What I love most about Los Angeles is the sense of being inside a movie. Anything is possible, the more dramatic the better. All you have to do is dream.
At dinner last night with my TV producer, Suzy Lamb, I heard a wonderful story about Jim Carrey, the comic star of The Truman Show and Bruce Almighty. In 1987, a 25-year-old unknown, Jim drove his old Toyota into the Hollywood Hills and parked on Mulholland Drive.
The city which was spread out before him, like angel dust on the hillside, had never heard of him, but he was going to make sure it did — and the rest of the world with it. Taking a scrap of paper and a pen, he wrote himself a cheque, “for acting services rendered,” and dated it Thanksgiving Day 1995... eight years in the future.
The cheque was for ten million dollars.
Jim Carrey believed in his own talent so vividly, and was so unswervably committed to turning his dream into reality, that he easily outstripped his goal. By 1995, he’d broken box office records with The Mask and Dumb And Dumber, his worldwide grosses were estimated at more than half a billion dollars, and he commanded a cool $20m a picture.
Throughout my career, I’ve been urging people, “Believe in yourself and anything is possible.” But if your self-belief needs a boost, jump on a plane and come to Los Angeles.
And bring some sun-cream... it was 110 degrees in the city yesterday, and out in the California desert today, on a dry lake bed at El Mirage, the thermometer is bursting out through the glass. It’s hard to believe California is on the same planet as England — we had more rain last month than this desert has had in a century.
I’m here with a crew of around 80 technicians to shoot a promo for my show Phenomenon with Criss Angel. He’s internationally famous, but in the US there’s no one bigger — more members of the public would recognise his face than could name even the President.
I was introduced to Criss about an hour ago, and he struck me as a charming, thoughtful guy. Shooting an entire series with him promises to be a fascinating experience.
We have to survive this promo first, of course. Unbelievably, as well as contending with the naked sun and 115 degree sands, there are billion-watt lamps over our heads. I’m wearing a special jacket designed to absorb or deflect all the heat — otherwise, I’d look like I’d just stepped fully clothed out of a swimming bath.
And of course we have an air-conditioned trailer. That’s not a Hollywood luxury... it’s a life-support system.
I can’t wait to see the finished promo footage. There will be amazing, stunning special effects. And I have no lines... it’s all about the way I stare into the lens. The location was chosen for its eerie open spaces and the other-worldly glow of its cracked, white sands. For me it’s a unique experience — I’ve never shot anything like it.
Yesterday we were at the NBC studios, with Jay Leno’s Tonight Show shooting next-door. I was astonished to see a team of 18 people for an ordinary photoshoot, taking publicity stills for newspapers and magazines in the run-up to the show’s launch. It really drove home to me what a massive business NBC is — one of the big three television channels, in the country that produces most of the world’s biggest TV shows.
The Tonight Show, when it was compered by the late Johnny Carson, was the scene of my greatest professional humiliation, in 1974. My detractors have never let me forget that night: my dowsing and mind-reading abilities deserted me, in front of an audience of countless millions.
Johnny, who was an amateur conjuror and a sceptic about the power of the mind, thought he’d caught me out. I knew I was simply having the worst off-night imaginable, like a tennis star who freezes on match point. But it was a turning point for me, and I learned more from that disaster than I could have possibly discovered by any easy route.
Yesterday I was interviewed by NBC’s publicity team, who wanted to know what will make Phenomenon a show unlike any other. The answer lies with the character and charisma of the contestants. It’s about natural-born showmanship, creating acts that make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
And it’s about the audience too. I’ll be urging viewers to video any phenomena that erupt spontaneously in their homes while they are watching — they can email the clips to us and we’ll be able to screen them live on air. That’s a genuinely thrilling prospect.
Shipi and I were amazed to find ourselves standing under a mural depicting NBC’s logos down the decades. The rainbow swatches started out in 1956 as a peacock... with eleven feathers. Regular readers will know I regard eleven as much more than a lucky number: it signifies a connection to the cosmic consciousness, a gateway to infinite possibilities. It’s no coincidence that this peacock has eleven brilliant feathers.