Ricky Jay

Active - 1987 - 2015  |   Born - Jan 1, 1948   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Thriller, Comedy Drama, Crime

Share on

Biography by Rovi

An offbeat renaissance man, Ricky Jay had distinguished himself as a magician, a sleight-of-hand artist, an author, and an archivist of unusual information, but he's become increasingly visible to filmgoers thanks to a series of choice supporting roles in notable motion pictures. Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1948, Ricky Jay spent most of his childhood in New Jersey, where his grandfather, a professional magician, first showed him how to do card tricks. Jay made his first appearance on-stage at the age of four, when his grandfather brought him out during a performance for the Society of American Magicians. As he grew older, Jay developed a passionate interest in both magic and cardistry, as well as the stranger tributaries of entertainment history, and after graduating from Cornell University, he worked for a time as a barker and sideshow performer with a traveling circus. In the 1970s, Jay moved his act from the sideshow to night spots and theaters, performing his tricks and stunts (including spearing a watermelon with a playing card which was thrown at over 90 miles an hour) in comedy and magic clubs, and opening shows for the likes of Tina Turner and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Jay also began sharing his historical research with the world in a series of books: Cards As Weapons (a history of card tricks as well as a guide to performing them), Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women (about odd and anomalous figures in the history of entertainment), and Jay's Journal of Anomalies, a compendium of information about "conjurers, cheats, hustlers, hoaxters, pranksters, jokesters, imposters, pretenders, side-show showmen, armless calligraphers, mechanical marvels, and popular entertainments." In the 1980s, Jay made the acquaintance of playwright and director David Mamet, with whom he shared an interest in the workings of confidence games; Jay became a consultant for the original stage production of Mamet's play The Shawl in 1985, and two years later Mamet called on Jay to play an unscrupulous card shark in his film House of Games. Jay soon became a regular in Mamet's screen productions, and appeared in six films he's directed, including The Spanish Prisoner and Heist. Mamet also gave Jay's offscreen career a boost, serving as director for Jay's one-man show Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants, which became a major hit both off-Broadway and on the road. (The show was later videotaped for broadcast on HBO in 1996; a year later, Jay would host another TV special on the history of magic.) Jay's acting work also caught the eye of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, who cast him in small but showy roles in two of his films, Boogie Nights and Magnolia (the latter featured Jay narrating a sequence on odd and anomalous crimes which could have come from one of his books...one of which was later shown on a library table). And Jay's research in magic has also given him another connection to the film industry: He runs a small company called Deceptive Practices, which specializes in creating trick props and illusions for the movies (their work as been featured in such pictures as Forrest Gump, Leap of Faith, and Congo).

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography