Psychic visions can be as manufactured as a TV show—which is why Shut Eye creator and director Les Bohem foresaw something strangely interesting. “Initially, I carried around this idea for years,” he said. “Fake psychic who had real visions; wouldn’t that be weird?”
Having his cards read sparked Bohem’s sixth sense enough to pursue a screenplay that delves into paranormal scams. What was originally supposed to be a commercial psychic performing miracles onscreen evolved into a shady faux-clairvoyant who slowly morphs into the real thing. Den of Geek tried to read the minds of Shut Eye’s creator and cast to see what will come to pass in the first season.
Third eyes don’t always see clearly.
Jeffrey Donovan followed one of those neon Psychic signs to research the role of con man-turned-bona fide psychic Charlie, and found out that it doesn’t take a mind-reader to figure out the magic behind a reading. Donovan remembers that positive answers made it seem like the psychic really could see through an invisible window to his past, present and future, but if he responded otherwise, “she quickly changed the subject, so I understand that anytime I said no [the] negative blocked her journey for me.”
So much as the shoes that you’re wearing can influence a cold reading. Shuffle in wearing sandals, sweatpants and a case of incurable bedhead, and you could suddenly be hearing that you’re tired, stressed, slept in today and have just lost your job. Haven’t lost it yet? You will. Bohem calls it the “I’m not wrong, I’m just sensing something now” sleight of hand.
The psychic industry is a thing.
Bohem pulled back the curtain on some sordid secrets he unearthed while researching the psychic industry. Those neon signs in parlor windows have lured in scores of unsuspecting victims. Psychic con rings have long been a seedy underground operation, and anyone with legitimate talent need not apply. We just had to ask the show’s creator what shocked him the most. “I think what stunned me was how big some of the scams were, and how much money people were taken for,” he told us before launching into the disturbingly true story of a distraught woman whose desperation left her wallet $28,000 thinner.
KaDee Strickland, who leads a surburban con operation as Charlie’s wife Linda, remembered caving at a particularly vulnerable time. She acknowledged the thunderclouds overshadowing her life at the moment left her so desperate for answers she was blinded to the truth: “I was pulled right into the hands of someone who was happy to take my money.”
You’ll see it when you believe it.
Faux psychics have used delusion to their lucrative advantage. Part of what has made the fortunetelling con game that inspired Shut Eye so successful is the human tendency to suddenly see what they want to believe—whether or not it actually exists. The Confidence Game, which exposes the magic psychic rings use to swindle paying believers, was required reading for the cast.
“You can’t believe how common and how completely normal it is for people to have access to you and for you to not seeing coming,” said Strickland, referencing the unsavory techniques reflected in the show. Think everything from hacking into social media to manufactured illusions that make it seem paranormal things are happening. Put that in a cauldron with cold readings that read your shoes more than your mind, add a scented candle and your last paycheck, and suddenly you’ve got a potion for smoke and mirrors.
The family that preys together stays together.
Don’t be surprised if the next lifestyle magazine headline you see says psychic cons are the secret to a lasting relationship. Charlie was pulled into the business when he married Linda, and mesmerizing customers into handing over their life savings has kept them together since. Strickland thought it created a deeper trust. “We can’t do what we do if we can’t trust one another,” Donovan revealed. “So there’s only one rule: we never con each other. We have to have that absolute trust, that we’re never going to manipulate each other, because after putting so much energy into [the business] we don’t have any left over.” Just because they’ve kept this unofficial marriage vow for fifteen years doesn’t mean there is no room for cheating.
Donovan mused on hypothetical plot twists. “If we [started conning each other], then that’s going to be a new dynamic in the show because of our backstory.”
Boss Lady calls the shots.
Don Corleone has nothing on the matriarch of another psychic family—Romany Gypsy Rita, aka Isabella Rosselini. While her son Fonzo may bewitch Charlie with bonuses and credit cards, this queen of mind-reading cons is the brain behind him. “The combination of playing nasty meets godmother was irresistible,” Rosselini confessed. “In The Godfather, you always see the men running the show, but never the women…men are seen as macho while the real boss is the grandmother.”
Charlie knows his place surrounded by strong female characters, and that includes his wife. She runs the con while he plays parlor tricks. “For once I’m playing someone who’s really not the strongest person in the room or the smartest in the room,” said Donovan. “It’s really interesting to come down from playing an alpha male to play kind of a beta and trying to survive in this tough world.” You don’t mess with The Godmother.
“Good” or “evil” isn’t always in the cards.
It’s easy to typecast these characters as sleazy or downright evil when the truth is a bit more nebulous. Emmanuelle Chriqui, who plays straight-out-of-Vegas hypnotist Gina, doesn’t believe being a born hustler makes her character a dark force. “She can’t help being a hustler,” Chriqui said, “because it’s in everything she does; it’s coursing through her. She envisions her life in a certain way and unapologetically will do anything to get there.” Even the stunts she pulls that could easily be called shady have no malicious intent.
“It’s not that she doesn’t believe in it,” Rosselini says of Rita’s attitude towards the existence of a sixth sense and how that factors in to her ethically questionable practices. “Part of the dishonesty involved is that she makes a living off making people believe in it, but then there’s the part where she’s also feeding an entire family and community, so she believes in that.”
Con artists are people, too.
Beyond the beaded curtain, there is much more dimension to these slightly off characters, who are also surprisingly relatable. “I think that these people are ordinary, and they’re pushed into a corner and have to do some extraordinary things to get out of it,” said Donovan. Chriqui feels the same about her character, whose hypnotic stare hides a range of human emotions behind its enigma. “People like this exist everywhere, and they’re getting up in the morning and figuring out a way to get through the day like the rest of us,” she acknowledged, which is exactly why she refuses to judge Gina. Shut Eye’s con-psychics aren’t narcissistic sociopaths whose only aspiration in life is to make six-figure checks disappear. They only want to survive.
As Donovan admitted, “I think we can all relate to them. Sometimes we don’t make the greatest choices but we do it for the right reasons.”
There is a potentially addictive show in your future. Have your fortune told and let yourself get taken when Shut Eye premieres on Hulu December 7.