The new FOX series, “Houdini & Doyle,” follows real-life friends and historical figures, Harry Houdini (Michael Weston) and Arthur Conan Doyle (Stephen Mangan ), as they solve cases involving the paranormal. The series is set in 1901, just at the time when Houdini is the biggest showman on Earth and Doyle is trying to move on having killed his character of Sherlock Holmes.
Weston takes on the role of Houdini, a character played in film and TV series by the likes of Adrien Brody, Wil Wheaton, Jeffrey DeMunn, Tony Curtis and even an actor turned local morning news show host, Kopi Sotiropulos. The actor talks about playing the world’s most famous magician.
Q: How much did you know about Harry Houdini before taking on the role?
A: I had a sort of working knowledge of Houdini as I came into this show. When I really got into it, I saw where this guy sort of lived in our history, and he was an immigrant who pulled himself up by the bootstraps from poverty and sort of actualized the American dream. He sort of did it in front of you in a daily way.
Q: What do you like about him?
A: The more you sort of get to know him, I think, as whatever kind of human he was behind that showman, he got that across and he connected to that audience. He’s sort of a one-of-a-kind man.
Q: Is playing Houdini dangerous considering his elaborate escapes?
A: I think all of the escapes were scary. He was buried alive. He was hung upside down and put in that water tank. All of that stuff. We did it as much as we really could do it and with some very helpful stuntmen.
Q: Haven’t you learned some magic?
A: I sort of learned it on the fly and I never, never did any magic before this show, so that’s what started me as a magician.
Q: How easy was it to get into character?
A: This period piece was so meticulously executed. The costumes were amazing and real. We had these old tailors in London who have made the same shoes and fabrics for 300 years, weaving these waistcoats. And then, our production designer, Arwel Jones, was this just genius guy who would turn this room into the period. So everything looked and felt and was that. And I think for all the actors, we really had these moments that you so rarely get as an actor, where you just stop for a second and you just sort of grab each other and be like, oh, this actually feels like we’re in it. We’re riding this carriage, and everything feels and looks so real that you could lose yourself in it. And it was, in that sense, sort of magical.
Q: Houdini and Doyle ended up bitter rivals. Why do you think they were friends in the beginning?
A: I feel like these guys needed each other. They were sort of these huge celebrities and isolated, sort of, in that. And they find each other as friends. But it’s contentious. They don’t agree on anything. And their whole approach to life is different, and on this brash American who just sort of busts in rooms and declares mission accomplished. And he is this intellectual mind who meticulously goes about doing his business, and they clash on a lot, but in the end, they need each other. They need each other’s respect, and they need each other’s friendship, and they thrive in that challenge, which is constant. Two sort of great minds going at figuring out a puzzle.
Q: FOX doesn’t do a lot of period series. Why will this work?
A: I think there’s a lot of this show that has these very pertinent, sort of modern themes that we’re dealing with that have this great historical, real backdrop to set it in. And I always like that, when you get a little something that is real to your life now, but you can trace it back 100 years. And you see these guys were dealing with the same problems back then, and it puts a nice spin on it for you when you’re trying to figure that out in today’s world.
Houdini & Doyle
- 9 p.m. Monday, May 2, KMPH (Channel 26.1)