The modern-day magician sits down to discuss his new movie, The Lost Dragon, and what it’s like mentoring young Vietnamese talents. By Ruben Luong. Photos by Vinh Dao.

We first met you in 2011 when you first came to Vietnam. What’s happened since then?
Things have happened pretty quick, but two feature films, two cameo roles in four films, two TV series on HTV2 – we’re shooting season two in the fall for Street Wizard – BOOM media episodes on YanTV and just a few appearances on talk shows and game shows. I took that momentum and I’ve kept on pushing where I want to be.

It’s been three-and-a-half years since I’ve been here and if I label out everything I’ve done it seems like a lot, but when I look at it timewise I personally feel I could have done double what I’ve done. But that’s because I’ve gotten used to Vietnamese rubber band time.

How was it debuting from magic into movies in the country?
Performing magic or MC-ing or anything in front of a stage with an audience, it’s something of an act already because you have to become a different person to hold the audience or trick someone and that’s enough for them to go, ‘We’ll give you a chance’.

Your new movie The Lost Dragon (Ngay Nay Ngay Nay) debuts 9 February. What’s your role? 

In the movie, angels come down from the heavens to this day and age in Saigon and try to fit in with smart phones, selfies and fashion. They’re not allowed to use their wizardry on Earth and they’re trying to find this dragon baby that’s dropped from the heavens and has the mark of a dragon.

I play a magician in a circus. My guy is Anh Long, he’s the bigger brother in the whole circus and he looks after all the boys. The circus is dying so his dream is to bring people back to the circus and watch the magic show. He has a little bro who is clumsy and naïve, trying to be a clown. And the other guys are horse riders and other stuff. Without spoiling too much, I’m just going to say the egg drops somewhere around the circus.

What’s different about performing magic on screen as opposed to in real life?
The performance part is easy. For stage magic there isn’t much dialogue, presentation, visual stuff, so in the movie I was able to direct that part and the only thing they need to film is like more of this angle or that, so it doesn’t flash any secrets. So there isn’t really a lot of magic where I’m sitting down and I’m saying, ‘Pick a card’. It’s a whole montage of me doing a presentation.

So if I did the trick as I would do it in a live show, it wouldn’t look the same as on a movie screen. In a live show, if I had props on me, I need to have access to it, but if I was on stage, items would be fixed or on a dolly. On screen, we get to cut so it’s easier for me to do it. The whole trick, from beginning to end, I don’t do the trick. But when you piece it together in post production, it’s amazing. That’s not to say I can’t do the tricks that I’m performing in the movie, what you see in this movie is possible tricks. It was just filmed a lot easier!

What are some of your new projects for the new year?
I have a goal and that’s to perform at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. It’s a prestige club and to have that on your resume … sigh. Not everyone can go to it. You have to be invited by a member or you can apply. It’s a museum of historical magic and [they have] stories on Houdini, everyone. They also have a lunch and dinner buffet and magic shows. Prior to walking to the main stage, you walk into this room with 10 to 15 people max — a close-up teaser show for 10 minutes — and then you go watch the main magic show. Any magician that’s performed at the Magic Castle is considered to have the magicians’ stamp of approval.

Right now I run a talent company with [my managing partner] Calvin, Majik Gold agency, and we manage other talent. I’m closely working with two magicians, Tapi and Hapu, young kids – locals – very highly skilled but still need a bit of work. I’m pushing them towards shisha lounges, coffee clubs, stuff like that. I’m growing out of those gigs. I don’t want to keep being in the clubs, I want to mentor them and give them some work and take over that route.

Why were you interested in supporting younger magicians in the country?
Well, so let’s say you have your standard card fan, you have your dribbling or springing of cards. And every card position has something like this — a very fancy cut.

In Vietnam, you have 14- to 16-year-olds doing crazy cuts, just phenomenal. But they only do them to each other or to their webcam, that’s it. I had a meet-and-greet session with them, I said, ‘Let’s go to the park’ and all of them were shy. They’re not used to approaching strangers and saying ‘Hey’. I studied marketing and I’ve always been a people person, so it’s different. So I want to handle talents who I believe can make it. I want to produce the next Petey Majik.