Magic has worldwide appeal, so it made perfect sense for Zack Mirza to hit the road. Choosing where to go was just as easy.
In “Illusions of Grandeur,” on Canada’s OLN, Zack makes his magic journey the center of the show. In travels to New York City, Detroit, New Orleans, Las Vegas and nine other cities with strong magic connections, he documents his quest to be the next big name.
“That was a competely new experience to me,” Mirza said. “I’d only been to New York and a few other US cities, so being in all of these new places was incredible.”
Because of a surprising abundance of other magic shows, Mirza said he and his crew knew that “Illusions of Grandeur” couldn’t be just another show. The trip at the center of the show was inspired partially by David Blaine’s “Real or Magic” and HBO’s “How to Make It in America.” It pairs the history and stories behind magic with the struggle to make a mark on the world, Mirza said, while showing an honest portrayal of Mirza’s career.
Mirza, born in England and raised in Toronto, has performed since he was 10 years old. At 15 he was traveling with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts and performing for the team before every game. Since then he’s become a professional with corporate and TV experience, performing for celebrities such as boxer Muhammad Ali. But his particular skill is street magic — his relatable, conversational personality thrives at connecting people with magic and getting big reactions.
The trip made making magic tough, though.
“I quickly learned how different people from different cities are in their reactions to magic,” Mirza said. “A big reaction in one city might be a small reaction in another. I was always readjusting myself. My career has always been about relating to as many people as possible, so this exposure to such diversity was some of the most valuable learning I’ve had so far.”
Also complicating things was the unblinking, single eye of one particular spectator: The camera. Performing for TV required some of the biggest adjustments he’s ever made, and it made him even better.
“In some ways, it’s the most important audience member,” Mirza said. “There are a few people there reacting to my magic in person, but the lens represents a silent majority. Each shoot becomes like a dance, with me trying to stay in the frame as people around me move to see the trick. Add that to the existing layers of banter, magic and an unpredictable setting and it becomes a mental and physical workout like no other. Having to do that for close to 10 to 12 hours a day can get pretty draining, but in the end it’s like going to boot camp. I feel so much more comfortable and confident in my abilities now than I did in the beginning of the series.”
Mirza worked with phenomenal talent behind the scenes, he said. Daniel Garcia, Enrico and Lisa de la Vega, Blake Vogt and Alex Rangel all helped out — names Mirza said he’s looked up to for a long time.
Working with them opened his eyes to a completely new magic experience, he said. For every 10 ideas he had, only one might have worked.
“Just to see them take on all the challenges we faced was amazing,” Mirza said. “They are innovators who understand magic in a way I never knew existed. Being able to witness and partake in their creative process while bouncing concepts off each other was such a memorable process. What shows up on the screen is the product of some intense collaboration.”
One thing you won’t see on the show: A moment where Mirza got burned bad. In New Orleans, he was performing an ash to arm prediction. He had rehearsed the trick with a regular lighter, but it didn’t burn the paper fast enough. When the cameras were rolling, the lighter he was handed looked… different.
“It had a really strange ignition switch, and during the take I went to light the thing (how hard could it be to light a lighter?). I had it pointed in the wrong direction by accident.”
Because it was bright out, he couldn’t see the flame. And because it was pointed at his fingers, he didn’t realize his fingers were getting burned until it was too late. He pressed on with the take, eventually burning the area on his arm where the prediction ended up.
“Definitely the worst situation,” he said. “I was down and out for a good 30 minutes after that, with my hand and forearm in a bucket of ice.”
“Illusionis of Grandeur” airs at 9:30 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on Tuesdays on OLN.