What do you get when you cross magic with the FBI? ABC’s new midseason drama Deception.
The premise is simple: When his career is ruined by scandal, superstar magician Cameron Black (Jack Cutmore-Scott) has only one place to turn to practice his art of deception, influence, and illusion — the FBI. Using every trick in the book and inventing new ones, he will help the government catch the world’s most elusive criminals while staging the biggest illusions of his career.
Alongside his team (Lenora Crichlow, Justin Chon, Vinnie Jones), Cameron teams up with FBI Agent Kay Daniels (Ilfenesh Hadera) both to assist the bureau, but also to attempt to track down a mysterious illusionist who played a role in his downfall. The buddy cop drama is basically Castle, but with magic — it’s Magic Castle!
Creator Chris Fedak, however, likens the show to Mission: Impossible. Well, Magician: Impossible. Below, Fedak and Cutmore-Scott tease the new series.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s your 30-second description of Deception?
CHRIS FEDAK: The easiest way to describe the show is to say it’s Magician: Impossible. Now, there’s a part of it which is like, yes, it’s about a magician who helps the FBI solve crimes, but it’s not like the classic murder-mystery procedural. This is much more of an action show. So it’s Cameron Black working with his team of magicians to essentially create deceptions to, not trick an audience, but to capture bad guys. And for me, when I was getting into it, I thought about Mission: Impossible, and I thought this is a show that’s not on air right now, and the glam and the flavor and just all the fun of these characters, it got me excited.
Tell us about Cameron Black as a character.
JACK CUTMORE-SCOTT: I think the most interesting thing about Cameron is that he’s been on stage his entire life, so that has defined who he is. He’s been performing, he’s been in the public eye under the very controlling hand of his performer father as well, so he’s literally grown up in show business and I think that has, to a great extent, shaped who he is. He’s very comfortable in the public eye, he’s very comfortable on stage, but he’s got a bit of What to do? figuring out who he is off stage and what his life is without magic, which is where we find him essentially at the beginning of the show.
Anything you can say about his motivations for assisting the FBI?
FEDAK: His career is destroyed at the beginning of the show. There’s a catastrophe having to do with his personal life, something about his life is revealed, and that his career is ruined. So we have a guy who can’t do what he’s supposed to be doing. Really what he wants to be is up there on that stage, and he can’t do what he really wants to do. But he also knows that he needs the help. To put his life back together again, he’s going to need the help of the FBI. He’s going to need the help of law enforcement because of what happened to him, having to do with this catastrophe in his personal life. That’s the heart of the show — for personal reasons, he has to do this.
How does this compare to all the other buddy cop shows, like Castle and The Mentalist?
FEDAK: I love all those shows. I mean, I grew up on Remington Steele and essentially I love that kind of dynamic. For their relationship, I think that Cameron and Kay are much more of a buddy team at the beginning of the show, as we meet them. It’s a marriage of convenience. Kay’s looking for a person to help her solve these very specific cases, and Cameron needs her help. He needs her help having to do with his overall goal of helping someone who’s very near and dear to him. And they are not two people that should be working together.
CUTMORE-SCOTT: I like to think we’ve taken a lot of those elements of those shows that were so much fun — the rapport between an unconventional consultant, essentially is what that model is — and combined it with something people haven’t seen before. So we’ve got that buddy-cop element; we’ve got this stranger in a world of crime fighting, this bizarre skill set that somehow is appropriate to this new world he’s found himself in. We also get to actually see the magic. We actually get to incorporate these illusions both on a large and small scale into the show, which isn’t something we’ve seen before in the same way.
Should we be expecting a will-they-won’t-they element to this partnership?
CUTMORE-SCOTT: They’re both very complicated people. They’re approaching this newfound relationship in terms of a professional relationship more than anything else from very different perspectives. They are learning an awful lot from each other and I think they’re both changing as the season goes on. And I think what that allows for is a lot of mileage in terms of we’re definitely friends, we’re definitely teammates and collaborators, but I think part of the joy of the show is that we really get to see these people grow and develop and the relationships grow and develop, and I think the answer is, who knows really further on down the line.
Were you a fan of magic before taking the role?
CUTMORE-SCOTT: I’ve always appreciated it as a spectator, but I hadn’t ever performed any magic prior to the first episode of this show, so it’s been a bit of a steep learning curve. But I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve been very lucky with the team I’ve had supporting me and holding my hand through all of it, David Kwong and Francis Menotti, who are two amazing magicians, and they’ve really kind of slow-fed me as much as I need to work my way through each trick in each episode so that I could at least feel comfortable pretending to be as comfortable as Cameron would be.
Does it bum you out learning the truth behind the magic?
CUTMORE-SCOTT: Obviously there are certain moments when you feel like — I was so convinced by that being “real magic,” in quotes, that when you find out that actually it’s not, of course the child-like wish for the supernatural is crushed a little bit. But what I will say is that the more that I learn and the more that I see the work that goes into these illusions, that the work that goes into making these tricks seem effortless and magical is so impressive; the ingenuity, the creativity, the sheer hard work that goes into all of these things just to make it look as if they do it without thinking is daunting, actually; to meet the guys behind the curtain and behind the magic.
What is the process like of figuring how magic can actually be incorporated into FBI cases?
FEDAK: Even with the CIA and the FBI, there’s been a tradition of having units that are capable of knowing about deception. And when we looked at it, it wasn’t about solving a magic crime each week. It was about figuring out how we could use deception in such a way to lure bad guys out, trick people into confessions, and just a really interesting way to do an action show, where it wasn’t about a gun fight at the end of the story, or like a punch-out fight, which we do. But it was like, we could use magic to do this!
CUTMORE-SCOTT: That is definitely something that I think hopefully our audience will catch on to pretty quickly, that when we say magic, we’re not talking about a criminal stealing a rabbit out of a hat. We’re talking about using ingenious methods of deception to get away with crime, and that is what we are used to seeing in heist movies and action movies to a great extent; that there are incredible skill sets being put to use that we are not exposed to on a daily basis. That’s essentially the premise of most shows. And this one, yeah, we have the overarching story line of a mystery woman and sort of a big bad, if you will, and that will continue; she’s very, very prominent in the rest of the season. But I think that the network and the creators of the show really wanted to demonstrate that it has a life outside of that one particular story line and I think that the first five or six episodes really show that.
Deception debuts Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.