When you think back to the most famous magicians of a bygone era, the name that pops into consciousness most frequently is Harry Houdini, who went from humble beginnings at circus sideshows to internationally sold-out concert halls. Starting Monday night, HISTORY will air a two-night miniseries, “Houdini,” following the story of this illusionist who appeared to constantly put his life in jeopardy with death-defying stunts.
Academy Award winner Adrien Brody stars as The Great Harry Houdini in the two-night mini-series as he finds fame, engages in espionage, battles spiritualists, and encounters the greatest names of the era, from U.S. presidents to Arthur Conan Doyle and Rasputin. Joining Brody is Kristen Connolly as his wife Bess, the love of Harry’s life and his right hand when it came to some of his most amazing feats, and Evan Jones as Jim Collins, Harry’s assistant and confidant.
Prior to the thrilling ride through Harry and Bess’ lives, Connolly shared her thoughts on what she learned about the dynamic duo, the role mysticism played in their lives, her role on “House of Cards,” her upcoming role on the new ABC series “The Whispers,” and more.
What did you know about Harry Houdini before getting involved in this project?
I didn’t know much beyond the fact that he did escapes. If you had said Houdini to me, the first word that would have come to mind is magician and that’s about it. My research started from ground zero, but I was really, really lucky. I had a friend from graduate school named Michael Mitnick, who’s a playwright, who happened to be sort of an Houdini expert. He was been able to sort of point me in the direction of certain books and of some really wonderful people in Los Angeles who are also Houdini experts. One of them, John Cox, has a blog called “Wild About Harry.” Anyone who’s interested in Harry Houdini should check it out.
What did you learn about Bess? Did she really smoke marijuana?
She did smoke pot. She drank a lot. There’s much less written about Bess than there is about Harry. But if you are so inclined, you can really dig and find it. I learned an enormous amount from [John]. He was able to tell me what was really substantiated, what was a bit controversial, what some people said but it’s probably not true.
There is a lot of mysticism in the miniseries, but Houdini himself seemed to not believe it. Why was it important to feature the mysticism?
I think the reason it was featured so strongly in the movie is because it was a big part of his life. He went in front of Congress to debunk these people and that tells you a little bit about how much he cared about it.
This is a period drama and you have to wear these costumes. Was there something you liked about the dresses of that period or something that you hated?
It was sort of both. I had a love-hate relationship with the corset. It would go on and I was like, “Oh, pretty,” and then 20 minutes later I was like, “Take it off. I hate it.” There’s a reason they were popular. They make those clothes look nicer, but, holy crap, when you’re in one for 12 hours you just want to bend your legs. It’s horrible.
I loved the wigs. It’s really fun to do something like that because you get sort of a different look every day. I’ve done movies where the whole thing takes place on one day, so for two months you look exactly the same, including what you’re wearing every single day. This was the opposite; I’d change clothes like twice a day. I think the costume team did a great job, and the hair and makeup team especially I thought were really extraordinary in their creativity. I really felt like another person when I would come out of the hair and makeup trailer. That speaks to their work.
You have a role coming up in the new ABC series, “The Whispers.”
Have you filmed that yet? You were recast into a role someone had already played. Was it hard to get into a cast that had already worked together?
Not really. The craziest part was that I spent the summer doing a production of “Othello” at the Old Globe in San Diego with Blair Underwood and Richard Thomas and that was just an extraordinary experience working on this beautiful play. My plan was to return home to Brooklyn as soon as I finished the play, but then I got this call saying, “Do you want to go to Vancouver and do this role in this series?” At first, I was like, “That’s pretty crazy,” but then I read the script and I watched the show and I thought that it was really special, and the people involved were really, really terrific.
Do you think of Christina Gallagher on “House of Cards” as your breakthrough role? What do you consider your breakthrough?
I’m not sure. I think it’s one of those things, where there are some actors who sort of have a role that kind of announces them to audiences in a way, and, for me, I think I was sort of popping up in a lot of things. There are people who saw the movie “Cabin In The Woods,” and I really, really loved that. I’m recognized certainly more for “House Of Cards,” and it was a truly an amazing learning experience and a joy to play that role.
I was at it for a while. It was not an overnight success, which I’m glad for, because I’m that much more appreciative for all the experiences that I’ve had and for the opportunities that I’m getting now as a result. I’m certainly grateful for the doors that “House Of Cards” has opened for me and for all of the people that have taken the time to watch the show. It is pretty awesome.
Houdini airs on Monday, September 1 and Tuesday, September 2 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HISTORY.