Hampshire magician who taught Tom Cruise for Mission Impossible brings his new show Jadoo to Portsmouth
and live on Freeview channel 276
So they called on the Hampshire-born magician Ben Hart to teach Cruise how to do it.
"It was a pretty crazy experience,” recalls Ben. “It was a very flattering thing, I am sure they could have chosen anyone – why they chose me I don't really know. But I have quite a good eye for detail and they had spoken to some people in the movie industry who had said if you want someone with an eye for detail, maybe ask Ben.
“I got this call early one morning, about 6am, saying: ‘Can you come onto the set of Mission Impossible today?’ But it was during Covid, so I had to go and have a rapid Covid test, then wait in a van until I'd passed, and then go on set and speak to Tom Cruise.
"It ended up being about six weeks of work spread over a period of about three months. I spent quite a lot of time on set, but it's probably only about 20 seconds of screen time. But they have an eye for detail and are very committed to doing things in camera, without camera tricks, and if Tom's going to do something, he's going to do it properly. So we did back-to-basics, sleight of hand lessons, all the way to what you see on camera.”
And was he a good student? “He was very focused, very dedicated, very driven. Scarily driven. You end up thinking: there's a reason why you're Hollywood's most famous actor, because you're much more driven than anyone else!”
Ben, who grew up in Winchester, is currently on tour with his latest show, Jadoo, which is coming to New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth later this month.
You may have seen Ben starring in numerous UK and International TV series, including his own BBC Three online series Life Hacks Hoax. He was the writer and star of Killer Magic, a hit BBC Three show, which was awarded Best Non-Competitive Reality Show at the 2014 National Reality Television Awards. Ben has also performed on the hit BBC One show Now You See It.
At the age of 16, Ben won the Magic Circle’s Young Magician of the Year. Since then, his show The Nutshell was a sell-out in Edinburgh in 2018 and 2019. in 2019 he made it to the final of Britain’s Got Talent, ultimately coming third. His 2022 Edinburgh Fringe show Wonder also received rave reviews and stunned audiences. His theatre clients include The Old Vic, The Royal Shakespeare Company and Mischief Theatre.
For his latest show, Ben drew on his heritage.
“Jadoo is the Hindi word for magic – a travelling street magician in India is called a jadoo-wallah, and I thought, that's not a bad title! That's got a bit of curiosity going on about it, it's better than 'A night of magic...' or whatever, so I thought I'd take it as the title.
"I kind of got into magic because I heard my grandparents – my dad was born in India, his parents were from India – tell these stories of jadoo-wallahs since I was a little kid. It was a huge factor in me becoming a magician myself, and after making a lot of shows over the years I wanted to do a show that was kind of about that, about history and these stories that you're told could become your reality. And all these years later I travel the world as a magician – a jadoo-wallah myself.”
His father’s family moved to the UK in the 1950s, but it was only earlier this year that Ben decided to go back there to look more into the world of the jadoo-wallah.
“I think a lot of people go to India to discover themselves, don't they? It is the cliché – and I did the cliché thing! Earlier this year I went to India to try and connect with the Indian style of street magic, which is very earthy and organic and rooted in nature, whereas magic here is almost always glitzy and ‘Vegas’ and all of that, which over the years has become repellent to me.
“I had this great discovery of how magic could be presented in way that's – dare I say it – honest. By stripping out some of the glitz and cheesiness you could actually end up with something that feels very real.”
Ben watched the street performers, but didn’t try to intervene.
“I watched some street magic and I stayed a kind of secret observer because there isn't much of a culture of sharing secrets – in India they're passed down from master to student or father to son and they don't really leave those magical circles. I was there to see what I can add into my own work to create a fusion style of magic. It was amazing for me because I've ended up, I think, with a very powerful, baffling, funny show because I just came from it from a different place with different inspirations.
“Most people don't know about different styles of magic. As my profile's built over the years I've tried to be a communicator of magic in all sorts of different ways, and I think it's totally fine for me to talk to an audience a little bit about style, in the way that if you went to see a musician they might say: 'This was originally a country and western song, but I'm doing it as a pop song’, or whatever, and that might be interesting to know.
“So sometimes I will tell the audience, this is a magic trick that was invented over a thousand years ago, but still seems relevant and baffling. It's nice to talk a little bit about where the ideas come from.”
Did the street magicians ever leave him scratching his head at how it was done?
“Unfortunately I don't get fooled any more. But I see things, and I can see experience – that's the thing I value, when you see how someone's made the choices based on how they've been doing it for decades, or how their master, or their master was doing it for decades, and it's like some cycle or evolution of the magic over literally centuries.
“You can see that sometimes if you someone do something really expertly. In other artforms anyone might be able to see that – like we can all see that the rock band came from this place in this year, but you don't necessarily see that in magic. Now I'm at the point where I can sort of see that."
Ben has taken what these street magicians do and turned it into a high-concept, high production value show.
“Because I perform such a full evening show, the mechanics that are behind the magic tricks, I need to keep it all as diverse and different as possible. It's by that ducking and diving, secretly, that I can continue to fool the audience.
“But I'm always trying to learn. The way that I stay relevant and that the work stays good is because I constantly trying to learn from different areas. There was so much for me to learn about watching it being performed in the street on the dusty ground, with the audience surrounding the magician, with simple props – often household items – these magicians are not wealthy. And there was a lot of shedding of ego for me, to realise that magic is about how it makes the audience feel – it's not about the performer doing it.”
And like many comedians do these days, Ben has created a show with a narrative, rather than it being a series of unconnected tricks.
”It's probably something that differentiates my show from other magic shows. I've been doing magic shows in this way for long enough that I am seeing more magicians possibly following my lead, I don't know, or following the lead of the comedians who are doing narrative-based shows. Now it definitely feels like the audiences are much more interested in the longer journey.
“For a long time, magicians wouldn't be able to carry full-length shows, they were a turn in a package, a bigger variety show. But now the only way we can work is to carry the whole evening, and in order to be able to carry a whole evening, I need a little bit more than just tricks. A strong narrative shape to the show really helps that.”
In keeping with the show’s name and themes, Ben lives a somewhat nomadic lifestyle himself.
"I live on the road, which I do like, but it does bring with it all sorts of challenges, like living out of a limited number of suitcases. I'm fully booked until November next year, and then by the time we get there we'll see where I want to live because I'm ready for a break. When your job is also your passion it's hard to know when to stop. Usually I stop when my body tells me: ‘You have to have a break’. The rigours of touring can be really tough.”
See Ben Hart in Jadoo on Friday, November 17 at The New Theatre Royal. Tickets £20. Go to newtheatreroyal.com