For some Ricky Jay was one of those affable looking character actors somehow showing up in some terrific roles on screens big and small. His round, cherubic face belied a strong sense of mischief.
For those more in the now he was the key ingredient for some of the most enjoyable films and shows ever made. He was first and foremost a magician. To call him gifted with card tricks is a dramatic understatement – few in the world could weaponize a deck as he could, flinging them with a velocity that was ninja like (his record was 190 ft at 90 miles per hour). It was his sleight of hand that most astounded, providing textbook level craft in his performances that astounded fans and professionals alike.
He parlayed his skills into consultancy, working on everything from The Natural to both The Prestige and The Illusionist to inject some of his magic into the movies. Debuting in David Mamet own first film, House of Games, he parlayed his pedagogical air to a number of roles, including sublime work with Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia).
His role as Eddie Sawyer on Deadwood was perhaps the most fitting, as often Jay felt out of time. There was something perfect about his patter taking place where filth and fancified language mixed, and in a town where greed and ambition made it ripe pickings for a confidence man with skills that made it seem as if there had never been manipulation at all.
This was perhaps Jay’s greatest trick, making us all feel that even when we knew we were being fooled and felt we were in on the con he’d still find a way to surprise. He may not have ever been one to be thought of as the lead, but his inclusion simply made everything around him better.
So as the card man shuffles off this mortal coil, we bid adieu to this master of bedevilment and subterfuge, and encourage everyone to look back as this wonderful career.
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