A Chat with an Illusionist

Max Darwin brings his tricks to the TV show Brain Games

Jan 20, 2014 | By TFK Kid Reporter Grace Clark
COURTESY CLARK FAMILY

TFK Kid Reporter Grace Clark and illusionist Max Darwin wave at the camera during Darwin’s break from filming an episode of the NatGeo series Brain Games.

Humans are a very evolved species. We can do many things. But can we levitate? Astronauts levitate in space—in the absence of gravity—but how about on Earth, in a real-world setting? I attended a taping of the Emmy-nominated TV show Brain Games, whose second season airs now on the National Geographic channel, to find out more.

Brain Games mixes science with the fun of magic tricks and illusions. The show allows us to see and learn about how our brain works. Jerry Kolber is an executive producer on the show. He says the concept for the show came from the idea that our brains are what filter our reality.

Illusionist Max Darwin recently joined the Brain Games crew for an episode about trust, which will air January 20 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NatGeo. Darwin can make things disappear, float, and more.

Darwin uses the power of illusion to “levitate” Grace.
COURTESY ERIN MEEGAN
Darwin uses the power of illusion to “levitate” Grace.

During a break from taping in Central Park, in New York City, I was lucky to become part of Darwin's illusion as he levitated me into thin air! “Everything is possible if you trust!” he says. Read on for more from our conversation.

TFK:

What sparked your interest in magic?

DARWIN:

I grew up in Washington, D.C. When I was a little kid, my dad would push me in my stroller to Alʼs Magic Shop, a very cool old store. When you walk in, they show you magic tricks. Every time [the owner, Al] showed me one, I got more excited and interested in magic. I would always leave the store with a $1 magic trick. Eventually, I had a whole pile filed with little tricks that I would perform for my family and my friends. I have been hooked ever since.

TFK:

What is the first trick you ever did?

DARWIN:

The first trick I ever did was more of a joke. I had a fake nickel that squirted water. And I had a set that I got for my birthday one year that had lots of little tricks.

TFK:

Who do you find it easier to trick: children or adults?

DARWIN:

Definitely adults! Adults think they know everything, and so it is easy to pull a trick on them. Kids use their imaginations and think out of the box. Sometimes they figure it out.

TFK:

Has anyone ever not been fooled in one of your tricks?

DARWIN:

Sometimes I do tricks that I want you to figure out on purpose so that I can then do another trick that really fools them. I also teach kids all over New York City how to do magic. I have a DVD that teaches people how to do magic tricks. Sometimes, it is nice to give away a magic trick and let somebody figure it out.

TFK:

What makes a good magician?

DARWIN:

Three things. First, you have to love magic. Two, you have to love performing. And three, you have to have a sense of wonder.

TFK:

How do you think of cool and new tricks?

DARWIN:

I take inspiration for tricks from lots of things that are not magical. Sometimes, I will listen to a piece of music or see something in nature [that inspires] a trick. For example, I have a whole new trick about Taylor Swift. I just was listening to some songs and I had a great idea. I gain ideas from my life.

TFK:

Why did you want to work with Brain Games?

DARWIN:

I wanted to work with Brain Games for many reason. Itʼs a really fun show. Magic and science are related, and magic only works when someone sees it. If you are in your room all by yourself doing magic tricks, it is hard to fool yourself. But, if others are watching it and you see their eyes and brain trying to comprehend it, then it is a chemical reaction. Your brain thinks something is supposed to happen but science and physics have been defied.

TFK:

Can you give me a sneak peek or hints as to what we are going to see on Brain Games?

DARWIN:

All I can tell you is that we will be defying the laws of gravity. We will be reading peoples’ minds. We will also be toying with their brains and making objects appear out of thin air. Definitely be on the look out for magical surprises that defy your brains perceived realities!