John Byrne talks to director Louis Leterrier about his new movie, Now You See Me.

French director Louis Leterrier’s been the main man behind a couple of blockbusters in the shape of The Incredible Hulk (2008) and the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans – which generated box office worth around three-quarters of a billion dollars between them – but this time around he’s gone for a different genre: the caper movie.

With an all-star cast that includes Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mélanie Laurent, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, Now You See Me is a fun tale about four magicians/mentalists who use their skills to rob banks.

Now You See Me is expected to be a big summer hit and is in cinemas now. We caught up with Leterrier on the phone from his offices in Los Angeles.

John Byrne: That’s some cast you assembled for Now You See Me. Was it a nightmare to direct?

Louis Leterrier: It was fun. Better cast; good people. Especially in movies when you have so much logistics you never have enough time to shoot these movies, so you better have people who can deliver on take one.

And frankly, the bigger the actor – in this case – the less ego they have. So there was none of that ‘I come out of my trailer when this guy comes out of his trailer’ - you’ve heard the nightmare stories. But everyone on set was super happy, no one was late - it was a tremendous pleasure to work with them. It was so much fun to shoot with everybody.

Did you have all these actors in mind from Day One or did the cast evolve over a period of time?

It did evolve, but actually I was lucky to have most of the people I wanted at first to accept being in the movie. I knew Mark Ruffalo and, everybody was just waiting to see who else was going to be in the movie. It’s very different to be in a movie with Jesse Eisenberg than, say, with The Rock.

But I wanted to balance the cast and I was lucky to have two people who believed in the movie right away, and they were two people I really wanted to deal with, and they were Mark Ruffalo and Jesse Eisenberg. Right away they were, like, ‘This script is fun, tons of fun, I can see myself in that, I want to work with you, let’s go'.

So, how long did it take to get the rest of the gang on board?

They [Ruffalo and Eisenberg] were very gracious as it took a year to put the rest of the cast together. I was calling them every two months, saying ‘Sorry, I’ve a very strong feeling I’ll be able to cast this person’. And they were like, ‘Don’t worry about it. Keep on going’. After six months of not hearing from me I rang them up and said: ‘Guys. We have the whole cast.’ And they were like: ‘Wow. We’re still in’.

The key moments in the film are when the four are performing on stage in Las Vegas, in New Orleans and New York. It all looks spectacular. Was it difficult setting up these sequences and did you film them live?

Very much so. You have to do a lot of the tricks live; there are big, long takes; you don’t chop it up so it feels like a show. If you’ve performed yourself you know there’s a ramp-up to a show. Or filming the audience’s interaction, you cannot just stop-and-start, stop-and-start. I was doing longer takes just to help the cast.

But also, they were very smart about it and very kind because they never left the stage. And we always had a lot of extras, and they stayed in the zone. They kept the energy going for, like, 12 hours a day. And that’s pretty demanding.

It sounds extremely demanding . . .

Every show took four days, five days, to shoot. But 12 hours for five days just performing, that is true dedication to the movie. And they [the cast] really helped me because I was using big wide shots and if you have one of them and they’re looking bored it won’t work. But even if they had no lines for five minutes they were in the zone, doing stuff, interacting. And it really helped me as I had several cameras, and it really grabbed stuff left and right.

We did this, and it was amazing: we went through thousands and thousands of hours of footage, of great stuff. We could’ve done six edits of this movie that would’ve each been so exciting and so different.

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