Interview: Illusions of Grandeur’s Zack Mirza brings magic to OLN

By Nicole Lee

Twenty-seven year old Zack Mirza has been performing magic professionally for the past 7 years. His first memory of magic dates back to a magician at a cousin’s birthday when Mirza was 6 years old. When he was 10, he remembers going up on stage as a volunteer at a carnival magic show. It was then that Mirza knew he wanted to be a magician.

In his show, Illusions of Grandeur, we watch Mirza travel across North America visiting 12 cities, expanding his skills and exploring the magical history of each location. During each episode, he faces new challenges and we’re witness to his growth and development.

What made you decide to pursue magic full time?

As you know from watching episode one of the show, I have a bit of an arts background. I went to school for animation and had a passion for that for a very long time. My long childhood dream of wanting to be a magician; I wanted to take it more seriously. It’s something I’d always been doing on the side. It’s only been very recently were I pushed and kicked it into full gear and performed more often and get out there and meet people and network with people and that’s how it came about.

Who inspires you magically?

Magically, I would say David Blaine is number one inspiration for me. I think a lot of magicians would say that. As soon as I saw him I knew that that’s the kind of the path I want to follow. There are so many others that I could name as well but he would definitely be one of the main ones. Copperfield of course, he’s more of a theatrical stage performer. I’ve always respected what he’s done.

And who is your non-magic inspiration?

Pharrell Williams is one of my biggest inspirations. He’s an innovator, a creator, one of the most artistic and talented people in the entertainment industry. I’ve always really looked up to him.

How did the idea for your show Illusions of Grandeur come together?

I’d been putting together videos to go up on YouTube, just for myself really. Mainly to push my talent to the next level. A really good friend of mine does videography work. We managed to get out to New York a few times over the course of a couple of years. I think we actually went six or seven times over that time period and just filmed out in New York. I felt like that was where I really could hone my skills, make them a lot better, by performing in front of a camera, getting stuff on video, putting it up on YouTube to see the response. Getting all of that together, I put together a demo reel. And a production company thought they could do something with it.

“The one thing I want out of this experience is just to become a better magician. That’s the most important thing for me.”

Traditionally, magic as an art form requires a live audience. What challenges did you have creating an engaging magic show for television, in this day and age of special effects and camera tricks?

What it really came down to is making sure that every sort of interaction that I had was genuine and real. There were no actors, no stooges, nothing like that. It was all real people, real reactions. I wanted to make it as organic as possible. There were definitely times where I would approach people and they just would not want to see anything. And you get to see a little bit of that in the show. Not everything exactly goes as planned. It’s all very organic. I think it’s a side of street magic people really haven’t been exposed to.

Without giving anything away, there’s a very honest, personal moment in the first episode. How hard was that for you?

That was a difficult thing to go through. This whole experience has been a learning process. Especially being in front of the camera in that capacity. And also the fact that I was in front of people that knew me from a different standpoint or a different part of my life. That also played into it. It was more about just the experience of going through that and showing that honest response to a point where you’re feeling very nervous. That’s something that I feel not a lot of shows have ever done before. It gives it that human quality. Not everyone can be perfect all the time. There’s always a growing process. There’s always a human element to it. Just trying to be relatable.

The first episode has you performing some very modernized, personalized versions of some very classic routines.

[I was] working with a very talented team of people. It’s been great because there’s been effects that are very classic in magic. The guys that I work with (Daniel Garcia, Enrico de la Vega, to name a couple of them); they’re innovators. They really help to fine tune and sharpen the magic. It’s been incredible working with them. The stuff that they create that I get to perform is absolutely unbelievable. Those effects have been customized to suit my performance style and they were so much fun to perform.

With whatever magic it is that you’re doing, you want to be able to have a personality to it. Anyone can pick up any sort of object and do something with it. But if they [the audience] can relate to you then there’s a little bit more of a personality to it, there’s more of a connection. It seems more genuine.

