In Random (Akashic, Oct.), magician Jillette’s protagonist makes major life decisions by rolling a pair of dice.
Where did you get this idea from?
I’m going to be very vague about it for obvious reasons. Teller and I were in England, and a person we were working with asked if I’d ever heard of “Dice Life.” And I said no. She told me that after she experienced a major trauma, when she had decisions to make that she was in doubt about, she rolled dice to make them. I asked her if she’d rolled the dice to decide about working with us, and she said, “Yes.”
What about that struck you?
The idea that when we make decisions in life, we always make the one we want to do the most. But there’s all these choices that we want to do a little less that are never expressed. So little of what might happen does happen. The idea of making a decision in an instant, without any hesitation, is so powerful. It seems so seductive and got me thinking. Her story stuck in my mind, and I kept wondering if there was a way to portray this that would feel real.
Was writing this novel a therapeutic thought experiment for you, given the dissonance between a dice-driven life and the extremely nonrandom techniques of your magic act?
Very much so. Way in the past, I’ve had more than one girlfriend turn out to find me incredibly disappointing. Their view of me from my public appearances was that I was very wild and uncontrolled and spontaneous. And yet, I believe I am one of the least spontaneous people I know. I run my life with an almost military schedule—I will write the book now for 23 minutes, and then I will take 13 minutes to practice my bass, and then I will take 45 minutes and I will practice Spanish, and I’ll take a 10-minute break to have a cup of coffee. So writing this book, with the idea that someone is going to be irresponsible in making choices just from the dice rolls, was wonderful.
Given the intricate designs of your magic, have you ever considered writing an impossible mystery?
Teller and I have sat down many, many times to write a caper movie with an impossible crime element. But when I’ve watched what are supposed to be the best movies of that type, my suspension of disbelief falls apart when the plot doesn’t have random chance involved. I always want to see what they would have done if the guy hadn’t done what they planned for him to do.