I was first introduced to my newest interview subject, Rich Manley, by Charles Sherman, the manager who helped set up my interview with Amy Stoch earlier this year. Rich Manley is an actor, martial artist and magician, among other skills, and he’ll soon be launching a new series on Tubi TV called Culture Shock, where he takes his magic skills all over the world and uses them to connect with other cultures. I recent interviewed Rich about his magic, his acting and more, and I hope you all enjoy reading this interview.
Say hello to Rich Manley!
Johnny: Hello, Rich.
Rich: Hey, how are you?
Johnny: I thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Rich: Of course, of course.
Johnny: I have my questions ready to go, starting with this: Soon you’ll be seen on Tubi TV in the program Culture Shock, where you take your magic skills around the world and learn magic from other cultures. What was the most rewarding part of working on that show for you?
Rich: I would say, probably, experiencing the different cultures and the many people I visited. One of those particular spots was Ethiopia in the Omo Valley. It was just such an eye-opening experience to meet all the different subgroups of people and tribes that were in that region, and the way they presented themselves, with large lip gauges and rings in their lips and their ears. Some of their traditions were just in such stark contrast with how we live in America or any other first world country. Seeing how these people live was just extraordinary.
Johnny: Alright. If you’re allowed to divulge it, what magic trick were you most impressed by during your travels on culture shock?
Rich: There was a moment in Peru where we were in The Andes. We were going to a Quechua village. We had to climb about 15,000 feet above sea level, and we were climbing a rock face to get to this village. There was a shaman who was doing this ceremony, a ritual that was basically a blessing to the mountain, which represented Mother Nature.
It was an overcast day, and he did this ritual where he laid out all these trinkets and different things the villagers had given him. He wrapped them up on a rock and used the rock as a pedestal. He drank some wine and then blew on some coca leaves. He said a prayer and then, all of a sudden, the sky started to part.
It was the strangest thing. I had never seen anything like it, but he was so focused, and that overcast sky parted. He told us afterwards that the offering he gave to the mountain that day was accepted, and that’s why the skies parted.
Johnny: Did any of the countries you visited for your show present any challenges in terms of what you were or were not allowed to perform?
Rich: Yes. There are some areas where I go in with a fixer. We have a team that comes with us, and they let us know the stipulations. “This culture believes strongly in magic, so be careful what you do”. Some tribes and some people, especially in Indonesia, believe in real magic, so it’s difficult sometimes. It’s not so much what kind of trick. It’s more that you have to explain to them that this is not real magic. This is a performance. This is for entertainment. I separate that line so they don’t think I’m some kind of sorcerer and (laughing) try to kidnap me or something like that.
Johnny: Alright. What do you think makes magic such a uniting thing?
Rich: I think it’s a universal language, so to speak. I mean, everybody has their own definition of magic, and different cultures also have their own definition of magic. I think when you can perform something in front of somebody’s eyes that brings them wonder and awe, and brings a smile to their face, that in itself is the definition of real magic. That’s why I go out and do magic for these cultures, because it really is a way to communicate with them without really knowing their language. They just understand that they’re watching something amazing and, i turn, they’re showing me something amazing. That’s communication in itself.
Johnny: Okay. Of all the illusions you perform, which is the one you would say you’re most proud of being able to do?
Rich: There’s a few of them that take a little more time to set up, and a little more time to perform. I don’t have a particular set illusion or trick or effect that I would say is one I’m proud of. I think the illusions and effects I am most happy to perform are the ones that require a little bit more slight of hand, a little bit more audience management. If it’s an effect that’s pretty elaborate, and requires me to have a pretty substantial setup, I enjoy performing those effects because it’s so much more taxing on me.
I know I have to manage where people are looking, how the effect is going to play out, how to manage the audience, how to have the effect reveal itself through sleight of hand and misdirection. I really enjoy that because it’s a challenge for me, so I get a little bit more excitement, too, out of trying to fool them.
Johnny: Alright. You’re a few years younger than I am, but I’m sure you saw the magic-related TV shows that were on the air throughout the 90s, and I’m sure you caught up with older magic shows via social media, so who have been your biggest influence as a magician?
Rich: Well, yeah, I used to watch a lot of the magic shows in the 90s. Strangely enough, I’d watch the big stage performances, but I was really drawn more to David Blaine, and I think the big reason for that was because of the intimacy of his magic. I was more drawn to the fact that somebody could walk out into public, take any object from a spectator, and create a miracle. That’s the kind of magic I enjoyed. It’s not so much stage or big illusions, but more intimate, where you’re in a close group of people and you’re doing something unexpectedly in front of them. That’s why I think David Blaine had the biggest impact on me.
