By Tom Interval
If you’ve seen The Cabin in the Woods or the Netflix series House of Cards, actress Kristen Connolly’s face might be more familiar to you than her name. But make no mistake about it: Because of her talent, intelligence, beauty, and genuine warmth, she’s well on her way to becoming known in every American household.
In her latest role, Kristen will portray Bess Houdini, the wife of legendary escapologist and illusionist Harry Houdini, in History’s upcoming two-part miniseries, Houdini, starring Adrien Brody as the title character.
Kristen contacted me at the end of August after a mutual friend in the entertainment industry (name omitted for privacy) introduced us via email, telling her how much I know about Houdini. She promptly consulted me about Bess because she wants her portrayal to be as accurate as possible. In her words, she wants “to really get her character right”—a testament to how seriously she takes her work and why her portrayal of Bess will likely be one of the best of any Houdini biopics produced so far.
Immediately after our first email conversation, I got to work, creating an 87-page document packed with all things Bess, including any information that sheds light on the actual character of Bess as opposed to including only biographical facts. Kristen is using that information, in addition to other resources, to really hone in on Bessie the person.
After emailing back and forth for a few weeks, Kristen and I arranged to meet at The Magic Castle, the perfect place to discuss Bess. Kristen had never been to the Castle, and she was excited about going. Since she would be in Los Angeles for the Emmys, we met the day before (last Saturday, September 21). She brought her boyfriend Danny, and I invited John Cox, Houdini expert and creator of the magnificent Houdini blog, Wild About Harry. John, who has been a member of the Castle since the mid 1980s, gave all of us a highly informative tour before dinner.
So there we were in the Castle’s plush Victorian-style dining room talking about Houdini, Bess, the upcoming miniseries, and magic in general. During dessert, I taught Kristen a popular playing-card flourish we magicians call the ribbon-spread turnover, in which a deck of cards is spread neatly face down on the table, then gracefully turned over until the spread is face up. Whether or not she performs the flourish in the miniseries, she caught on quickly and seemed to enjoy learning it.
After dinner, we caught a great show featuring sleight-of-hand artist Jon Armstrong, comic juggler Lindsay Benner, and magician Danny Cole. We walked around the Castle for a while longer and even slipped into the Houdini Seance Chamber just before a private party arrived there. Since Kristen and Danny planned to attend a pre-Emmys party later that evening, we wrapped up our post-dinner tour, took a few pictures, and made our way outside. We exchanged some final hugs before the couple’s driver picked them up and drove off. John and I headed back into the Castle and caught a final show before leaving.
The following day, as a bonus to an already wonderful weekend, John let me peruse his Houdini collection, and we hung out for the rest of the day before I headed back down to San Diego. I missed the Emmys that night but read some of the follow-up stories, which included photo galleries of celebrities on the red carpet. One of those pictures showed Kristen, who wore a designer gown that outclassed almost every other female celebrity on the carpet. Seeing her in that environment made it hard for me to fathom that only 24 hours earlier, I was having dinner with her, conversing as if she and I were old friends. That’s how affable, humble, and appreciative she is, despite the success she’s already achieved. While some celebrities might outrank Kristen in terms of sheer fame, few can touch her when it comes to class. And no matter how famous of an actress she becomes, I’ll always remember how great she is as a person.