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And for Our Next Trick...
With eight major roles to fill, the producers put together a company that is even more than the sum of its parts. With three Oscars and a dozen nominations between them, the cast of Now You See Me is one of the most star-studded in recent memory, but star-sized egos were left at home.

"We put together a cast of people that we liked and wanted to work with, rather than the actors of the moment," says Cohen. "Every time we added somebody else, it made it easier to cast the rest of the movie. Jesse Eisenberg was the first one in. Then Woody Harrelson came on because he enjoyed working with Jesse in Zombieland. Mark Ruffalo wanted to work with Jesse and Woody, and Isla Fisher was excited to work with all three of them. It just came together naturally."

Michael Atlas, arrogant, sharply dressed and verbally adept, becomes the de facto leader of the Four Horsemen. "He was probably a geek in high school who couldn't get girls," says Ricourt. "When he started learning a few card tricks, he started getting attention. As a stage performer, he gets the girl and he commands attention."

Played by Jesse Eisenberg, an Oscar nominee for his work in The Social Network, Atlas is a sleight-of-hand specialist and all-around illusionist. The actor learned to do actual card and coin manipulation for the role. "Jesse is great as Atlas," says Cohen. "The character is a true hustler with an enormous amount of charisma. It is something that no one has ever seen him do before. He stretched himself and gave 100 percent."

Even more than the other Horsemen, Atlas is conscious of his audience even when not on stage, allowing the actor to create a character within a character. "He is 'on' all the time," says Eisenberg. "He's cocky and self-assured, always performing. But really, he's playing his idea of a magician and hiding behind that persona. Atlas needs to always be in control, which is one of the reasons he's able to do these incredible illusions."

Like his three partners, Atlas is at the top of his particular specialty, creating competition in the ranks. "They're all posturing a bit as they try to assert dominance, but once they get that, they meld together well," Eisenberg says. "Atlas differentiates himself by saying he's the best 'sleight-of-mind magician' around."

As the Horsemen mount two highly publicized public performances, they are also working on an even bigger "show" that they keep under wraps. "Atlas feels like he's so far ahead of the FBI," the actor says. "And in many ways, he is. Magic has taught him to always consider what the other side is going to do before he does anything. He loves that the FBI is following him. He loves the fact that the magic world's foremost debunker is following him. Anything they do just makes him look better, because with all the resources they have at their disposal, they still can't keep up."

Because the Horsemen are interested in the illusions, rather than the money they steal through them, they become more sympathetic for the audience, says Eisenberg. "They need to prove that they can do this, to themselves and to someone else. And there's a duality at the heart of it all that keeps your allegiance shifting. On the one hand, you're with the cops as they unravel the illusions. On the other, you're behind the scenes with the magicians, seeing all the work and cleverness that go into these shows."

Working with Leterrier was a first for Eisenberg, whose previous work hasn't included epic-scale action. "Louis has made enormous movies in the past," he says. "I wasn't sure how interested a director like him would be in working with actors, but he had so many ideas about my character and so many references to actor-driven movies. It was eye-opening for me to learn that you could do that in this kind of big, visually arresting movie."

Isla Fisher had been working as an actress since the age of nine before her breakout role in the 2005 blockbuster comedy, Wedding Crashers, made her an in-demand Hollywood actress. In Now You See Me, Fisher plays Henley, an escape artist whose signature trick is getting out of a 100-gallon, piranha-filled water tank while shackled hand and foot.

"Henley's role was originally written for a guy," says Ricourt. "Through the course of development, she became a woman, which added some layers to the character and complicated the relationships between the Horsemen."

As Atlas's former assistant, Henley used to carry his props and get sawed in half nightly. Now an equal, her unbridled feminine spirit helps keep the team's male egos in check. "Her brilliance and audacity are intimidating to Atlas," says Fisher. "Once she came into her own, their relationship metamorphosed into more of a sibling rivalry. She's fearless, which is a lot of fun to play and a big reason I took the movie. In real life, I'm kind of a fraidy cat."

Fisher pictured the character as a cross between Lisbeth Salander, the protagonist of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the independent and iconoclastic film star, Katharine Hepburn. "She has to be better just to hold her own with the guys," the actress says. "She's feisty, but she never acts like a man. Her feminine side is the key to her power."

Fisher studied the life and work of illusionist Dorothy Dietrich to prepare for the role. "I wanted Henley to be as to be as daring and dazzling and surprising offstage as on, so we never know what she is thinking," she says. "Dorothy is a real female escapologist who is working today. She was the first woman to capture a bullet between her teeth, which is an amazing feat. She's not only good at misdirection, but she also connects emotionally with the audience, so she's better able to involve them in the stunts."

Working with friends and peers like Eisenberg made the shoot enjoyable for the actress, but sharing the screen with two veteran performers was a career highlight, she says. "Working with Michael Caine was probably the greatest buzz. He was an utter gentleman on set, a consummate professional and obviously brilliantly talented. It was a little bit like winning the lottery for me. "And just hearing Morgan Freeman speak every day!" she adds. "Everybody knows that deep, soulful, calming, godlike voice."

