Interview: Alexis Conran
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Alexis Conran, actor, writer, and stage magician, is now starring in his own show on Channel 5, Hustling America. His role in BBC3's The Real Hustle transformed him into a household name. We caught up with "the man who hates to lose" as he discusses the "country that loves to bet." Hustling America follows the journey of confidence trickster Alexis Conran as he travels across America in the footsteps of some of history’s greatest hustlers. This is a personal journey for Alexis, and he puts his skills in deception and magic to the test, attempting to pull off the hardest cons of all – proposition bets. These wagers, which appear ridiculous unless you know the cunning secret, were originally used to con unsuspecting people out of their cash. Conran is on a mission to measure himself against the best. What inspired you to make Hustling America? It kind of started with my fascination with these proposition bets. There are several books about Titanic Thompson that I’ve read, but there was one in particular, written by a man called Kevin Cook, which I read about a year and a half ago. I was just coming back from a meeting I had with a production company in Bristol, and I wondered if I could do any of this stuff. First of all, I wondered if any of it was true. Titanic Thompson was apparently a man who was able to throw a key into a lock, and I didn’t understand how that was possible. I tried to figure out all these versions in my head, and being a magician as well, and having done The Real Hustle for so long, you become very good at finding out secrets, and finding out how to scam stuff. I just thought that this cannot be, and so I wondered if there was a TV programme in trying to do the bets that Titanic Thompson, and Amarillo Slim, and all these people used to do. Can I learn the skills, can I do them, can I pull them off, and can I find people who are willing to fall for them? And that was kind of how it all it how began. We sort of put the proposal together and Channel 5 were kind enough to let us go out and make three one-hour shows. It sounds to be quite like The Real Hustle’s proposition bets on a much larger scale? Yes, it was an upscaling of what I’ve been doing already, but this is a completely different world. In the second episode on Monday, which is also my favourite episode, you meet the modern day proposition gambler. I meet a guy named Brian Zembic, and he very famously had breast implants put in and kept them for a year. This was a bet that he took for $100,000. There are still people out there, like Titanic, who do crazy stuff. I get the impression that this is a very personal journey. Who would you describe as your “hero”? I’ve been trying to use that word sparingly. Whilst Titanic was definitely a hero of mine, I realised, whilst going on this journey, that people like Titanic weren’t the nicest of people, despite being very talented and very clever people. They hung out with some very dangerous people and I don’t think there was much human sympathy there. There’s a saying amongst hustlers: “A sucker and his money were lucky enough to get together in the first place.” And there’s another saying: “In every bet there’s a fool and a thief”. If these people could trace you they would, they have no moral compass. Personally, I’m the kind of guy who will do a prop bet for a drink, but then the next round is on me.
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