Enter the mind of Criss Angel
Criss Angel has astounded audiences with his illusions for more than a decade and has brought magic into the 21st century. The creator and director of Criss Angel Mindfreak on A&E has just finished shooting his third season of the hit show, and fans can expect the most spectacular stunts yet.
Few observers may know that WWE paved the way for Angel's breakthrough when he performed his shows at The World Underground Theater at WWE New York in Times Square. WWE Diva Michelle McCool -- whose beauty is no illusion -- caught up with Angel as he reflected on his career and new season of Criss Angel Mindfreak, which is set to premiere June 5 on A&E at 10/9 CT.
Michelle McCool: The third season of your show, Criss Angel Mindfreak is set to premiere on June 5. Have you been surprised by the show's success so far?
Criss Angel: It's been an amazing experience. I just want to thank all the viewers, your readers, and listeners for all their support. It's been an amazing ride. We've just finished shooting our 70th episode. The premiere for this season has my best work to date, no question about it.
McCool: Can we expect any new things this season? Can you give us some insight?
Angel: I'm going to attempt to do something that I wanted to do when I first came to Las Vegas more than 12 years ago and first drove past the Luxor [Resort and Casino] and saw that light. I want to try and float in the light more than 500 feet above Las Vegas Boulevard. The light is one of two man-made objects that can be seen from outer space. It is the brightest light ever made by man [and] 800 degrees. I am going to attempt to float in that light for all [of] the world to see.
McCool: Wow, crazy … that's amazing. What is the inspiration behind your illusions?
Angel: My ultimate inspiration is to connect with people, to see what I do and hopefully move them in some way -- like a song, where it motivates them to better their own lives. I think art has the power to do that. Houdini was living proof of that. When people saw how Houdini could escape that sack, they thought, "Hey, if that guy could get out of that sack, then maybe I can escape poverty." My goal is to connect to people, and probably one of the most flattering things I can hear is when people come up to me and say, "When I see you do these things, I … release my mind and realize I can accomplish certain things."
McCool: As performers in WWE, we try to outdo each other in the ring and have the best match on the show. How much of a challenge is it for you to come up with something new and outdo yourself?
Angel: Yeah, I'm always trying to outdo myself, and I think I've accomplished that. The minute I can't think of things, I think I may have to think about stopping doing it because I would be at a loss creatively. I started my first show in Times Square right at WWE New York. The McMahons were very supportive; they gave me my first real opportunity. I did 600 performances in their theater, and I was very grateful. It just goes to show that if you dream big, you can live your dreams. I just sincerely wanted to thank WWE for allowing me the opportunity that it did.
McCool: Yeah. This (being in WWE) is really my childhood dream, and you know the old saying: If you don't go after your dream, somebody else will.
McCool: Do you have a favorite illusion? Do you have any one that stands out as your most difficult performance?
Angel: Each one is difficult for different reasons, and all of them are like my children, so it's difficult to pick one over the other. But I have to say, this season I'm so excited about June 5, 10/9 CT on A&E because I'm doing something I've wanted to do for 12 years -- to do the pinnacle in levitation. And it's going to be something the world will be able to see. Las Vegas has 250,000 tourists every two to three days, and I'm going to do this and people are going to shoot this on their video cameras [and] their cell phones. We're going to be able to show that footage on my show because what you see is what you get on my show. Here, you can't fake this.
McCool: I know you've been performing in some sort of capacity since you were six. I've also read that you are also a musician. Can you tell me who are some of your favorite artists, past and present?
Angel: Musically, I have five CDs out. I have had the opportunity to work with Sully of Godsmack, Jonathan Davis of Korn, Andy Johns who produced Led Zeppelin and Van Halen. I'm a fan of great music, different types of music, whether it would be people like Billy Joel or Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath or Godsmack or Korn, I like them all. I think music has the ability to bring you back to when you were a child, make you dream and really motivate you. I use music as a tool, depending on what I'm confronting, to overcome any obstacle.
McCool: That's great. I have also heard some people say that you have redefined the term "artist" in the 21st century? How do you feel about that?
Angel: I think it's a tremendous compliment. I think magic as a whole has been presented as a cheesy, hokey novelty. It hasn't been provocative in popular culture. I think magic is finally getting the recognition it deserves. What I try to do is combine many different kinds of art forms together to ultimately create a connection to the audience. It doesn't matter whether it's mentalism or staged or if it's an illusion or performance art or demonstration of the mind and body and soul. Ultimately, I'm just trying to connect to people and make sure my art form is something that gets the respect it deserves and make it provocative of popular culture.
McCool: I think you've definitely earned the respect of not only me, but a whole lot of other people out there.
Angel: It's been amazing. I think it's just a testament to hard work -- very good work ethic -- and perseverance. Anybody could do what I'm doing if they work for it.
McCool: I'm sure you get this all the time, but Cameron Diaz is my favorite actress, and some of the tabloids have linked you romantically to her. Is there any scoop you can give me?
Angel: Cameron Diaz is a wonderful human being who I'm very honored to call my friend. She's an absolute sweetheart and we're good friends. … She hasn't let her success get to her. She's a real person, and that's why I'm honored to call her my friend.
McCool: Could you see yourself performing before our fans here at WWE?
Angel: I would absolutely love to. I started out that way … and I have performed [before] not only for your fans, but before the entire McMahon family. I would love to get to a coliseum or an arena and do something with you guys. You are an amazing organization; the true athleticism [of WWE Superstars] has been an inspiration to me and so many others. I would love to take part in that. And not only that, some of the most beautiful women in the world are the Divas. A friend of mine a few years back was [former WWE Diva] Terri Runnels.
McCool: You know what? It's a small world. I was a school teacher before this job, and taught seventh grade science for four years in a very small town. I taught Terri Runnels' nephew in my first year of teaching.
Angel: Really, that's so funny. She's from Florida.
McCool: Yeah, she's about 45 minutes from me. … A couple of more questions: You've had your successful TV show, had long-running shows off Broadway, guest-starred on CSI: NY, and have released DVDs and CDs. What has been the proudest moment of your career so far? Is there anything else you dream about doing?
Angel: A couple of highlights would be shooting more hours of magic on primetime television in the United States than any other magician in the history of television, my recent L.A. Times best-selling book, Mindfreak: Secret Revelations. Doing Oprah Winfrey's show was an amazing experience; doing CSI: NY was great. Signing my Luxor deal, where I'll be doing 4,600 performances with Cirque du Soleil starting in the summer of ‘08 was a huge, huge dream come true. I have been very blessed and very fortunate to have the career that I have had, and I just want to try to keep on moving forward.
McCool: Now on June 4, you will be suspended 40 feet above the ground in a huge cement block and you are going to have to try to escape it before they send it crashing to the ground 24 hours later, right?
Angel: Yeah, it's going to be a huge block, less than four feet in diameter, and I'm going to be in the center of it. They will pour 600 pounds of cement into it and I will be suspended with cameras inside so people can see how it unfolds. I will try to make my escape before the 24th hour unfolds and they send the block plummeting to the Earth.
McCool: Omigosh! I was about to ask you what you are doing next, but I'm kind of afraid after hearing about that stunt! Are you nervous?
Angel: I'm not nervous. I have no fear of death. So if you don't fear death, there's nothing in the world to fear.
McCool: Alright, but do you get anxious?
Angel: I'm just focused. I know what I have to do. I'm focused on my job, and hopefully I'm able to do it with as least amount of obstacles as possible.
McCool: And I'm sure you will be. Good luck!