Cosentino: Illusionist and escape artist says failing to fulfil potential more frightening than magic tricks

Cosentino: Illusionist and escape artist says failing to fulfil potential more frightening than magic tricks

Cosentino: Illusionist and escape artist says failing to fulfil potential more frightening than magic tricks

Updated 17 April 2015, 15:25 AEST

There is more to magic than tricks and stunts for Australian illusionist Cosentino, who was once a shy child with learning difficulties that used a book on magic to teach himself to read.

There is more to magic than tricks and stunts for Australian illusionist Cosentino.

The once shy child with learning difficulties used a book on magic to teach himself to read, and is now a celebrated showman who holds the coveted title of International Magician of the Year.

Cosentino was propelled to stardom by two reality TV talent shows, after spending years pounding the streets, schools and shopping centres in search of an audience.

Now his latest live show, Twisted Reality – a fast-paced fusion of escapology, illusion and dance – is playing to packed theatres around Australia.

As a child growing up in suburban Melbourne, Paul Cosentino felt he had little control over his life as he was dragged from one remedial class to the next.

"I was very shy, I was introverted, I had low self-esteem, awkward and not in control. And I think I had a lot of learning difficulties," he told Jane Hutcheon on One Plus One.

"I think as a kid, magic gave me that sense of control."

It also helped him to read, after he stumbled across a book about magic in the local library.

He was enthralled by the photographs of famous old vaudevillian magicians, and his mother – a school principal – harnessed his interest to help him overcome his problems.

The young magician was particularly taken by the mantra of revered illusionist and stunt performer Harry Houdini, whose motto was "Nothing on earth can hold Houdini prisoner".

"So mum reads the story about Houdini, who he is and what he represents," he said.

"As a child I didn't quite understand the metaphors about escapism and liberating yourself and being free ... I was just fascinated by this kind of superhero character and the tricks."

With his dark locks pulled into a ponytail, Cosentino's angular features reflect his Italian descent.

His father, a structural engineer described by Cosentino as "a genius", bore witness to his young son's tricks, and encouraged the fledgling magician.

Even everyday objects such as rubber bands became a potent tool as Cosentino realised he had powers the adults around him did not possess.

Australia's Got Talent gives Cosentino foothold

After appearing on Australia's Got Talent in 2011 – finishing as runner up to teenage singer Jack Vidgen - Cosentino's career finally found its foothold.

He had been reluctant to appear on the show, fearing rejection from both the judges and viewing public.

But by overcoming his misgivings, Cosentino showcased his skills to some three million viewers.

"It resonated with people - my story, my performance, uniqueness," he said.

Soon, he began booking 5,000-seat arenas for his daring live shows, which mixed escapes, illusions and street magic with pyrotechnics and polished choreography.

In 2013, Cosentino returned to reality TV for Dancing with the Stars, which he went on to win – securing a huge new fan base in the process.

His shows are still family affairs, right down to his grandmother sewing costumes and his girlfriend, Priscilla, appearing on stage as his assistant.

Unlike the early days, his stunts are growing more risky as each one is mastered.

"There is real danger. I've really been to the hospital and I've got slashed up by a knife when I mistimed. I've ruptured my ear drums, and I've broken ribs," he said.

He admits the adrenaline rush from completing complex stunts bears the hallmarks of a dangerous addiction.

"If you're holding your breath and you're underwater, 10 metres deep, two and a half minutes - equivalent to a five minute breath hold - and you swim to the surface and you break that water ... you almost feel like you're reborn," he said.

It was during such a stunt – an underwater escape called Dropped - that Cosentino first felt in fear of losing his life.

"You train yourself to be very calm because when you panic you increase your heart rate, you move quickly, of course that means that when you're underwater you're burning through oxygen. That's not what you want," he said.

With the world-renowned magician ready to prove he has yet to reach his limits, the risk factor is sure to escalate.

But it is not danger that fazes him – rather, he is terrified of failing to fulfil his potential.

"You know when you understand inside yourself that there's more to give, there's more for you to show the world, that you haven't even come close to showing your best ... that scares me," he said.

For the full interview with Jane Hutcheon watch One Plus One 5:30pm Saturday, 9:30pm Sunday on ABC News24, IVIEW, and on the One Plus One website.