Johnny: Alright. To jump into your acting work, you had an uncredited role as a policeman in The Town. What do you recall the most about working on that movie?
Rich: I enjoyed working on that film. I’m from Boston, and they shot in Boston. They shot at Fenway Park and a lot of places I frequent quite often, so that was great. Ben Affleck was great. I was actually able to chat with him for a brief moment, and he’s always been a really cool Boston guy. For me, that was a great, wonderful experience. It was the beginning of my acting career. I hadn’t yet moved to Los Angeles so, for me, it was something that really sparked the interest to continue to act, and to continue to grow in that field.
Johnny: Alright. To go to a different credit, you played Red Hood in the Super Power Beat Down episode Punisher Vs. Red Hood. How familiar were you with the character before the episode, and how did it inform your work as Red Hood?
Rich: Actually, I didn’t read many comics, so I knew nothing about Red Hood or anything like that. I just knew that the creators of Super Power Beatdown had done a lot of different series, and being a martial artist, I was just interested in the fact that I got to showcase martial arts and do some action stuff. I reached out to them and said, “Do you have any roles for my skill set? This is what I do”. I showed them my reels, I showed them the martial arts stuff I do, and they said, “Okay. You’d be great for Red Hood”. I said, “I have no idea who that is, but I’ll do it”, and then, afterwards, I researched him and got a better idea of who that character was. It was a fun experience.
Johnny: Alright. To go to a more recent credit, you played Brian in the holiday horror comedy Slay Belles. What was your favorite part of working on that movie?
Rich: (Laughing) I would say it was an interesting movie to work on. I remember that, when we were filming in Big Bear, on the day I had to drive up a fog had set in. I was driving around the mountains, and they were some pretty winding turns and curves getting up there. I just remember almost flying off the road half the time as I was driving up there, and then I got on set and they didn’t have to prepare a fog machine, or anything like that. It was ominous to begin with. There was a huge, blanketing fog, and I think that was the most interesting thing about shooting, that one day because we were doing a scene where my character was getting killed, and it was just the perfect setting. The environment and the elements were just playing to the movie?
Johnny: Alright. To return to the realm of magic, with your stunt work and magic work, have you ever attempted to do an illusion that combines both?
Rich: With magic and stuntwork? Yes, there are many effects I try to develop, and I have notebooks full of different ideas that I come up with. I tried to include martial arts in magic, so I would use effects with a katana or a samurai sword, and I’d say, “Okay, wouldn’t it be interesting if I could balance the tip of a samurai sword in my belly button?” or cut somebody in half with a samurai sword and then restore them? I’d use the samurai sword almost like a magician’s wand, and perform acrobatics and martial art techniques with it, and also do magic with it, so that was something I was working on: The samurai sword as a magician’s wand, doing magic tricks with that, but I have yet to do that.
Johnny: Alright. Following up on the concept of Culture Shock, in the United States, what’s been the most interesting audience you’ve performed your magic for?
Rich: That’s an interesting question. I would say it really depends. I’ve done magic in many different environments. I’ve done it walking on the street, on the stage, in bars, and at different corporate events, and even at The Magic Castle, but I think what gets the biggest reaction is in bars, where people are not expecting you to be doing magic.
I used to be a bartender and server in my early 20s, and the biggest reactions would be when I would do a trick involving something at the bar, whether I had their glass magic-mirror fill itself, or a card coming out of a lemon, or something levitating there, but unassumingly. I’m not telling them I’m a magician, but just saying, “Hey, can I show you something?”.
When you say, “Hey, can I show you something?”, everyone’s always expecting, “Oh, this guy just wants to impress us with something”. Their guard is pretty low, and they don’t expect you to be able to do much, so that’s always the best: When you’re unassuming, and then you perform a trick and they’re completely blown away by it. You always want to set the bar lower, because when their standards are up, they’ll say, “Oh, this guy may not be so good”, and then you do something miraculous and everybody really gets into it.
Johnny: Okay. I can definitely see how that works. You’ve mentioned your work in the field of martial arts. How has the study of martial arts helped you in your other creative endeavors?
