The new Starz drama series "Magic City," created by writer/executive producer Mitch Glazer and premiering on April 6th, takes place in 1959 at the luxurious Miramar Playa Hotel, during the tumultuous time when Havana fell to Castro’s rebels. Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is the star of his Miami hotel, but to finance his dream, he sold his soul to mob boss Ben “The Butcher” Diamond (Danny Huston). Ike’s wife Vera (Olga Kurylenko), a former showgirl, and his three kids, which include sons Stevie (Steven Strait) and Danny (Christian Cooke), think he’s an honorable man, but nothing at the Miramar Playa is what it seems.
How did Magic City come about for you? Did you audition for the role?
Yeah, I auditioned for it. I flew to L.A. and did a couple of scenes, and then they called me and said, “You’ve got it.” That was it.
Did you have to do a chemistry read with Jeffrey Dean Morgan?
The first one was the audition just for me to get the part. And then, I got the part and I was in L.A., and (show creator) Mitch [Glazer] did the test [for our chemistry]. But, I had already gotten the part. I don’t know if I hadn’t had that chemistry, if he would have thrown me away and said, “Sorry, honey, I take the part back.” I did test with Jeffrey and with Steven [Strait] because he’s playing his son, who is somewhat attracted to me. It’s very ambiguous. So, I tested with them because I have more of a relationship with them, and it worked.
What can you say about Vera Evans and how she fits into the world of this show?
Vera has a Dutch mother and a gypsy father, so she’s half gypsy. She lived in Holland and, during the war, she lost all her family. She trained as a ballerina, as a little girl. After the war, she took one of those ships that went to America and, because of the over-quota in America, the ship was re-routed to Cuba, and that’s how she would up in Cuba where she became a dancer at the Tropicana there. So, she was dancing there for a couple of years, and then she met Ike when he went there on a trip and saw the show and fell in love with her. He married her and took her to Miami, and there she is, the wife of this big, successful businessman who’s very rich.
Her life completely changed. She was pretty poor, as a girl, living in Holland. She comes from a very normal, simple family. It’s a very big change in her life. What’s difficult is that she suddenly has to become a step-mother to three kids, two of which are adults now – Stevie (Steven Strait) and Danny (Christian Cooke) – and there’s a little girl who’s 13. It’s very difficult because all of the kids are suspicious of Vera. They don’t know if she’s there for his money. Suddenly, daddy brings home this young wife and they wonder what she wants from him. The thing that’s beautiful is that Vera and Ike really do love each other. Mitch really wanted to portray this real love within marriage, and not people cheating on each other and having all kinds of troubles and problems. These two just have a relationship that works.
Vera’s main focus is to basically be a good wife and prove that she deserves that place. She doesn’t want to be looked at suspiciously. High society looks down at her a little because she’s not born into it. She’s just some dancer who married this guy. Of course, she wants to really prove her place. She’s trying to be a step-mother to this little girl who’s really very difficult.
How involved is she in the business?
Vera is pretty much a wife, and she takes care of the little girl, but she does help Ike a little bit. [er...] She doesn’t work in the office, especially in those times. It wasn’t possible. But, I think she would love it. I think Vera would love to take things into her hands because she’s very pro-active. She was always a working girl. She wasn’t born rich, so she had to earn her own life. Suddenly, being Ike’s wife and not having to do anything makes her a little empty and gives her some kind of void. She really would like to mean something, in this life. Vera is looking for the opportunity to do something more then just be a wife and a mother. Although, she does dream about having her own kids. She really wants to have her own children and family with Ike. She wants to do both.
Is that something that he wants, too?
I think he does, yeah. I think they both want it. It’s just a question of time. They’re figuring out when is the best time. The thing is that Ike is having lots of problems. He’s very successful and everything goes well, but when you look behind it, he’s having lots of problems because he’s in this deal with this big gangster guy who’s called The Butcher and he’s very dangerous. He owns half of his business and nobody knows about it. Sometimes it gets quite dirty. But, Vera is unaware of all that. She thinks her husband is the perfect man, which he is, but he did make a deal with the devil. So, maybe it’s not exactly the right moment to start a family. Although, I think they both would love it.
Do you just have the best wardrobe on this show?
I do. We do, yeah. All the girls are just so thrilled about all the costumes. It’s amazing! I really enjoy it. It’s incredible. I could just dress head-to-toe in that style, every day. It still looks hot. It’s so glamorous.
How has it been to work with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and develop the relationship between your characters?
