Monday, July 11, 2011

Former Child Wizard (From the Archives)

A little spoof I did when Chamber of Secrets came out, way back in the day. Reprinting it here. You know, for kicks:

Former Child Wizard
The real Harry Potter, grown up and washed up and living among us, dishes on life as a boy wonder and the magic of comeback

* * * 

Nobody at the little girl’s birthday party knows who the magician in the round glasses and pointy blue hat really is, and they wouldn’t believe it anyway. The three dozen screaming, drooling kids at this Brentwood, California backyard gala--cake for the kids, martinis for the parents--might not understand, or care, about his name, his true identity.

So the thirtysomething man with sad eyes and a thick British accent just smiles and does simple tricks in for little Rachel, who turns 5 today and wants everyone to know it. He combines two solid brass circles. He asks if this is your card, and he pulls rabbits from the most unlikely of locations.

The parents call him The Wizard Guy™, which is what it says on his business card: “Available for birthdays, bar mitvahs and everyday witchcraft.” Soon, if all goes well, they’ll be calling him by his real name, his given name, a name of legend: Harry Potter. That’s right, the Harry Potter.

“Hey, mister clown,” yells one of the kids, cake and a mean grin all over his face, “do that thing with all the handkerchiefs again.”

“Get it straight, kid,” counters the magician-for-hire, calm and commanding. “I’m not a clown.”

This surly kid at Rachel’s party simply doesn’t know that his messing with Harry Potter. He hasn’t been told that the stories of a wand-wielding boy wonder--now being turned into megabucks fiction, film and action figures--are true, all true. Or as true as Hollywood biography can be, his childhood in the ’60s and ’70s spun into effects-heavy “event” flicks. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry? Real. The evil Voldemort? You got it. All that stuff about sucking the blood of unicorns to keep you alive? Try it sometime.

As part of a deal--a very, very bad deal--struck decades ago by his adopted family, Potter’s life story now belongs to others. Lots of others. J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. and, he explains, “everyone else who’s name isn’t Harry bleedin’ Potter.”

But now, decades after defeating the ultimate evil (wait for book 7, kids) and tearing through a sex-drugs-and-magic-trick era, he’s got a comeback staged. The one-time kid sorcerer now has a reality show in the works, which explains the camera crew following him while these dozens of rowdy American children shove cake into their mouths. And he’s decided it’s time to come clean, to tell his story, to go prime-time with the truth.

Before he does, little Rachel, who turns 5 today, approaches him with a small white balloon animal in her hands.

“Excuse me, mister wizard,” she says. “My mommy said you really are magic. Is it true?”

Harry Potter, 34 years old and 6,000 miles away from home, pauses for a long moment to stare at this child. He smiles a sly smirk and reaches into his pocket to fondle an old, worn wooden wand. And then he changes his mind.

“You have no idea,” he says, turning away.

* * *

A movie about how Potter got here--making balloon animals for $15 an hour--won’t break any box office records, but it’s a story he’s now ready to tell. “The problem, see, was that I did everything worth doing when I was, like, 10,” he says now, pacing his spare, tasteful apartment in the San Fernando Valley. “I vanquished evil, I mastered heavy-duty spells. I was a first-class, planet-saving supernatural badass. But then it’s like, what now?”

Beyond the three-day stubble, red eyes and unkempt hair, his resemblance to the prepubescent Daniel Radcliffe, who plays him in the movies, is simply uncanny. His face is still young, his smile infrequent but honest. He flitters around his one-room pad as he talks, lighting candles, cleaning the refrigerator, piling dirty robes into the washer, keeping tabs on the slate of soccer matches on satellite television. A small dog he calls Hagrid sleeps on the sofa, snoring.

“These kids today,” he says, lighting the third cigarette of the morning, getting nostalgic, “they don’t know what magic is. And, I tell you, it’s good that they don’t have to.”

His early years are, he says, captured pretty well in the books, which you and about 200 million other people have already read: He was born in 1968, destined to be a great wizard, raised among the “muggles,” or regular folk, until he could study magic at Hogwarts school. There, he got into all kinds of adventures, trouble and life-threatening situations.

“I’m not going to kid you. What we learned in that place was often black magic, some heavy old-world shit that--thank the gods--nobody does anymore. I mean, you want your kids conjuring demons and flying around on broomsticks?”

As he talks, the phone rings, again and again. Potter takes the calls, abrupt, businesslike even when talking to friends. As a thirtysomething has-been in Hollywood, he’s fallen in with others who peaked young and still languish in the sunshine and easy living. Wil Wheaton calls to ask a soccer question. Kirk Cameron wants to know where the party is tonight, because “Mac’s [Macaulay Culkin] in town, and wants to get laid.” He hangs up each call and launches right back into his story.

In school, Potter spent much of his time battling his enemy No. 1, Voldemort, who was responsible for killing his parents and many, many others. But even Potter himself can’t see how “the little high jinx” of his youth can be stretched out to the seven books and movies Rowling has planned. “This woman, how she can milk my school years for so many books is beyond me,” he says, scooping dog food onto a small plate. “Soon she’ll be writing like 800 pages about that time me and (Ron) Weasley put Vaseline all over Dumbledore’s broom. I mean, when are people going to be get tired of me?”

When his notoriously dim-witted step-parents--you know them as the Dursleys--caught on to all the excitement, they sold the rights to his life story to a small publishing house in London. Like many child stars, Potter got the short end of the broomstick. He’s under legal obligation to stay quiet, stay out of sight, and--until now--he’s played ball. “I get a piece of the action,” he says, “but that and a few gigs wiping rich kids’ asses’ll buy me a milkshake, you know?”