Rich: Martial arts has been the number one thing that has kept me disciplined, focused and persistent. Discipline in martial arts is just something that I’ve honed over the years. I started when I was 12 years old. I did Kenpo Karate, and then Shaolin Kung Fu with the Shaolin Monks, and then Weng Chung. That kind of diligence transferred over into everything else I do, whether it’s rock climbing or scuba diving or learning to fly airplanes or mountaineering. All these things require a certain work ethic that the martial arts ingrain in you. It’s the practice, the repetition, pushing past your limits to keep going. If I didn’t have that martial arts background, I wouldn’t have had that mentality to be able to stay calm in adversity, and to keep pushing through no matter what.
Johnny: Alright. When it comes to your stunt work, I asked a similar question of stuntwoman and actress Spice Williams-Crosby when I interviewed her a few years ago, and it’s this: What stunt did you do that, once it was completed, you said to yourself, “Wow, I can’t believe I did that”?
Rich: There have been stunts where I’ve been stabbed by a sword in the back and had to pull it out, things like that, but for some reason, those didn’t faze me as much. I guess I’m used to being bonked on the head or cut with swords. More recently, one of them had to be when we were whitewater rafting while filming an episode of Culture Shock. It was a class 4 rapid, and we knew we were going to flip the boat. I had the mentality of, “This will be okay. This won’t be a problem. We’ll go through these rapids, flip the raft as we hit a rock, and we’ll be okay. We’ll sail down to an eddy, an area of calm water, and we’ll be okay”.
In my head, I saw it as no big deal, and then we were on the water. We saw this huge wave, this huge rapid on the Potomac River in Maryland. I was there with James, my cohost on the show, and our rafting guide who’s guiding us on the boat into the rock since we want to hit it. At this moment, I’m saying to myself, “Okay, this is definitely more intense than I expected”. We were for the rock, they flipped the boat, and we all go under. I’m under for a while, spinning around. They taught me to get out of there by keeping your legs straight and your chest up. You want your lifejacket to bob to the surface, and your head above water…All of these things.
I was pretty scared because I thought I’d get trapped under the raft, which is what happened with James. He actually was further in, so when the raft flipped, I jumped out to the side but he had nowhere to go, so he went under and got trapped under a hydraulic. He kept spinning, and said he was pinned down by the water. He couldn’t get up, and he thought he was going to die in that instance. More of the danger was on him, but when I surfaced and I finally got to the eddy, which is the calm water, he came up to me and explained everything. He was out of breath, he was pretty scared, and we all talked about it afterwards.
I said, “Maybe we should’ve planned it a little better. This was not something I expected was going to be this intense”, but sometimes you just don’t know. You have this mentality sometimes of “Oh, this isn’t going to be a big deal”, and then when you get on it, there’s no turning back, and you just have to do it. (Laughing) This was one of those things where I was like, “Okay, this was definitely worse than I thought”.
Johnny: Alright. I know that Culture Shock will be debuting on Tubi TV soon if it hasn’t already, but once this chaos of coronavirus passes, what are you most looking forward to doing?
Rich: Probably more traveling. We have another season to shoot. We were going to go to Madagascar, Greenland, Rwanda and Mongolia, so we’re going to pick up on the research. I do a lot of the research, so I’ll be learning more about those countries, and hopefully we can get going over there.
Johnny: Hopefully sooner than later.
Johnny: Now I come to my final question: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Rich: In ten years I’d love to have traveled most of the world. I’d love to have a few books under my belt of my writings about culture and travel, and the dangers of the things that I do. I’d also like to have a program that I’ve been working on which helps young and aspiring archaeologists basically achieve the skills that some of them need to adventure to some remote areas to find some of these ruins.
You know, when I was in Peru, all the whitewater kayaking guys said, “We would kayak and see these ruins along the river that no one had ever discovered”. They said it’s a shame because a lot of scientific teams can’t get to these areas because they don’t have the skills to do so. A lot of times these adventurerers find these ruins, and if they see anything there, they’ll take it, or they’ll screw up the lay of the land so it makes it hard for archaeologists to map it out. I’d like to start a program that teaches archaeologists adventure skills, so they can be able to get to some of these areas and explore them.
I’d also like to have more movies under my belt, and hopefully just keep doing what I’m doing.
Johnny: Fantastic to hear. That does it for my questions. I thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me. I wish you all success with Culture Shock, and I hope you have a great afternoon.
Rich: Alright. You, too. Thanks.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. Have a good afternoon.
Rich: Alright. Bye bye.
I would again like to thank Rich Manley for taking the time out of his schedule to speak to me, and I would also like to thank Charles Sherman for setting up the interview. For more about Rich Manley’s work, you can visit his official website.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview: Happy Days are here again when I speak to Cathy Silvers about her work as an actress and a health activist.