At the beginning of Sunday’s Academy Awards, Neil Patrick Harris explained that he had placed his Oscars predictions inside a briefcase, locked in a clear box in view of the audience (specifically Octavia Spencer). At the end of the night, Harris pulled out a list of oddly specific predictions, ones that couldn’t possibly have been made before the show began.
So how did he pull it off? Well, as you might expect, no one is really telling. According to Derek DelGaudio—one of Harris’ writers for the show, who is a magician himself—the host was demonstrating “precognition.” He added in an email, “I can assure you, there was absolutely no sleight of hand involved.”
But DelGaudio, who has been directed by Harris in the show Nothing to Hide, did reveal that pulling off the trick was “extremely” difficult. TV, DelGaudio explained, doesn’t lend itself to magic—nor do the Oscars, necessarily. “At the Oscars, anything the host says is perceived as a ‘bit’ or ‘gag’ and there is little expectation of sincerity or truth,” he added. “So, it’s very difficult to create an astonishing moment of disbelief when they never believed you in the first place.”
What did Harris have to say for himself? The host also took some time to answer EW‘s questions via email.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you first bring up the idea of incorporating magic into the show?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I wanted to have some sort of magical element from the beginning. It’s one of the main reasons I brought on Derek – we’ve worked closely together before, and I’m a fan of his brain parts.
Were their other versions of the illusion you were considering? If so, what were they?
My initial thought was to have something suspended up in the air, high above the audience, containing my predictions. That was to be shown and in full sight throughout the show, and lowered down right before the reveal. But due to the amount of different looks that the brilliant set designer Derek McLane had throughout the night, that suspended item would have looked a bit jarring. So it became a locked box, clear on all sides, with a briefcase inside.
Did Octavia Spencer have any idea what was going to happen?
She didn’t. I wanted our interactions to be organic and authentic. At the end of the night, when the audience was starting to leave, she was standing there staring at the box trying to figure it out. I’m very appreciative for Octavia and her assisting me. She’s wonderful.
Were the stars asking how you did it after the show?
Indeed. I had a post-show dinner at The Palm restaurant, and Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep were eating at another table with their dates. We started chatting, and the conversation quickly turned to the Prediction Box. I loved hearing their theories, and trying to work out how it was done. Meryl’s reaction on camera was my favorite.
How did you do it? (Just kidding—but I won’t be upset if you answer.)
I’d be remiss to explain, but I’m proud of it. Every single thing we said on the show is true: I brought my predictions to PricewaterhouseCoopers, they were held in a locked box until Sunday, walked through the carpet, and locked into that box on stage. It was in full view the entire night. There was a camera with an online continuous live feed the entire show. No one went near it or touched it. We went to some pretty great lengths to ensure its validity.