Small Screen: Art of Deception depends on Cutmore-Scott

LOS ANGELES — Members of the team behind the new ABC police procedural, Deception are calling the show “Magician: Impossible.” That’s because at the heart of the show will be superstar magician Cameron Black (Jack Cutmore-Scott) whose career has been ruined by scandal. That’s when he decides the only place suitable for a guy to practise his art of deception, influence and illusion is with the FBI.

He uses his magical skills to help the government catch the world’s most elusive criminals while staging the biggest illusions of his career. Executive producer Chris Fedak rejects the idea this is a show about magic crimes.

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“You have how you capture bad guys. Sometimes, you get them doing a mistake. You catch them doing something. But, in this show, the fun of it is using illusion, using deception,” Fedak said. “What if we take the whole thing and flip it on its head? Because the fun of this show, too, is it’s not a straight-up action show. We are not always going to capture the bad guy by using guns and chasing them down. We are going to have to deceive them.

“We are going to have to be smart, and that’s where illusion comes into it. So there’s no specific magic crime. It’s like every crime in this show, we can deal with any type of crime, and that’s also great because it’s the FBI. They go after everybody. They go after killers, they go after mobsters, they go after drug dealers, and they go after spies, and that really opens up the opportunities for so many genres for us to have fun with.”

The guy who is going to have to make all the illusions look as real as possible is Cutmore-Scott. The British actor, who was most recently was seen in the Christopher Nolan feature Dunkirk, and in the independent feature film Bad Match, made his motion picture debut in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. His television credits include the Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life.

He’s got a lot of stage credits but nothing where he would have sawed a woman in half or made the Empire State Building disappear. In high school, a good friend was a talented magician and often Cutmore-Scott would be the test subject for a new illusion. He picked up a few things but not enough to make it look like his Deception character could go trick-to-trick with a David Copperfield or David Blaine. That part of his job has been a work in progress.

Cutmore-Scott said: “It’s been a very steep learning curve over the last nine months. I have David Kwong to thank for most of the day to day, as well as another magician, Francis Menotti, who works with us day to day. It definitely is an ongoing thing. I’m trying to stay a little bit ahead of each episode and find out what’s coming up in order to have a week or two of practice.

“It’s a lot of work, and it’s really given me an insight into just how much work these guys do to do it for real. I would never feel comfortable doing it live on stage with just the one take, but so far, I felt like I’ve been able to get to a comfort level for each episode where I at least feel prepared enough to have a go at it, and by take 23, 24, I’ve pretty much got it down.”

The producer praise the actor because if Deception is going to work, it has to look like Cutmore-Scott is performing each trick and that it doesn’t come across as a bit of editing magic. That’s the primary task of Kwong who was the head consultant for the magic-filled feature films Now You See Me. In his spare time, Kwong is a New York Times crossword puzzle constructor.

Kwong’s convinced he and his partner, Menotti, got lucky with the casting of Cutmore-Scott.

“We make magic easier for actors to do. We’ll rig things up. We’ll be crouching beneath the camera. We’ll be hiding underneath the table, pulling a string, but we were fortunate enough that Jack is actually very talented with sleight of hand,” Kwong said. “He kind of messed around with it as a teenager, and he’s picked it up really, really easily.

“But then there are times where we also do the magic of television, and we are just crouched out of frame and dropping something down to hit him. It’s really fun to see those behind the scene videos of how it all works.”

And that peek behind the curtain has been a concern for cast and crew. To help the FBI, Black will either have to stage an illusion and show the audience how it’s done or reveal how an illusion was used by the bad guys. Either way, it gets into the very serious world of exposing magic secrets.

Fedak stresses ripping back the curtain will not be part of the show.

“We are not going to give away the magic. Magic by its very nature is at the heart of the show and since we love it, we’re not going to give away anything that kind of destroys magic or reveals too much,” Fedak said.
“The way we work on the show, even from the script and story level, is that we go to our magicians. We go to David. We go to Francis, and we talk about what we are comfortable showing, because there’s one thing that the audience we found that the audience loves, is that they want to be inside the trick.

“They want to be on the other side of the curtain. But, they don’t want to know everything. They don’t want to have magic ruined for them.”

The cast also includes Ilfenesh Hadera as Kay Daniels, Lenora Crichlow as Dina Clark, Amaury Nolasco as FBI Agent Mike Alvarez, Justin Chon as Jordan Monroe, Laila Robins as FBI Agent Deakins and Vinnie Jones as Gunter Gastafsen.

Deception airs on Sundays.

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