Woody Harrelson joined the cast to play the subversively funny mentalist, Merritt Osbourne, a former star who has hit hard times and is now hustling on the street-artist circuit. "Merritt doesn't have a squeaky-clean past," says Ricourt. "There's a bit of mystery to him. He's had some troubles. I liked the idea that he was once popular, but now he's like an old rock musician trying to relive his glory days."

A two-time Oscar nominee (for The People vs. Larry Flynt and The Messenger), Harrelson worked closely with professional mentalist Keith Barry to ready himself for the role of a down-on-his-luck mind reader grabbing at a chance for a comeback. "I also read a number of books to prepare," says the actor. "There have been some fascinating mentalists over the years who have done incredible stuff. I'm a long way from knowing how it works, but I have done a few experiments. Since Merritt also works with hypnotism, I studied that a bit as well and I tried hypnotizing people -- to no effect, but I thought I came close one time."

Harrelson says Eisenberg introduced him to the script. "I really wanted to work with Jesse again," he says. "It just got better as the rest of the cast came together. It was an honor to be able to work with two legends like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. Isla Fisher was already a friend. I knew Melanie Laurent's work from Inglourious Basterds, and she was just incredible in that. And Dave Franco, who I didn't know at all, was relentless in his pursuit of excellence. I was jazzed about the whole cast."

Franco, who most recently appeared in the film version of 21 Jump Street and the zombie rom-com Warm Bodies, plays Jack Wilder, the junior member of the team. "Jack is still quite young and really impressionable," Ricourt says. "He looks up to the other Horsemen and aspires to be like them. He is an expert pickpocket, so we meet him scamming commuters on a water taxi in New York."

Jack has a talent for making things appear and disappear, as well as for card manipulation and throwing, a skill that comes in surprisingly handy in the film. "He's a street hustler who has looked up to the other three Horsemen his whole life," Franco says. "He starts off as this wide-eyed kid who's just happy to be around these other amazing magicians. Now that he's a part of the group, he's trying to earn their respect. There were some similarities in the experience for me. I was working with people who I watched and admired as I was growing up. To be able see how they work and to pick their brains put me at ease."

Leterrier brought a hands-on spirit to the set that kept the energy level high, according to the actor. "Louis was like a little kid. In the middle of a huge action scene, he was the guy tossing shards of chair at you. He was always right in the middle of the action. His spirit is very infectious."

Franco urges audiences to come and be surprised, not just by the extraordinary illusions created in the film, but the unexpected plot twists as well. "Reading the script, I was shocked by the ending," he admits. "It's written very well, and I think people are going to be surprised and very happy with how it all comes out.

Yet another Oscar nominee (for The Kids are All Right), Mark Ruffalo is on the side of law and order as Dylan Hobbs, the FBI agent in charge of investigating the Horsemen. About to break a huge organized-crime case, Dylan resents being pulled off it to pursue what he sees as a trivial matter.

"Dylan really does believe in the law -- equal law for everybody," says Ruffalo. "He's a hard-ass about it. That is his principal motivation throughout the whole movie."

The cast was a big part of his decision to play Dylan, he says. "I spent the majority of my time working with Melanie Laurent, who's just an amazing talent and a lot of fun. Jesse and I have one big scene in the movie, as do Woody and I. It's kind of an all-star cast and I got to play a little bit with everybody, which was fantastic."

Ruffalo found the populist sentiments of the Horsemen's heists appealing, as well as very timely. "I got the script before Occupy Wall Street and that whole movement," he says. "But I think the theme is deeply embedded in contemporary culture and we were able to develop that into a modern Robin Hood tale with magicians stealing from the rich and giving back to the common man."

The film's impressive scope, complex narrative and magic-based eye candy make it an ideal vehicle for Leterrier's prodigious talent, the actor says. "This is right in Louis' wheelhouse," he says. "He handled it beautifully, making it a character drama that happens to be a heist movie with magic. He is master visual storyteller and yet he took the trouble to nurture some real ly fine performances in a big high concept movie. That's unusual, in my experience."

Dylan is forced to team up with Alma, an Interpol operative who had been riding a desk in Paris until she was selected to investigate the first robbery. "He doesn't know how to behave around her," says Ruffalo. "He is a lone wolf who likes to do things on his own, and he is forced to share a case with this sweet, beautiful French woman."

Alma, played by French actress Melanie Laurent, proves to be a bit of wild card in the investigation. "What's so dangerous about her is that she in this grey area," says Ruffalo. "It's black and white for him. She wants to believe in magic. She's interested in how it's performed, and her research comes close to unraveling his plan to debunk it."

