Practising for years, sometimes up to 10 hours a day, helped James Harrington and Marina Liani perfect their art of mentalism. The Dubai-based couple who shot to fame after their appearance on America’s Got Talent (AGT) revealed what went behind perfecting their skill.
Growing up in the UK, James became interested in magic at a very young age. “On my seventh birthday, I tried to do a magic show for my party, and no one watched me,” he chuckled. “I still remember crying bitterly about it. My parents thought I would grow out of it, but I didn’t.”
In 2008, he moved to Dubai to perform. “As soon as I arrived here, I fell in love with this city,” he said. “After my first contract was up, I kept moving. But I always said it is easier to be broke on the beach, so no matter what happens with money, I just want to stay in Dubai.” Meanwhile, Marina graduated from Ukraine and moved here in 2012 to work as a cabin crew. She had no background in magic or performing, but all that changed when she met James.
After getting out of a bad relationship, James had sworn to stay single. However, the connection was instant when he met Marina through a dating app. “I just couldn’t stop from her out,” he said. Pretty early in the relationship, it became evident that the two had a connection. “Nothing unlike what a couple usually share,” said James. “But I came up with the idea of mentalism, and we decided to hone it.” Initially, the couple spent up to 10 hours practising the art.
To ease Marina into the life of performing, James took her to one of his regular performing haunts. “I would go up to some guests who I knew well and say, hey, my wife is doing this thing, will you please watch,” he said. “That way, I could control the factors, and Marina wasn’t too much outside her comfort zone.”
Once Marina got more confident with her act, the couple went into full performing mode. “The first performance was absolutely nerve-wracking,” admitted Marina. “It was in a stage in Burj Khalifa at a gala award packed with people. I remember feeling absolutely nervous in the green room.”
The first event was a huge hit, which turned into many more events. Marina realised that performing was what she wanted to do and quit her job. “We always used to do corporate events, and that kind of snowballed one after the other,” said James. “We got a lot of international queries, but our big goal was always America’s Got Talent.”
However, everything came to a screeching halt during Covid. “There were no more performances, and we struggled,” said Marina. “The Dubai government really supports artists, so we were able to make it through.” James admits that the couple learnt one of their most valuable lessons during this period. “We were staying in a huge villa on the Palm with a private pool,” he said. “During Covid, we had to downsize and move into a more affordable area. However, we realised that didn’t make any difference to our happiness. That was a very liberating lesson.”
After the hardships, the couple’s lives look better than ever. “When we got the call for AGT, we knew this was our chance,” said James. “We were going to be in the US at the time for a magic convention, so everything just fell into place.” However, James admits the whole experience was very exhausting. “You are usually there for two days, and they film 12 hours a day,” he said, “Then, at some point, we are suddenly in front of the judges, and it is a very surreal experience.”
What’s more, the couple is on the cusp of achieving their dream to do theatre. “We can’t say much because of the NDA,” said an elated James. “But we are looking at a Vegas-style residency here, and we are hoping to start in November. It gives us a platform to get creative and explore a lot more. Our dreams don’t stop there. Someday we would like to perform at the Dubai Opera. We have done corporate events there, but an actual performance would be great. Also, I want to do a television show. Let’s see if it will happen or not.”
The couple admits that they draw a lot of curiosity at their act and sometimes some crazy requests. “We constantly try to tell people that we are not psychics,” said Marina. “However, once, there was this girl whose brother had lost one million dirhams. She called us asking whether we could find it.”
The couple says they still spend at least three to four hours practising and perfecting their craft every day.
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