Meet the Canadian Illusionist Who’s Making Magic Cool Again

Zack Mirza won’t pull a rabbit out of a hat or levitate above the crowd. He’s not wearing a tuxedo, nor, thankfully, is he rocking Criss Angel-esque goth wear. But make no mistake: the guy is one hell of a magician.

Mirza is at the forefront of a new-school magic movement, a poster boy for the next generation of conjurers. Sure, there’s card tricks. But the props go beyond coins and matches. Think iPhones, custom-designed sneakers, and tricks that make most Vegas stage shows look like child’s play. Paying homage to the fathers of illusion, Mirza is reinventing magic with a mentalist approach that will make you second-guess what’s up the sleeve of his designer bomber jacket.

With his new show, Illusions of Grandeur, now airing on OLN, we caught up with the 28-year old magician to discuss exactly what it takes to pull off the impossible night it and night out. It’s up to you to believe whether it’s real or not.

Define new-school magic.

It’s like rap. There’s the classics, like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre…. then Drake came out. It’s a new school mentality. And it’s the same thing with magic: pulling inspiration from the legends to make something new. I use objects and props that people connect to, like iPhones for example. It’s about creating a moment of wonder; when the audience is so immersed in the experience, they’re not distracted by anything else.

How did you first get your start in magic?

I’ve always been fascinated by magic. I started practicing magic after my grandfather took me to a carnival to see my first magic show in the UK. It was awesome. When the magician pulled me up onstage to help him with his trick, I saw the audience from his perspective, and I was like, “Okay, this is it. This is what I want to do.”

And then you met Muhammad Ali?

When I was 12 years old, I met Pinball Clemons at a basketball court near my house. He lived in my neighbourhood, and one day, he saw me showing off a couple magic tricks to some friends of mine. Shortly after that, he invited me to a few football games and a fundraising event for Parkinson’s Disease. Muhammad Ali was there and I briefly met him.

It was really cool, especially at an early age, to see how this hobby of mine was perceived by others — to be at an event so early on with the likes of Ali, the GOAT, was truly inspiring. And that’s how everything started: just getting out there and doing it. Magic has been a huge part of my life since I was young, and it has opened a lot of doors for me.

What’s the general reaction when you tell people you’re a magician?

Most people second-guess it. Sometimes they’ll think I said I’m a musician, because I don’t look anything like a stereotypical magician — if anything, I give off more of a pop star sort of vibe. [Laughs.] It catches people by surprise. They ask me, “Can you really make a living as a full-time magician?” Yes. You can.

Do you ever use magic to impress dates? 

It has its perks, for sure…but that’s not my go-to move, to tell you the truth. I like being able to have a girl get to know me first because, hey, I’m a good guy before anything else! I like to think of it as a last resort. For instance, to add some excitement to a date that might not be going that well, I’ll catch them off-guard with something mind-blowing and hopefully win back some interest. You can’t overdo it though — with great power comes great responsibility. But, I will say: I’m an excellent wingman. [Laughs.]

What makes magic so ubiquitous?

Magic is universal. From a small village to Wall Street, it’s cool because it brings back the wonder you felt as a kid; everyone wants to feel curious.

How many tricks do you know?

It all comes in cycles. I’ll do 10-20 tricks and keep cycling through old and new material. If I were to put a number on it, 1,000 might be an exaggeration, but it’s definitely in the hundreds.

Favourite type of magic?

I love card magic. It’s my go-to, because I’ve been playing with cards for a long time. Since working in TV and on stage, though, there’s more at work when you’re dealing with a larger audience. The thing about magic is that you need to understand the audience and see what they react to. I still love card magic, but now I’m trying to incorporate more mentalism — tricks involving the mind — and larger stage illusions. which works far better when you’re dealing with a bigger crowd. I’m not using any props that are out of the ordinary — no fancy boxes or tables. It’s important for me to always try to incorporate everyday objects that are relatable.

You’re a stylish guy. What’s your go-to outfit on show night?

It’s funny you ask. I’ve been toying with the idea about creating a line of clothing for magicians. I love fashion, but I find with a lot of the brands and clothes I love to wear, pocket space is always an issue. As magicians, we need our pockets. [Laughs.] So if I can create my own brand one day, I’ll go in with the intention of looking out for my fellow magicians, as well as making the clothes look dope!

Fashion is normally the last thing a magician would care about, but to me, clothing is very important. A lot of times, I can’t wear some of the brands and outrageous stuff I like because it’ll be too distracting while I’m trying to perform. That’s why there’s definitely a simplicity to my style. Clean silhouettes, monochromatic tones — sometimes with just a splash of colour. And Adidas Ultra-Boosts — always.

What’s the formula for great magic?

It’s all about practice. Without it, you can’t expect to be great at anything. You have to give anything that you love the attention it needs for it to be great. That’s not even specific to magic, it translates to absolutely anything you want to excel at. With magic, it’s about taking your time. I’m not afraid to fail, because that’s the only way to learn and become better at what you do.

How do you respond when people say that magic is fake?

People generally don’t want to believe that magic is real. Some people let themselves believe it, but generally, it’s hard to accept. I always tell people, “I’m not trying to make you look stupid or foolish – it’s just entertainment. Relax, and enjoy the moment.” If they’re unwilling and going to challenge it, you’re going into it with the wrong intention.

As magicians, we’re constantly being challenged by that. With more experience and more time, you have the ability to change their perception with the right magic. And I love the challenge. When people say it’s fake, I’m determined to do my best to make them believe otherwise.

So is magic real, or are you selling a lie?  

Magic is real, in my opinion. Real in the sense that it creates a miracle moment for the spectator. That’s what magic is to me. Whether it’s something I’ve practiced day and night, everything I do is obviously sleight of hand or an illusion, but it’s my job as a magician to make that look as believable as possible. Magic in the general sense isn’t real, but my job as a magician is to make you, the audience, question it. It’s up to you to decide if you want to believe it or not, and that’s the fun of it.

Photography: Philip Sportel