Derren Brown has opened up about his debut original Netflix special Sacrifice, revealing that he devised the idea because he wanted to tap into the current political and social discussion regarding immigration.
“I was in New York with my co-producer last year, it was around the time I was doing the Broadway show. I had this interest from Netflix. It made sense to do something that was resonant,” Brown recalled to me over the phone.
“I always try to find something with a strong dramatic hook and a really worthwhile point for doing it. A message or subtext. Not just being controversial or sensationalist for the sake of it.”
“Especially after ‘The Push,’ which was a dark journey, I wanted to try and save a life rather than end one. It made sense to do something about laying down your life for your enemy.”
“Or saving the life of someone you otherwise saw as an adversary. It started to kind of resonate in the whole world of immigration that we are in now.”
Brown admitted that he and his creative team didn’t know what they were going to do with “Sacrifice” until they found Phil, which is “when it all made sense and came together.” Then they started to dream up the idea of Phil, who is very much anti-immigration, sacrificing his life for an immigrant.
“We didn’t quite know who the guy was going to be. Would it be a hate-filled, monster racist? But Phil isn’t that. He is a very likable person, and like a lot of people just a guy struggling with aspects of his own financial and living situation.”
“The world of immigration became a scapegoat. He has these strong views but is still very likable. Which is a great combination to find in somebody. Once we picked him it made so much sense that of course it would be an American guy with these issues.”
Far from being a stage show, like Brown’s previous specials “The Push” and “Miracle,” the psychological illusionist shot “Sacrifice” over 3-4 months and also on a much more epic scale.
During our discussion Brown helped to break down the biggest differences between his television specials and live shows, explaining, “They’ve become very different things. With the TV specials, I have tried to take a step out of them. I am normally in the background pulling the strings.”
“But the drama and interest comes from that real person going through a real life situation. Magic or mind-reading tricks that I used to do, ultimately the subtext is, ‘Look how clever I am.”
“That doesn’t really have any dramatic value or can hold your interest for that long. I have grown up alongside the TV shows and they have evolved with me.”
“As far as the stage shows, it is a different thing when you’re going out to be entertained and are sat in a theatre, you are there to look at someone showing off. They have remained almost old-fashioned stage shows. It is a performer doing his thing.”
“What connects the two very different strands is that I try to make them about something grown-up. The stage shows are about the audience and the people sat there and their ongoing experience.”
“If you watch a play and it goes over your head it doesn’t mean that the play has failed. But if you watch a magician and you don’t get the trick then he has definitely failed. It only has any validity in your ongoing experience as you watch it.”
“The stage shows are about the audience. That is one thing that connects the two. Both of them I have tried to make not just about me.”
“But then you have completely different production processes. The world of theatre and TV. I sort of enjoy the theatre more. I enjoy the rehearsal aspect, and the adrenaline of getting up and doing it, and changing things night to night. That world of theatre is so different to TV.”
“But the TV allows me to have go to a bigger scale. You know, hiding in a truck, it is an extraordinary thing to have in my life, let alone what Phil is going through.”
“It is very lovely to have both. Basically I spend half of my year doing one and then the other. It is a very lovely and privileged place to be in, and it keeps it fresh.”
“Sacrifice” will premiere on Netflix on October 19.