I was very impressed to see that you include historical footage like clips from Dai Vernon’s “The Spirit of Magic.” I understand you’re going to be delving into some magic history throughout the other episodes. How important do you think it is for magicians to study the history of their craft?

Prior to the show I knew a little bit about the history of magic but going through the whole experience I got exposed to so much more. I can’t express how important it is for up and coming magicians, and magicians out there in general, for them to learn about the history of magic. We’re basically standing on the shoulders of giants. Everything that they’ve done is pretty much the ground work for what magicians are today. There’s so much respect. There’s so much wisdom that you can pull from anyone in the past. As soon as you get to learn a little bit about the history it just makes it that much more special.

Throughout the series we see my honest reaction to the history of magic that not a lot of magicians really get exposed to. You’re going to be able to see and find out some really amazing things. Even for the average viewer as well. We don’t get too deep into the history but there’s definitely going to be some things that are interesting for magicians and non-magicians.

How did you pick the 12 cities you visited?

New York was definitely one of the plIllusionsaces I was interested in. The rest were really all based on a little bit about the history of the places in regard to magic. When we did our research we figured it would be incredible to go places like New Orleans where we could touch on the Voodoo culture of the city. Little things like that. We did research to really understand and see where we could go that would be entertaining for the viewers.

What was your favourite city / experience throughout the filming process?

That’s a very tough question. I would say out of all of the cities, I really enjoyed New York. I’ve got so many friends and I just feel at home there. It’s the place that I’ve gone to the most out of all the cities I went to. I have a personal connection to it.

What was the biggest lesson you learned in the filming process?

I would say be honest and true to yourself. And the amount of work and effort you put into something is what you’re going to get out of it. That’s really what it comes down to. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in this whole experience. Being constantly on the road and travelling, it’s hard to keep track of everything. As long as you remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and you really dig deep to understand that this is your true passion, everything is going to be okay. When you’re really true to yourself and you understand that this is what you actually are passionate about and want to pursue no matter how hard it gets, there’s just no barriers after that point. You can literally break through anything.

What experience surprised you the most creating the show?

The amount of time per episode. I was under the impression when we got to each city that we would at least have about a week there. But it felt like two or three days at sometimes. It happened so quickly. That’s what really took me off guard. How fast paced everything was. Constantly on the go. No down time at all. It was an incredible experience.

What was the most challenging or the scariest thing that happened?

Without giving anything away, you’re going to really enjoy the New Orleans episode.

Now that you’ve learned from some of the greats, is street magic still your favourite genre?

Street magic is still definitely my favourite. Now that I’ve been exposed to so many different types of performance styles I’m definitely trying to progress to stage at this point. I love close-up magic and I’m really working hard on getting myself out there on a stage performing at that level as well.

What advice do you have for aspiring magicians?

My advice to aspiring magicians is to practise. But also don’t spend time indoors practising. Go out outdoors and go perform for people. That’s the only way that you’re going to be able to get better.

At the end of it all, in what ways through this process do you feel you’ve become a better magician?

The biggest thing for me is the level of comfort now that I feel. There’s always going to be nerves. Nerves don’t ever really go away. But it’s the amount of work and the amount of practise you put into something makes what you’re doing comfortable. If you’re worried about how something should work or if you’re worried about the mechanics of a trick you’re doing, that’s obviously going to play into your performance. But if you’re really prepared and you’ve really worked on your performance, everything else gets more comfortable. That’s one of the biggest things that I’ve taken away. The amount of work you put into something, it just shows as soon as you’re able to go out and perform. Performing more often, that’s the other thing. Getting out there and performing as much as possible. That’s the way that you’re going to get comfortable being around people, being able to perform at any moment.

Is there anything else I should know about?

The only thing left is I hope people tune into the show on Tuesday April the 14th at 9:30 p.m. on OLN. I hope everyone is able to enjoy the experience that I was able to go on, and join me on this journey. I hope people watch the show!

Illusions of Grandeur airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on OLN.

Nicole Lee publishes Canada’s Magic, a website devoted to Canadian magicians and magic happening in Canada.