Psychological illusionist Derren Brown wants to create a hero out of an average Joe — or in the case of his new Netflix special “Sacrifice,” an average Phil. OK, so maybe a somewhat xenophobic Phil.
In Brown’s follow-up to “Miracle,” which was his follow-up to “The Push,” the mentalist believes that he can make a man with unfavorable feelings toward immigrants take a bullet for an alien in the country illegally — one who is a total stranger, for good measure. Or at least, Brown is sure going to try for that result.
Readers can find the extended “Sacrifice” trailer at the top of this post. Like the initial teaser-trailer, it is exclusive to TheWrap.
So why was this Phil fella selected as the lone participant in a highly elaborate experiment involving 14 actors?
Well, the dude was not only “highly suggestible,” which the setup needs, but Phil also scored “highest in the room” on what the English mind-reader calls an “implicit racism test,” Brown told us.
Not a great test to be in the top percentile for, but that doesn’t mean Phil is a horrible person, Brown said.
“He had these strong views, but [he] wasn’t like a monster,” Brown explained. “He was kind of likable too, and that felt like a good balance.”
Brown is not wrong or making an excuse for his participant: After watching “Sacrifice,” viewers will probably agree that’s exactly how Phil comes off — as a mostly nice, but ignorant person.
Yes, it’s a solid social experiment for the times.
We are not going to spoil whether or not Brown’s technology-aided test was a success or a failure in the end — but it almost didn’t even have an end, he said.
In a scene setting up the crescendo, Phil is nudged to make friends with a (fake) biker gang. Turns out, these guys (in the storyline) dislike Mexicans more than Phil ever did, and a skirmish breaks out when a few Latinos (also actors) enter the bar.
“He was terrified. Talking to him afterwards, he was much more terrified in that bar situation than I was imagining at that point for him,” Brown told us. “I thought it might be a bit uncomfortable. “
“He was very close at one point to running out and flagging down a car and just sort of saying ‘Take me away,’ which would have left us completely stuck,” Brown continued. “It was the one thing we hadn’t thought of — what if he just [ran away]? We figured as long as he doesn’t have his phone, that’s fine.”
Well, Phil didn’t run away. At least, not at that point. (Don’t worry, we’re not tipping you off one way or the other here.)
And he’s a better man today for having lived through the learning experience, Brown said. “It really has changed Phil,” Brown assured us.
Viewers will catch a glimpse into Phil’s transformation at the end of the streaming special. Or maybe Brown just hypnotized us into believing such an about-face is possible.
“Sacrifice” debuts Oct. 19 on Netflix.