For legal reasons, Potter won’t say how he ultimately defeated Voldemort, but the world’s most powerful kid wizard did graduate Hogwarts--with honors. And then the wider world called his name. “I could have stuck around Hogwarts, grown a beard, chased tenure. But in those days, at least in the magic community, I had some serious, serious heat.”

So he did what any up-and-coming magician would do: Headlined his own show in Las Vegas.

By the age of 18, he held court five nights a week at the Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino--as “The Wizard of Oooo’s and Ahhh’s!”--and the freewheeling Vegas magic scene of the mid-‘80s hit the spot. It was lavish, wild and competitive, and this honest-to-god spell-spinner from across the Atlantic brought the party everywhere he went. He would conjure live, three-headed dogs on stage and have them battle each other. He’d levitate the entire audience and make the hotel disappear for hours at a time, just for kicks. Everyone thought it was part of the act.

He built a compound in the desert and filled it with his every fantasy, a lavish aviary for his hundreds of owls, a replica of his childhood home, an oversized guesthouse for his half-giant friends. He considers renowned cat wranglers Siegfried and Roy--or Fischbacher and Horn, as he call them--his showbiz mentors, and he will not, under any circumstances, talk about the women. “You take a kid fresh out of a stuffy private school and put him in that environment,” Potter admits, laughing, puffing hard on a Camel, “and you’re asking for trouble.”

In the next decade, a series of disasters nearly sawed his dreams in half. The crowds stopped materializing for his show, and the casino big wigs were never fooled when he padded the auditorium with “apparitions.” He fell into an every-flavored-bean addiction, flying them into the country by the crate-full, putting on 50 pounds in sardine- and booger-flavored candy, all washed down with butter beer. Childhood buddies Weasley and Hermione Granger (both now teaching at Hogwarts) stuck up their noses at how he profiting from their “special” art, and they refused to visit.

At the end of his rope, Potter finally bet and lost his fortune in a risky deal with wrestling-mogul Vince McMahon. “America just wasn’t ready for the Extreme Quidditch League,” he says now, describing warehouses still full of bright red-white-and-blue Nimbus brooms with the XQL logo. “I know that now.”

In the 1990s, a destitute Potter moved to Los Angeles to, once again, reinvent himself. What he found was an endless parade of stuck-up kids in gated suburban palaces who needed to be entertained.

“Do you know what kind of work there is in L.A. for powerful wizards whose resume includes, what, saving the world time and again?” he asks. “Nothing. Dick.”

Hollywood didn’t “get” his appeal, and agents and producers kept confusing him with Harry Anderson, the tricks-turning hack from Night Court. He couldn’t even find work during the ‘90s magic boom, when David Copperfield bedded supermodels and hipster/hottie/magician David Blaine drew crowds and cred by, say, freezing himself under sidewalks.

“Blaine,” says Potter, calm, pulling underwear from his combo washer-dryer, “is a punk. An imposter. He’s a…”

He turns his head, conjures something foul from deep in his throat and spits it onto the floor.

“New subject.”

Today, in the midst of what he calls “this nonstop Harry Potter media gang-bang,” he’s finally wrangled a deal that might bring him a fat check--or at least a little dignity. He’s wrestled the rights to his life post-Hogwarts, and has spun it into a big idea, the only option he has left, a TV show. How Potter will play in the world of Ozzy and Anna Nicole remains to be seen, but he won’t be counting on alchemy, sorcery or quote-unquote spell-casting to bring in ratings.

“Do you know what happens to magical powers when you don’t use them?” he says, pulling himself atop his washing machine, shirtless and hunched, while Hagrid the tiny dog paces at his feet.

“Just like everything else that makes you special when you’re young: They fade, until you’re just like everybody else.”

* * *

At the backyard Brentwood birthday party, a camera crew follows Potter’s every move. He won’t talk much about the deal, but “a major network” has already picked up two 10-episode seasons of Former Child Wizard, a sort of “reality sitcom” that will blow wide Hollywood’s underworld of magic-users, B-listers and has-beens. Not to mention the everyday life of the most famous magic-school grad in history.

Siegfried and Roy will guest star. Wheaton and the Coreys will be regulars, and Potter hints that a few of his old Hogwarts cohorts have agreed to an appearance. “Ron’s on board, but only if we do an arc where I return to campus and apologize for some of the shit I pulled on Draco Malfoy,” he says. “The guy was a first-rate fink, but maybe he didn’t deserve everything I did to him.”

The idea of cashing in on the reality TV craze may seem crass and opportunistic, but Potter insists that it will be a show about redemption, sadness and the magic of everyday things. “Will it spoil these big, overblown movies for kids? Maybe,” he says. “Will it make me happy? I can’t say.”

On the day little Rachel turns 5, the cameras follow as Potter escapes the backyard for a smoke break, leaning against his faded Ford Aspire parked out front. It’s hot today, and he’s been sweating.

Before long, Rachel, with a small balloon-animal poodle in tow, tracks down her guest. Tears stream down her face, having been just blown off by Potter moments before, and she tugs on the wizard’s long black cape. High above her head, she holds the balloon poodle he’d made earlier. She’s giving him another chance.

“How did you know my dog died last week, mister?” she says. “You know he looked just like this.”

Potter gently takes the twisted tubes of stretched rubber, and his face is no longer that of an annoyed weekend magician, but is filled with such peace and power that the girl stops crying immediately. He mumbles something under his breathe and a warm, warm wind stirs from under his robes.

A flash of light, the scent of rosemary and sulfur, and a white poodle puppy goes bounding out of the hired entertainer’s arms and into the yard. The girl chases it, accepting everything she sees as real. And it is.

Harry Potter adjusts his hat, and heads toward the backyard, the party.

“Who wants to see a card trick?” he says, pulling a faded, well-worn deck from his pocket and walking, once again, into the crowd.

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