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SMOKIN' ACES

Becoming Experience Killers
"Once I get inside, I'mma gonna put m'Nina to Israel's head and back out hot.” —Georgia Sykes, Street Assassin

Training the assorted players of Carnahan's ensemble cast would require dedication and discipline from even those with the smallest of roles. CGI aside, chainsaws, monster-sized 50-caliber sniper rifles and numchuks do not operate themselves. Neither do 52 cards, effortlessly arcing through the air.

To prepare for the role of lecherous illusionist Aces, Jeremy Piven found it necessary to learn how to handle the decks of cards he would be asked to constantly flip throughout the shoot. "Joe made it clear that we need to see this guy doing it, otherwise we're in trouble,” notes Piven. To get to the level where he would look like a man who knew his way around a deck, Piven trained with Scottish sleight-of-hand artist R. Paul Wilson.

"He had to start from scratch with me,” says Piven, "and it was all hard to do. I grew up doing mime. I play drums. I work with my hands, but working with cards is totally different. I have a scene where I have to pull off three tricks within this monologue. It was incredibly challenging.”

Cards require a certain kind of coordination, but illusion is something else. "The real test with magic is not doing the trick; it's working with the audience and making them a part of it,” points out Wilson. To give Piven a feel for what it would be like to be Buddy on stage in Vegas, Piven (introduced as Buddy Israel) appeared one night as a special guest performer at Hollywood's famed magic club The Magic Castle.

"It's one thing to theorize about what it would be like to be in that arena, but to actually navigate successfully—even just for a moment—gives you immense confidence,” says Piven of the experience. "The feeling of pulling the trick off, seeing the look on people's faces was amazing. I don't think I will be challenging Paul or David Copperfield, but…”

Magic wasn't the only trick required of cast and crew. Although none of the actors had before put themselves in the action-hero category—save Reynolds, due to his grueling training regimen for Blade: Trinity—the entire cast was called upon to do some very demanding physical scenes.

The Tremor brothers had the lion's share of physical preparation for Smokin' Aces. "I have a huge new respect for actors doing action sequences where they're handling weapons and timing and mechanics of guns,” remarks Maury Sterling (Lester Tremor). "I had to get two shotgun rounds, fire the shotgun, unload two rounds, get two more shells in and then pull out my pistol and shoot the burning stuntman. I think that's the most nervous I've ever been.”

"The big challenge for me came in the last few days of shooting,” recalls Kevin Durand (Jeeves Tremor). "I was carrying Darwin and Lester with my three guns and all this Kevlar, which is so stiff and heavy. With all that, plus their guns, I was walking with 400 pounds while shooting a gun.”

"I fire a machine gun and handle machetes; it's awesome,” raves Chris Pine (Darwin Tremor). "Before, I never had the drive or a passion to do these kind of movies, but getting Joe's script, full of guns shooting and blood spurting—plus the character-driven material—it's the best of both worlds.”

While Piven was learning parlor tricks and the Tremor boys were studying how to delve into psychosis, Taraji Henson and Ryan Reynolds were trained on the art of loading firearms and dodging bullets. Also, Ben Affleck and Peter Berg were getting acquainted with the finer points of mock, exploding bullet "squibs” and special effects blood.

"This gun is now an extension of my hand,” says Reynolds. "It's pretty weird for a young Canadian man to be working with guns this much. We had to learn in such a way that the most practiced of marksmen could watch it an

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