"For law enforcement, this case should be simple," agrees Cohen. "There's a crime, you pursue the clues and you catch the criminal. But Alma, who is a tough Interpol agent, is also a little bit of a romantic and she finds the chase amusing. She dives into the history of illusionists and learns to appreciate their discipline and patience."

Dylan and the other FBI agents assigned to the case are dedicated to catching the Horsemen and putting them away, while Alma alone is interested in figuring how and why they are doing this. "She really wants to understand magic, not just the mechanics, but the philosophy," says Laurent, whose first American film was Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. "Dylan just wants to put everybody in jail. Because she becomes a bit obsessed with magic, she has another point of view. I think maybe if I were a cop, I would be like Alma, for sure, because I'm very curious. She wants to know everything about everything."

The tension between the pair begins at their first meeting. "Of course they hate each other immediately," says Laurent. "But when two people hate each other so much, it's because there is an attraction between them. She brings something new to his life and his way of working."

The actress describes playing opposite Ruffalo as just like watching a magic show. "I felt like a kid all the time," she says. "I was laughing so hard every day. I have never had so much fun working with someone before. And he's so good. I don't know if it would be the same movie without him."

The filmmakers were looking for two high-profile leading men to play the juicy and crucial supporting roles of magic skeptic Thaddeus Bradley and shady industrialist Arthur Tressler. "We always hoped we would get a couple of legendary actors to play Thaddeus and Arthur," says Cohen. "But we really hit the jackpot with Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine facing off against each in our movie. Once we knew we had them, we went back to the script and tailored those scenes for their particular skills. Morgan, as Thaddeus, is perfectly elegant and sly. As Tressler, Michael shows that he still has that aggressive edge that he used so well in movies like Deathtrap, Alfie, and more recently in Harry Brown. It is so much fun watching two masters throwing haymakers at each other."

Thaddeus Bradley is a notorious debunker of magic, a former magician who realized there was more money to be made in discrediting tricks than in doing them. He might have become the best magician alive, but instead he turned his talent to exposing the secrets of his former colleagues. When the FBI hits a brick wall with the Paris heist, they call in Thaddeus for his expertise. "Thaddeus is the antithesis of everything that magicians stand for," says magic consultant David Kwong. "Audiences think they want to know how things are done, but on some level, they really don't. Once you discover the secret, the illusion is shattered, the mystique dissolves and the trick loses the ability to create awe and wonder."

Freeman found the material intriguing and the acting company even more so. "The story covers completely new ground," he says. "But there are more ingredients to the film than just the script. There is an incredible cast, every one of whom I wanted to work with. And although Michael Caine and I worked on the Batman pictures together, this is the first time we've gone mano-a- mano.

"The magic was fascinating to learn about as well," he continues. "Most of all, I was interested in exploring this character. He's smart, but he's also very self-indulgent and egotistical. Being called in by the FBI makes Thaddeus feel very important. They are stymied and he's the person they turn to."

Turning his back on the magic community has made Thaddeus a traitor in their eyes. "For an illusionist, the point is to make the audience think that what they're doing is actually not a trick," says Freeman. "Thaddeus' purpose is to expose the trick. It's all about finances. He makes quite a lot of money on television specials and DVDs showing how these illusions are done. I don't find him very sympathetic, because I enjoy believing in magic. "

Freeman says he finds it easier to root for The Four Horsemen. "Nothing that they're doing is evil," he observes. "In fact, I would call it vengeful altruism, this whole business of putting people's own money back into their hands. Since they're not doing this to get rich, it makes me pull for them."

Caine enjoyed sinking his teeth into the role of Arthur Tressler, the billionaire businessman who sponsors The Four Horsemen's extravagant performances. "Tressler is enormously successful," says Caine. "He moves everybody around like pawns in a chess game. Unfortunately, he's not as clever as he thinks he is. What he doesn't realize is that they are con men, but rather than doing a little con in the street, this is worked out on a stage."

The acclaimed actor says he decided to accept the role because it is a movie he would like to see. "I was really intrigued by the mystery," he says. "You may think you know where this is going, but believe me -- you don't. The turnarounds are quite extraordinary. It's an exceptional film -- and nothing is small. Everything is enormous."

Leterrier gave Caine an important clue to the nature of his character. "Louis compared Tressler to Bernie Madoff," the actor reveals. "Once he said that, I knew where I was going. The writing is very good and my part is meaty. When I'm there I want to really make a mark."

A highlight of the experience was working with Freeman, he says. "Morgan and I have a wonderful scene together. Tressler's relationship with Thaddeus is very complicated and a bit sinister, but it's also funny. I believe that no matter how dreadful things can get in life, there's always a laugh. And we found that here."

And is there also another unseen, but essential, character in the film -- a Fifth Horseman, perhaps? "One of the big secrets in the film is how these people have been brought together," says Cohen. "And who brought them together. It's something we had fun with when we developed the film. The heists are a massive undertaking and with the amount of planning that had to go into them, we have to suspect that the Horsemen are not working on their own. And there's no shortage of candidates."

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