Keith Barry: When Morgan Freeman challenges you to hack his brain, that's a whole other ball game
Ralph McLean meets magician Keith Barry
It's not every day that you get to "brain hack" the 'Voice of God' is it?
When legendary actor Morgan Freeman approached mind magician Keith Barry, however, and personally told him in those famous biblical tones that he'd like him to delve deep into his innermost thoughts, it proved to be an unforgettable experience for the Waterford-born entertainer.
"That was the only time in 20-odd years that I got really nervous," the hugely popular magic man - who makes his Northern Ireland stage debut with two dates in Londonderry and Belfast later this month - tells me with typical enthusiasm.
"I've worked with all kinds of celebrities down the years from Bono to Matthew McConaughey but when Morgan Freeman challenges you to hack his brains, that's a whole other ball game! He's just such an icon and I'm such a fan and he literally challenged me to hack into his brain."
It was a meeting that took place on the Hollywood set of Now You See Me 2, a tale of Las Vegas magical manipulation that Freeman was starring in and Barry acting as a technical advisor. The much-loved Irish magician won't reveal too much of the process involved with his mind-mangling act but does tell me it involves answering deeply personal questions from his subject that he couldn't possibly know the answer to.
When the 81-year-old star of films such as The Shawshank Redemption and Seven asked him to do it to him, he wasted no time getting to work on the actor's subconscious.
"Ultimately we went through a process," the 42-year-old explains. "I told him about a childhood friend of his called Boo Boo who he hadn't thought about in about 50 years, so he completely freaked out and lost his mind basically on set. It was an amazing moment for me and we managed to capture that moment in a photograph which is probably the most cherished photograph out of all the years of the stuff that I've done."
It was working on that Now You See Me trilogy that also brought Barry into contact with Hunger Games and True Detective actor Woody Harrelson and it's a relationship that still remains strong to this day. "We ended up becoming pretty good friends," he tells me casually. "Me and Woody just hit it off and even about a month ago he flew into Ireland and we went out and had drinks in Dublin, so he's a good mate and he has an amazing work ethic.
"He truly wanted to learn mentalism and he wanted to learn hypnosis and he can actually do it now because I taught him the real stuff. You can watch him on You Tube performing on David Lettermen.
"Letterman thought he was on the show to act the maggot and promote the movie but he actually performed a great brain hacking spectacle on Letterman that fooled them badly."
With his movie commitments and ongoing television work, which has seen him perform alongside everyone from Jimmy Kimmel to Ellen Degeneres and Conal O'Brien, it's clear Barry is a man of many talents but nothing thrills him more than performing live and with Deception, his brand new stage show arriving in Derry at the Millennium Forum on January 19, and then Belfast at the Waterfront Hall on the 25th, he couldn't be happier.
"I write the show, I produce the show and it all comes from my heart and you get the interaction with the audience."
That interaction is pushed to new levels of wonder in the new show and Barry can't wait to get stuck into Northern audiences for the first time.
"It'll certainly be different from anything they've seen before," he says of the magical moments lying in wait in Deception. "It's a brand new show from start to finish. I just make sure that my material is unique, original and freshly written. I just figured out that we're in a far more deceptive world than we've ever been with social media and Facebook and fake news.
"The biggest form of deception now is self-deception so I put all those subjects in the show, albeit tongue-in-cheek so the show is designed to make people laugh first and hopefully be fooled badly as well.
"In one demonstration I gamble £10,000 on the night if someone can come up and deceive me, so I invite five people up on stage to lie to me and if I can't work out who the liar is, I hand out £10,000 to the winner."
When I suggest that a man of Barry's mental powers is unlikely to wind up out of pocket, I'm quickly shot down.
"I've lost money on stage before," he says laughing. "I'm not infallible!"
On a more serious subject, Barry has even turned to helping himself with his hypnotism skills. Returning from the funeral of the legendary Irish promoter Jim Aiken in 2007, the entertainer was in a head-on car crash just outside Newry.
"My left leg was demolished. I broke my knee, my tibia, my fibula. My ankle was dislocated, my metatarsals were broken and I was brought to Daisy Hill Hospital and they were trying to get my foot back into its socket but I was in so much pain and was tensing my body they couldn't get it in, so basically they said if you can't go to a place in your head and let us put the foot back in we're amputating your foot."
Faced with such a dramatic proposal Barry swiftly called on all his mental powers to bail him out.
"That was the first time I truly did instant self-hypnosis to allow myself to feel no pain so I had to self-anesthaetise my left leg to allow them to pop the foot back in. That was the first time I really practised what I preach if you like. I'm pretty good when I set my mind to it."
Keith Barry's new show Deception plays the Millennium Forum, Derry, on January 19, and The Waterfront Hall, Belfast, on January 25. Tickets from the box offices and Ticketmaster outlets.