Criss Angel reveals details of his exploding building stunt

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Rockstar magician and illusionist Criss Angel variously calls the event his “most challenging escape ever” and “the most dangerous thing I have attempted in my career” -– a stunt in which he’ll flee a building set for destruction and rigged with hundreds of pounds of explosives before 4,500 tons of concrete come barreling down on top of him.

Handcuffed to a seventh-floor balcony, the Sin City sensation will have just three minutes and 30 seconds to get through a series of locked doors and climb three flights of stairs to the roof. His salvation: a helicopter hovering above with a dangling 30-foot ladder. The event will be broadcast live at 7 tonight on “Mindfreak,” Angel’s popular A&E show.


Just days before making his way to Florida for the “demonstration” (the New Jersey-born 41-year-old feels it cheapens things to call them “tricks”), Angel sat down with a reporter before a taping of “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” to answer a few questions about the building escape -– but, more importantly, its affect on his new Cirque du Soleil-produced show, “Criss Angel: Believe,” which cost a reported $100 million to produce. ‘Believe’ premieres at Las Vegas’ Luxor Resort Hotel and Casino in October.

Complete conversation after the jump...

Criss Angel: On July 30, I will do my most challenging escape ever. I will be manacled in front of thousands of viewers, some of them randomly picked to come up and secure me, shackle me, manacle me to the seventh-floor balcony. I will be in full view, nothing to hide. And I will have a specific amount of time to escape before the building implodes.

LAT: Why do a live demonstration instead of taping it and airing it later like you usually do?

Criss Angel: I’ve done nearly a thousand demonstrations on “Mindfreak” now. Whether it’s taped on television, I’m still doing it live in front of an audience. We always wanted to bring the show live. People always want to see what’s going to happen. And because it’s taped, anything can happen. Probably –- well, not probably, definitely -– this is the most dangerous thing I have ever attempted in my career. I’ve done a lot of escapes and a lot of pretty crazy things.

LAT: You’ve had fishhooks pierced through your back and hung from a helicopter. You appear to walk across a lake in one of your shows this season. What makes this the most difficult thing for you?

Criss Angel: Each one has its own set of challenges and risks. Walking on water isn’t necessarily something I’m going to kill myself with. I could be embarrassed or exposed. We now live in a day and age with technology at our fingertips. People know who I am -– it’s not like the first season [of “Mindfreak”]. They have helicopters out there overhead. Tourists shooting from every angle. So if I’m not on my game in a public forum that I cannot control, it will be all over the Internet and very embarrassing. That’s the risk in that. But a building implosion is death if I’m not successful.


LAT: You don’t have to do this. The show is already connecting with fans. Going live just seems like a liability. How much do you feel you need to prove what you are doing is legitimate? How much do you need to remove that layer of doubt for your fans?

Criss Angel: You hit the nail on the head. I don’t have to do this. I have an amazing show [“Criss Angel: Believe”] that we feel is going to revolutionize modern magic shows. Because No. 1, I’ve been working on it for 15 years and we’ve got the greatest artists and conceptors in the world working on it. So night after night, the people that are skeptical are welcome to see the [stuff] that I do live, 10 times a week, 46 weeks a year for 10 years –- which equates to 4,600 performances. The proof’s in the pudding. What you see on my show is what you get live and what you get on the TV show. People will see that for themselves.

I do all of my demonstrations for no one else but me as an artist, an escape artist, as a magician. When I lost my father in 1998, he was such a proponent of mind, body and spirit –- and that anything is possible. I do what I do to be the best I can be with the time I have on this earth. I’m just very grateful that the public has connected to that message. It’s a much bigger message than me just doing an illusion and how do I make that work. I don’t care about how it works. I care about how people connect to it and how it makes them feel. I hope it inspires them.

LAT: Cirque just plunked down $100 million for a new show for you. They must not be too psyched you’re doing the building thing.

Criss Angel: Cirque is not very happy about my decision to do this because they have a lot of money invested in me and in the show. They would prefer that I don’t do it. Whether I kill myself or twist my ankle, it would still have a detrimental effect –- obviously one more than another –- on us opening. And there’s a lot of money that ticks away every day that show’s not open and we’re not ready to roll. So they don’t want me to do it. They’re not happy with this decision.

LAT: How strenuously have they tried to discourage you from doing it?

Criss Angel: Oh, they’re looking for all contractual things and different things. I know a lot of things have been written, but I have an incredible relationship with Serge Denoncourt, the director of the show, and Cirque. But when I got involved with them, I said, “I’m still going to do what I do.” I have an insurance policy on my life that’s worth a few dollars. But I wasn’t going to alter my lifestyle because of this show or anything else. I have to live my life to the fullest and enjoy it because you don’t know when your last moment is. I’m not going to change my lifestyle for any job. I ride motorcycles. I have go-carts that go 160 miles per hour. I do jumps that are 100 feet long. I do that stuff. And the chance of me getting hurt? Yeah, it could happen. And yeah, I could screw up the Cirque thing. But I don’t want to alter my life and not be true to myself as an artist. Then I shouldn’t cross the street because I could trip and fall down. Where does it end? I’ve been OK up to this point where I’ve never been to the hospital with serious injuries.


LAT: So how confident are you that you are going to escape the building?

Criss Angel: I have an amazing team and we’ve been doing due diligence. I’m going to be picking locks, handcuffs, and I’ve been doing that since I was 14 years old. It’s not a big deal. But that pressure of live television, your heartrate, your aim, your focus -– everything has a detrimental effect. I thrive on that challenge of performing, though. Cool and collected as if I was here with you doing something.

* For the record, a Cirque du Soleil representative denied the production has investigated any contractual loopholes to prevent Angel from performing the stunt. She voiced concern for his safety but described his choice to perform on “Mindfreak” as a “separate business entity” over which Cirque du Soleil does not have any control and with which it does not interfere.

“Criss is the star of our upcoming show and of course we are concerned with his safety. We want him to come back home to Vegas in one piece as soon as possible,” said Anita Nelving, director of public relations for Cirque du Soleil. “But in terms of us being upset or angry, that’s not the case.”

So is Angel simply drumming up hype for his show by mischaracterizing how worried Cirque is?

“There is an element of an illusionist creating exponential danger around what he is doing,” Nelving said. “But we respect Criss as an artist and trust in his skills that we’re going to get him back safe and sound.”

-- Chris Lee

Photo: Criss Angel in Las Vegas on May 2008. Credit: Andrew Gombert / European Pressphoto Agency