Derren Brown talks therapy, taxidermy and ‘mentalism’ ...
You’re currently touring your new show, Infamous. Are audiences wiser to your tricks these days?
I don’t give the audience much of a chance to think. People get nervous onstage and start acting weirdly to cover it up. I had one guy come up and he just starting throwing up. It was like The Exorcist.
Would you say you’re a master of reading people?
I try to create that impression. I know I’m likely to be more persuasive than the next person, but I don’t go around trying to get free upgrades. I’m actually quite shy.
Performing on stage must be difficult if you’re shy…
I find it really easy. When I started performing, I was an attention-seeker, in that weird way that attention-seeking comes from quite a shy place. You want to impress people, and magic is such a great way to do that. But it’s also a fake way, and at some point you have to learn real social skills. I had this slightly eccentric, detached persona for most of my twenties, so I felt like an observer most of the time. Quite insufferable.
Have you ever wanted to do a huge Las Vegas stage show, like David Copperfield or Criss Angel?
No. There have been offers from US TV, but they weren’t right. Broadway would be lovely, Vegas might be fun for a bit, but I wouldn’t do it for 10 years like Copperfield. I’ve heard reports of magicians doing shows and just walking through it. They clearly hate the audience.
How do you define what you do? We don’t want to sound too much like Alan Partridge here, but are you, literally, a mentalist?
Well, I couldn’t say it a few years ago because that I’m Alan Partridge episode was so fresh, but a mentalist is technically what I am, yes.
Have you ever been asked to consult on human behaviour by the police?
I have, but on a moral level I feel that I’m an entertainer and it’s not appropriate for me to do those things. I get a lot of requests for help from people – there are stacks of letters. I sometimes answer, but I can’t get involved. I kind of want to say, “I’m just a guy off the television. Take that energy you used in writing to me and put it into Googling ‘therapy’.”
Have you ever had therapy yourself?
I’ve had a bit of hypnotherapy, because I was very twitchy when I was young. It didn’t do anything apart from getting me out of games.
What makes a person difficult to hypnotise?
If someone has a high level of suggestibility, they will probably be good at being hypnotised, and they’ll be good at taking on a placebo effect. But I’m not very responsive to it at all. I had one experience at an NLP [neuro-linguistic programming] convention and I remember [imagining] I was on a beach, and then suddenly snapping out of it. It just completely worked.
You’re active on Twitter. Is there anything you dislike about it?
There’s a sort of fan ‘aftercare’, which didn’t exist before. I know that people are coming [to a show] a month beforehand, and where they’re going to be sat. Sometimes they’ll ask if they can have a hug. It’s still touching, but it can be difficult.
Finally, we hear you have an impressive taxidermy collection…
I have pretty much any animal you can think of. I have two giraffes, which is probably more than anyone needs. One’s a baby, but it’s still about 6ft. I also have hundreds of strange mutated things. They’re all eco-friendly, though.
Derren Brown’s Infamous is at London’s Palace Theatre until 17 August; derrenbrown.co.uk
(Image: Seamus Ryan)