Industry Insiders: David Copperfield, Man of Many Talents

It seems pretty evident that David Copperfield can do anything. The traveling, world famous magician has recently added developer to his extensive resume, taking on a group of uninhabited islands in Musha Cay near the Exumas in the southern Bahamas that he’s calling it The Islands of Copperfield Bay. The magic man still keeps residences in New York and Las Vegas, but escapes to his new paradise down south as often as his schedule allows. More on the magician’s luxe beach resort and life after the jump.

What do you call yourself? I’ll take what I can get… magician is pretty good. If the magic I do seems real and creates wonder, I’ll accept that. Otherwise, I’m a communicator and story teller. It was always my dream to tell stories in the same way all the people I admired did. Like Victor Fleming, Frank Capra, but I couldn’t sing or direct films. Orson Welles was a friend, until he died. I tried to take what I could do and achieve the same emotions by doing magic, so I told stories and tried to move and amaze an audience.

Now you’re a developer. I bring the same kind of storytelling and emotional roller coaster to the resort. I changed the name to Musha Cay and the Islands of Copperfield Bay. If Donald Trump can get away with it, then, what the hell? Only one island is developed and has 40 pink sandy beaches. It’s really beautiful for about two miles. The others are uninhabited, really remarkable, and we’re making the island chain into a nature reserve. We’re legitimately researching conservation with exotic animals. Now that I have 700 acres of amazing islands for them to inhabit, with a larger space than a zoo could offer, it‘s wonderful.

How did this start? I bought the islands four years ago, and we’ve been collecting artifacts to display since. In Africa, I’ve been given artifacts from royal families, and now I have a place to show them. The Burmese Buddha outside a temple was once given to me in China, and now it’s going to be in the islands. When I originally made the purchase, it was already a retreat for very select clients.

Are there technical difficulties in building there? We used barges to bring equipment, helicopters and planes. There’s now a 450 acre island with its own landing strip for caravans with 2,000 feet of runway. National Geographic landed on our beaches and shot the islands.

What would be your best trick? World peace, world health.

You were just some nice, Jewish kid from small-town Jersey when you were teaching magic at NYU at 16. The theatre department at NYU found me when I still in high school, and they picked me because I was so good at magic. When I was 12, I was admitted into the society of American Magicians, but remember: I sucked at everything else.

And then you attended Fordham? I went to Fordham, a nice Jewish school, and I left there for a planned three weeks when I got into a show in Chicago in The Music Man, and suddenly 20 years pass by, and they give me an honorary Doctorate, with George Mitchell, the Peacemaker.

What’s your favorite room to perform? The good thing about my career is that it changes, I play arenas in Europe; theatres here in the U.S. There’s a really beautiful one I first performed in with Andy Williams 20 years ago in Cleveland, and then there’s Vegas and the Islands. It’s really a buffet, a moveable feast!

It was rumored that you had a problem with Michael Jackson 12 years ago, as friends, I went to Neverland and I worked on one of his tours, and then all of a sudden on April Fool’s Day it was rumored that we were in discussions, and that he wanted me to appear in the new show. I thought it was an April Fool’s Joke. Then without any contact at all, I was fired from the non-existent show. I hadn‘t seen the man for two years. He went too soon. I knew Kenny Ortega was the director of This Is It, but I was never part of it.

Where are your go-to places? Next door to me in New York is Le Colonial for French Vietnamese. I like it very much, then there’s Daniel, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, or just going to the deli for a corned beef sandwich.

Who do you admire? At the beginning of my career, my idols were Disney and Welles so my direction took a different path, and I tried to preserve everything. In Las Vegas, I have a museum, the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts with 80,000 things of Houdini and Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin who was the father of modern magic. It’s an incredible place and I’ve had all of their ephemera, their illusions. I have Houdini’s strait jackets, handcuffs, keys, mirror cuffs, the milk can escape — everything. When I give a tour, it’s as if he were alive today. Everything he’s famous for.

The upside of your profession? Is there any other David Copperfield out there? I think it’s terrific, whatever makes people dream is positive. We really need it, especially in times like this. We need to be transported, whether with art or music or dance or storytelling, or what I do. What I do is really primal, as in, you’re taking Mother Nature and turning her upside down.

The worst part? Sometimes people mistake magic for something demonic. The only story I can tell you is that about ten years ago I was in the South, and I had a picketer outside the theatre with a sign that said ‘David Copperfield is the Devil.” And I sent my crew outside to take a picture of this guy. I kept it on my dressing room table. Two years later, we returned and the guy was out there again, and I decided to have some fun. I took the picture, put it in my pocket and walked outside with a friend and a Polaroid camera, and I introduced myself as David Copperfield, the Devil, and asked him if he’d mind if I got a picture with him. My friend took a picture with me, the guy and the sign. I stepped away from him and pulled out the picture from two years ago, handed it to him and walked away. I don’t think he’s coming back.

Something people might not know about you? I’m a really bad karaoke singer, but I think I’m good. I take my work seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously.

Favorite movies? I love Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, American Beauty, Inglorious Bastards.

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