- Obviously you are of Vietnamese heritage. What else instigated your move from Australia to Vietnam?
My parents come here once a year to visit family. I’ve still got Grandma here, and one year, in 2011, my Dad didn’t want Mum to travel here by herself, so he said, “Take Petey with you.” That was my second trip back to Vietnam. My first was back in 1995. In 2011, I had a mate I studied with at QUT (Queensland University of Technology) in Brisbane, Queensland who had already moved here to work and he said, “Mate, why don’t you come over and check out Saigon and see how it goes?” And that was where it all started.
2. How have you handled the difference in culture? Has it changed you in any way?
Definitely. Growing up and being Australian, I definitely have a different work ethic. I’m not saying that the Vietnamese don’t have a work ethic, but there’s certainly a different type of standard here. In Australia, it’s all in or nothing once you decide to do something. There are different expectations regarding communication and following up on work here. It takes a few years of living here to adapt, but you just sort of get used to things like mannerisms and stuff, and how things are done, how things are dealt with, how things are handled. It certainly hasn’t changed me as a whole. Even when I go back home to Australia, I still remember the Australian way when I’m doing things, but I guess when you’re here long enough, and you get used to the way things are done, you can sort of fall into that and apply it to the next person yourself, so as long as you can keep your head straight and keep focused, then you should be fine.
3.What struck you the most about the entertainment scene here? How have you had to adapt your shows?
When I first came here, my Vietnamese wasn’t as good, it was just okay, it wasn’t enough for general conversation though. I had to be able to communicate differently, and what I mean by that is, I can’t be casual when I’m on stage or when I’m emceeing a gig. I’ve got to be a little bit more formal, and use the right Vietnamese communication etiquette when it comes to presentation. Also, t’s very highly influenced by the Hollywood scene, I mean there’s a lot of big stars who are all about their image, and sometimes it makes me feel sad because, what happened to the art? You know, singers, painters, magicians, musicians, anything in the arts. Here it almost seems as if it’s taken a turn too much towards business, too much towards personal, and forgetting what the actual art really is, and that is to paint something beautiful, and actually have meaning and a story behind it, rather than, “It was painted by this guy and he’s worth this much and therefore this picture is worth this much.” One way I have to adapt my shows here is to keep in mind that there’s a younger audience. I still do some of the tricks the same as in Australia, but I change the presentation of it to suit that younger audience.
4. You became interested in magic at the age of 13. Can you recall exactly what it was that got you interested?
At 13 or 14 I was already exposed to Copperfield, and Siegfried and Roy, Rudy Coby, Penn and Teller, those guys were more like the illusionists who did stuff on stage, and it was just mind boggling to watch. I grew up loving magic as a spectator and it wasn’t until about the early 2000s that Australia was introduced to David Blaine street magic and all he did was walk around on the street with a pack of cards doing brand new tricks with cards, coins, money, all that sort of stuff to random people with a handy cam and people just flipping out, and the reaction to that was more natural and real, and that’s what really got me into it. After that I decided that maybe I should start learning something, so I went out and read some books in the library about magic and started with the basics. Yes, it was David Blaine, who was my initial inspiration and actually got me to get up and learn something.
5. Who do you respect as magicians, and how have they impacted on you?
My top three would probably be David Blaine, because he’s the one who pretty much pioneered street magic, and got me into it. Number two, is Cyril Takayama, a Japanese guy, who was the one who really made magic more practical. When you go onto the streets, you’re not going to bring props with you. You use exactly what’s around you, that’s why I loved it. Number three is Criss Angel. He was different and he went out there and he tapped into an area of magic we call geek magic. Geek magic is a type of trick or illusion that gets a reaction that’s more of a cringe or eww or a gross kind of reaction rather than a laugh or a “What the hell, how did you do that?!”
6. Keeping the reveal to yourself is integral to your livelihood as a magician. What kind of offers, unusual or not, have you had to reveal any of your tricks?
I recently did a show, I was a magician on a gameshow called Ky Tai Thach Dau Tap, a Vietnamese game show Saturdays at 8.30 on HTV 7 and basically I have a small segment where I come out and perform a magic trick to the five regular hosts that are on the show. Every week they invite three or four guests to come on, so it’s about seven to eight people, I come out and do a trick, where I wow them and then afterwards I do another trick where I can actually teach them and then they have to try and perform it back. But when I was younger in my magic career, I used to always hold tight on the secret of everything, but nowadays, for the right people who show interest, I don’t mind revealing some parts of it and them give some assistance on where they can find stuff and learn for themselves.
7. Do you have any horror stories to share about when a trick went terribly wrong?
I had this trick where the secret to it was this special kind of powder called Slush Powder that sits at the bottom of a cup and when you pour water into it, it thickens and hardens to a gel and sticks inside the cup. Once when I was performing at a wedding, I asked the bride tip a cup of water with the powder in it over her husband. She was so excited that she decided to throw in his face instead. The gel came out and hit him in the face and bounced onto the floor and she was like, “Huh??” and the wedding guests were like, “Whaaa?” I was performing with a beatboxer and we sort of just looked at each other and we went, “Amazing, the water turned into gel ladies and gentlemen!” and everyone clapped.
8. What advice do you have for aspiring magicians out there?
My advice to them is to never give up on your dream of being a great magician, and never stop practising. There are a lot of hard moves and there are other magicians who can get these moves before you do, but there is no time limit, it’s not a race, always focus on going out there and performing. If you don’t go out and do it, you’ll never know your potential. if you don’t allow yourself to fall, you’ll never be able to learn to get back up.
9. Aside from magic, what else do you do?
I’m also an actor, I’ve got eight films to date, at this moment, three of them are cameos and in five of them I’ve played main roles, all local films except for one movie which was a Hong Kong film called Girls 2, which is a sequel to a movie called Girls and is a Chinese remake of the Hangover. I got to play this cheesy magician that they run into and it also happens to have Mike Tyson in the movie too. I didn’t get to do any scenes with him, but I can say that I was in a film with Mike Tyson. Outside of acting, I also have a small talent agency where I manage two younger magicians. I also have a small production company and outside of entertainment, I have a marketing/advertising degree.
10. What ideas do you have in mind for future projects in Vietnam?
I want to do some sort of travel show like an Australian version of Getaway for Vietnam in a talk show format with games and special guests, and to try and bring Vietnam up to date with some of the Western world in their shows and entertainment values and stuff. I’m working closely with another Australian here who’s done a lot of work in television, who I’ve done a show with called Spicy Vietnam, so we’re in the midst of working on something new coming into 2017, so stay tuned for that and watch this space.
An edited version of this interview was published in the January 2017 issue of Word Magazine
Photo by Vu Ha Kim Vy