is definitely the change of face that you see in the audience. They often start with a sceptical face, trying to see through the trick. Suddenly, [after the magic] they lose all of that and they start enjoying themselves. To see those smiles, to see those eyes shining and the other person next to them saying, “Hey, did you see that? Look, isn’t that amazing?”

So what’s the worst part of the job then?
The most difficult part is always trying to beat yourself, always trying to be better than yesterday. It’s the hardest part about this job and other art forms. No excellence comes without commitment, hard work, dedication and, yes, a little bit of talent. But mainly, commitment and wanting to excel. Magic allows you to excel in a really amazing way, to create things that were not there before, and to put it out there for people to enjoy.

How do you come up with a concept for a new illusion?

My aim is to make what people dream about happen. That’s one way to go. I also like to look at the outside world, to see if there’s an established impossibility I can challenge. If you can do something that questions those impossibilities, immediately the sense of wonder is going to be triggered and your mission is accomplished. When I was still in university I created an illusion called The Great Mirror. It’s a big mirror set on stage; the audience comes up to check that it’s real glass and then I walk through the mirror. People know that the mirror is made of glass; people know it’s impossible to go through the mirror; but by doing it I can mess with those certainties. I can go and question them by making the impossible possible.

What kind of preparation is required for each show?
It depends on what you’re performing. The illusion that I’ll be performing in Hong Kong requires two-and-a-half-hours of preparation – and that’s for a moment on stage that will last for 10 seconds. The safety, the little details, checking all the angles, must always be taken care of in the most dedicated and professional way. That’s why it takes me so long. The preparation is quite intense. Sometimes when I do my full evening show, just me, without anyone else, that takes 10 hours of preparation.

That’s 10 hours just for your illusions?
Yes, I have to prepare all the little elements – the artifacts, the lighting, sound, staging, maintenance, resetting everything. It’s very, very complicated. It’s not like a capella where you can just walk on stage, sing and walk off. Or standup comedy where you ask them to put up a microphone. It’s much more detailed.

Do you have a favorite trick?
Nope, I really don’t have a favorite trick. Literally my favorite trick right now is the one I’m working on. But the kind of magic I like the most, nowadays, that’s interactive magic. In theatre, I’m known for making the magic happen in people’s hands. For instance, when people come to my show, at the door they get a little envelope or a box or a bag with something inside and then during the show, there’s a moment when something special happens. It’s a case of not just seeing the magic, but being the magic. Not just seeing it on stage, but actually feeling it in your hands. That’s one of the things that I’ve been experimenting with for the last 17 years. The one I’m going to do in Hong Kong uses mini posters. The audience will be given an envelope with four mini posters and at a given moment of the show, the magic will be happening not on stage but in their own hands.

Can you give us a hint what will happen to these posters?
Basically, people are going to mix a series of simple instructions with a lot of random decisions that they will take by themselves. They will rip the posters in half, they will shuffle them, swap them among the audience, they will throw them in the air – then they will see something absolutely amazing in the end, which I prefer not to say. It’s a moment that has been seen around the world that has really changed the game. Everyone is designed to be a part of the show, so come experience it in full and you will not regret it.

The Illusionists
Apr 14-24, 2016, Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Tsim Sha Tsui. Tickets: $445-$995;


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