In his office overlooking the Empire State Building on Day of the Dead, David Blaine shuffles playing cards, which shoot between his hands with an audible fffffftttt! The fluidity of his fingers evokes an Eric Clapton guitar solo. Dressed in a faded black T-shirt emblazoned with the face of the king of spades, Blaine, who presents his latest prime time special, Beyond Magic on ABC on November 15 at 10 p.m., is at the top of his game, a death-defying one I hope he continues to win.
You’ve often talked about your late mother’s powerful influence. Can you recall an instance when she fostered your imagination? I went to PS 230 in Brooklyn, and despite working three jobs, she was sometimes able to walk me part of the way to school through Prospect Park before we got on the subway. So as we’re walking one morning, we’re late. And she knows she shouldn’t be late. I’m 5 or 6, and I see a huge thing laid out in the park far away, and I go, “Mom! Look! It’s King Kong!” And instead of saying, “No, no, we’re late for school,” she said, “Oh, where?” She walks with me to explore it, and then I’m like, “Oh, it’s a tree,” but that was everything to me. She broke the rules to support the imagination.
Where do you go to find inspiration today? I’m lucky because I have a lot of friends that are just phenomenal magicians who I’m very close to, and I spend a lot of time with them just bouncing around ideas. And then I read books, which give me tons of inspiration.
‘I always make decisions based on would I do it for a dollar… I’ve never taken money over believing in what I’m doing.’
Any recent book? I’m reading Memoirs of a Sword-Swallower by Daniel Mannix. It is a phenomenal book, a rich resource of ideas. He became a sword swallower even though he was educated, and he was like, “I’m going to go join the carnival.”
Could you ever imagine an alternate career in the intelligence world, since you have a keen eye and know so much about illusion? Yeah, that’s interesting. Ironically, a bunch of friends that I grew up with, they’ve gone into forensics, detecting how the blood splatters on the wall to determine who committed crimes.
Geniuses. Yeah. They’re geniuses, they might not be hardcore math geniuses, they might not be well-read, but they can look at things in a way that nobody else can, which is similar to what magicians do.
Have you ever undergone psychoanalysis… [Laughs] No, I’ve had a bunch of requests.
Are you religious? I like that Abraham Lincoln quote: “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad And that’s my religion.”
I was going to say, what would the shrink say about the risk-taking behavior? That’s funny.
Can you talk about the magical nature of childbirth? You have a 5-year-old daughter. Every parent says it, but there is nothing in the world equal to that. It is the most incredible, overwhelming, delightful, beautiful experience period—end of the story.
I have found it difficult to watch your performances because you’re a father. I think about your young daughter. Is it moral to continue risking your life, given that you have a lot of money, I assume, and you have a duty as a father? Well, I always make decisions based on would I do it for a dollar. So any offer that comes my way I say, “Would I do it for a dollar?” I’ve never taken money over believing in what I’m doing. Now I do need to keep working. I’m not in a place financially where I can stop working. I’m far from there. So, no, it’s not like I could quit today. I spend a lot of time with my daughter, and she knows what I do and why I love doing what I do, and I would never want her to copy me and put herself at risk. That would be way too much for me, but at the same time, I think I would die inside by discontinuing doing what I dream up. It’s almost better for her to have somebody that’s full of life, that’s dreaming and trying.
As you get older, do you feel more powerful? Not more power just more self-control. And I can push myself to stay awake longer; I can push myself to problem-solve in a different way without breaking; I can push myself to endure more. Even though physically, I was stronger when I was 21. Mentally, I’m stronger now.
So I have to ask this, but it’s a grim fucking question: How do you think you’ll die, and would you like it to be a spectacle caught on camera? No, because then my daughter has to see that. I mean, I always liked the stories of the people who are dying and they walk out into the forest and die gracefully. I think I’d like it to be peaceful and beautiful like you’re entering a new territory, you know what I mean?
On that note, I wish you a long life. I’ll see you again.
This interview was edited and condensed.