“I had always liked the idea of working silent,” Teller says. “I was just interested in the idea that since magic was deception and lying, it was just an interesting thing to lie without speaking, to lead the audience to see the impossible thing without telling them what to think.”
That’s not to say Teller (he long ago legally dropped his first name) refuses to reveal the sound of his voice the way Harpo Marx once did. He had a cameo, with dialogue, in the recent movie adaptation, Atlas Shrugged, Part II. He’s done public radio commentaries and TV interviews, though he prefers a shadow be cast over his mouth. In fact, his mellifluous baritone, mastery of language (he taught Latin and Greek for six years before going into showbiz full time) and his knack for storytelling could give Garrison Keillor a run for his money. But onstage with Penn, he stays mum.
“I think it’s really fun. It’s sort of a game, because I think everybody in the audience really knows that I can speak. It’s just this sort of playful thing that audiences enjoy and I love.”
Comedy teams, once common, are rare now. “That seems to me to have signaled a change in our culture about the importance of partnership,” says Teller. “I do think that the length of time that we’ve been at the Rio and the length of time that we’ve worked together does say that it is possible to have a really long and really productive partnership without compromise from either party.”
“I think that may be the biggest single message that people take home with them when they see us. They laugh, they like the tricks, they love the ideas, they often like the political aspect of it, they like the fact that all the stuff they’ve seen doesn’t look like stuff that anybody else does, but I think there is one part of them that just says, ‘Wow, these two guys have worked together forever.’ That’s both an achievement and an ideal, I think.”