NEW YORK — On the heels of the worldwide success of “Now You See Me” — the film about the daring “Four Horsemen” magicians and illusionists that raked in some $300 million worldwide after its release in 2013 — most of the gang is back with a sequel, adding a couple of new characters and quite a bit more intrigue.
It’s set exactly one year after the quartet of magicians pulled off a Robin Hood-esque caper, delighting their legion of adoring fans and confusing and confounding the FBI.
This time they reappear with the intention of exposing the fraudulent practices of an international tech mogul (Ben Lamb) — but the caper gets twisted, Mark Ruffalo’s Dylan Rhodes special agent character is exposed as working with the Horsemen and they all are forced to go back into hiding. Things get twisted further when another uber-rich, reclusive tech powerhouse (played by Daniel Radcliffe) forces the team to steal the world’s most powerful computer chip that his former partner (Lamb) has stolen from him.
While Woody Harrelson, Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg and Dave Franco are all back, they also have been joined by a new Horsemen — in the form of Lizzy Caplan, who has replaced Isla Fisher as the female member of the quartet of illusionists.
On top of all that, the twin brother of mild-mannered Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) turns up as an associate of the bad guys — adding a dose of bitter sibling rivalry to the mix.
As he dwelled on his dual role in the film, Harrelson explained it was the thing he loved doing most in the sequel. “It’s rare you get a sequel that’s better than the first one,” added Harrelson. “This just happens to be one of then.”
As for playing Chase McKinney, Harrelson said, “You know, my natural mode is to be over the top, as an actor,” leading castmate Ruffalo to burst out laughing and exclaim, “You think?”
Harrelson playfully reached over to tickle Ruffalo as he added, “Merritt, on the other hand, was and is much more subdued. That was the bigger acting challenge on my part. … Chase is kind of who I am normally!”
Once the tickling and faux punching tamed down, things got a little less raucous and Harrelson commented on what he had learned about hypnosis to capture his characters’ greatest skill.
“Now, I can’t hypnotize you right now,” he said, looking into this reporter’s eyes, “but I can tell you what you’re thinking right now.
“You’re thinking there’s no way I can tell you what you are thinking! Am I wrong?”
When the Robin Hood aspect of the “Now You See Me” films came up. Ruffalo, himself a noted political and environmental activist, spoke up about that angle of the movies’ underlying themes.
“People are dying for justice in this world. They don’t feel they’re going to get it anywhere else in the real world, so they have to rely on a bunch of magicians in a film to provide them that kind of feeling,” Ruffalo said with a rueful smile.
Harrelson added, “People love this franchise because someone — in this case the Four Horsemen — are actually stealing from the rich and giving it back to the poor.”
Ruffalo noted the demographic was actually a bit bigger: “The Horsemen are actually stealing from the superrich and giving it to everyone below the .01 percent.”
In the process of making these two films — and there is buzz there might be a third movie in the franchise — the Horsemen trained long and hard with professional magicians and illusionists to appear realistic on screen.
Caplan noted “it was the most fun of any acting job I ever had. It really didn’t seem like work, no matter the very long hours and all the travel.”
Franco explained the most important thing he learned from the professional advisors was to “witness how disciplined they work and how hard they go about perfecting even the most simple trick. But it’s all in the presentation. There are all very likable guys and they have this ability to get you on board right from the get-go, because they are so likable.
“That was something I believe we all worked to incorporate in our performances — to have that kind of personality going forward.”