You don't mess with a guy who makes cars and buildings appear and disappear. In person, master illusionist Anslem Roy is every bit as arresting as his celebrated onstage persona.
Our meeting at the PJ Live Centre in Jaya One, Petaling Jaya, yielded an equally imposing experience. Speaking to Star2, Roy's steady eloquence seized the reins of this interview as he shared his insight on the magic trade.
Roy, who started off doing sleight-of-hand acts (with a bunch of flowers, a silk cloth, coins and balls), has since established himself as a master of illusions with mind-boggling performances, like making the Sphinx in Egypt as well as the Taj Mahal in India vanish. In Japan, he "teleported" a celebrity from one city to another.
He has also made continental cars like a BMW and Land Rover appear from thin air.
His flair for massive, elaborate performances has earned him the title "David Copperfield of Malaysia", though he dismisses the comparison with a slight flinch.
"I'd rather be recognised for my own works than to be compared to someone else," he tells this writer.
Make no mistake, Roy is a respectable figure in his own right. Popular in the Asian circuit (he performs often in Korea and Japan), he won the prestigious International Merlin Award - the equivalent of an Oscar in magic circles - in 2001 for Most Original Magic under the artistic category.
He is the first and only Asian performer to receive this award.
On the home front however, Roy reckons that magic has not been a respected art form.
"The first thing that people say when they hear you're a magician is: 'Oh, you can perform at my son's birthday party' or the more common 'Tipu one!'," shares the illusionist, who has been in the trade of performing magic for over 30 years.
He says American illusionist and endurance artist David Blaine is partly responsible for the decline of magic in the local scene.
Brooklyn, New York-born Blaine famously made his name as a performer of street and close-up magic, but Roy reckons that the trend has contributed to the art's growing disrepute.
"David Blaine brought in the concept of street magic, but our local boys took it to the extreme and made it cheap. Everyone was showing tricks rather than performing magic," Roy exclaims.
There is a distinct difference between showing and performing, he adds.
As he puts it, a plausible magic performance typically entails theatrics and a well-developed storyline, and sets out to engage the audience rather than to trick them. Street magic, on the other hand, derives its lustre solely from cheap tricks.
"Our boys thought it was cool to walk around with sloppy T-shirts and sling bags and do tricks with a deck of cards, and it'll be the cheapest possible deck that they could find.
"They don't dress well, they don't present themselves well and that brought magic down tremendously."
Roy, though composed, was fiercely unapologetic. "The concept of street magic is akin to busking," he continues.
"In Malaysia, a busker is almost like a beggar. How many times have you gone to a busker and given him money?"
"Magic isn't about showing tricks. Every time you tell someone: 'I'm going to show you some magic', they'll immediately think, 'Okay, he's gonna fool me' and it becomes a technical process."
A performance should be built on enjoyment, he adds.
"We want to get into your psyche and make it a pleasant, memorable experience for you as opposed to trying to trick you."
The experience is akin to a child watching his dad on television for the first time and thinking: "Hey, what's dad doing in the box?" Roy says.
Roy is, however, wary of assumptions that link performing magic to the dark arts.
"That's a very dangerous association. We are entertainers and we use props to create a certain environment.
"What we are doing is based purely on physics, chemistry, engineering and psychology," he explains.
In merging those aspects, he hopes to introduce the local public to a broader spectrum of magic as an art form with the showcase, Magic Live: Legerdemain vs Prestidigitation, which is helmed by Roy's premier magic club, the Magic Annexe.
He will not be whipping up any Proton Sagas on stage, though. "The trouble is, we can't get a car into the studio," he says with a laugh.
Instead, Roy will play host to the production, which will feature up-and-coming new talents like Jeff Gan, Bryan Yap, Avery Chin, Rajen and Ruoh Peng.
Gan, a construction consultant by day, is a self-proclaimed "mentalist".
And no, he did not just escape from Hospital Bahagia, Tanjung Rambutan.
Mentalism is actually a genre of magic that plays with the human mind, Gan explained. In layman terms, it is called "mind magic".
The 40-year-old credits Uri Geller, a psychic performer known for his trademark television performances of spoon bending as his inspiration.
"What Uri does - that's mentalism," he says. "I've been a fan of Uri Geller since I was a kid. I remember watching that guy bend spoons with his mind on TV and I was blown away. I've wanted to learn how to do magic like that ever since."
Meanwhile, Yap, a project coordinator in an insurance company, will keep the audience bound with a repertoire of rope tricks.
"I actually got my first rope as a Christmas gift from my wife," he recalls. But it's not what you think …
"I used to perform magic tricks in front of her all the time and I was always talking about getting a rope as a prop. I was surprised that she actually bought it for me."
Yap, who has since made the best of his rope-tricks at his company's annual dinner, tells us to expect plenty of razzle-dazzle on set.
Magic Live: Legerdemain vs Prestidigitation opens tonight at Cabaret, PJ Live Arts in Jaya One, Petaling Jaya at 8.30pm. Admission is RM40 (S$16). For enquiries, log on to tix.my or call 017-2289 849.