Oh, it was great. I’m so lucky with my partner. He’s a wonderful actor, and he’s a great guy. He’s so cool and laid-back, and he’s so down-to-earth. There’s no attitude. He’s a very hard worker. I’ve never seen anyone so hard working. He was on set, every day. We would have breaks for a couple of days and we could sleep, but I don’t know when he slept. He always came prepared and always knew his text. I’ve seen other actors came in for just one day out of a month, not knowing their text, and you think, “What were you doing?” This guy has pages per day. In a series, you shoot about eight pages a day, while on a movie you shoot half a page the whole day because they take their time. Here, that’s not the case. He had a tremendous amount of text to learn, and he always knew it. On set, it was just pleasure. I was like, “Perfect, I’ve got to make out with the guy! He’s not that bad looking, so I’m all good.” I don’t have to struggle with it too hard.
Do you enjoy the pace of television?
Honestly, no. I’d rather take my time, but there’s nothing I can do. This is too fast for me. It’s a crazy pace, but what can you do? That’s how it is. I have to adjust. At the same time, I’m thinking that maybe it’s good. It’s good training because there’s nothing you can do. You’ve got to go and you’ve got to do it, and that’s it. It’s good training, but I’m not here to train, I’m here to work. Maybe feature actors are more lazy. I’ve only done big features before. I like to come to the set, hang out, look around, get settled, take everything in, and get into the mood.
In television, there’s no time. You can’t walk around and get into the mood. Nobody is going to wait for you. They’re like, “Let’s go!,” and I’m like, “Wait, I haven’t gotten in the mood!” No one can wait. What we get in movies is a luxury. You can do another take and you can change and go for something totally different and start searching. There’s no way to search here. You’ve got to know what you’re doing. From one side, that’s good. From another side, it’s a pity. Maybe if you search a little more, you can come up with other things, but there’s no time. You can give a couple of options, and no more because they have to go. It’s a different style, and it’s hard.
Do you feel better prepared now for Season 2?
I’m looking forward to it. I’m just dying to do it. I’m more excited now because I know what it is and I did get training for it. Now, I’ve taken a break and it’s settled in and I’ve had time to digest it. I’ve seen the result, and that helps. We didn’t have any playback on set. We didn’t have any images and they didn’t show us anything. They didn’t want us to see any dailies because they didn’t want us to get self-conscious, but I like to see what I’m doing. So, now that I’ve seen the first three episodes, I know what I’m doing and what it gives on screen. For the second season, I feel like I know better how to do it and what to do. It was my first time doing a TV show. It was like going to school.
When you made the decision to sign on for a TV show, was it important to you that it was a cable show for a shorter amount of episodes, so that you could still do movies in between seasons?
Yeah, it’s great that I can fit something in, and I’m trying to see what I’ll be able to do. A lot of things will start now, but they might still go on when the show starts, and then overlap. So, I hope I can fit something in. I have really wonderful options, and I hope I can do them. But, it’s great to have a little time to do some features and combine both. That’s perfect.
What was it like to work with a filmmaker like Terrence Malick, for his film with Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams?
It was wonderful. He is the most wonderful creature in this world. I love him. I’m passionate about him. He’s extremely smart, extremely deep, and profoundly kind and real. It’s not a mask. He doesn’t pretend. He is real. He’s a wonderful filmmaker, and very shy. If he were to read this, he would say, “Why would you say this? It’s not true!” He’s so sweet. He thinks I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. And, the way he works totally fit me. You never know what you’re doing. It’s at the last moment and very spontaneous, and I like that. As much as the fast pace can be difficult, not knowing what I’m doing is actually totally fine. It scares a lot of actors. I’ve heard that others were terrified and were like, “What do you mean, I’ve got no script? I’ve gotta know what I’m doing!” And I’m like, “I trust you, Terrence. Tell me whatever you want. I’m here.” I like that. I like to play as I go.
When you do a project like that, do you even know what character you’re playing?
Yeah. He spoke to me and told me what it was. He tells you. You don’t read it. You listen to the story for a couple of hours, you take it in, and then you meet him again and listen again and talk. He likes to go for a drive and talk. I think he took every actor for a drive and would talk, and you just take it in and become that character. It gets into you. And then, I just know who I am and it’s not the character, it’s me, suddenly. And then, from there, something very real comes out that’s spontaneous. That’s awesome. That means you don’t need to know what you’re doing. As that person, you can go and move that chair or pour yourself a coffee, and you’ll be that person and it will be real. There’s no acting. You just are. That’s wonderful. I wish everybody worked that way. I only want to work with him now. Not to offend others, but you just think, “Wow, I would love to work with him again.”
How did you come to be a part of Magic City?
Well, Mitch [Glazer] is a dear friend. I’ve known him for a long time, and he’s a friend of my sister’s. I’ve spent a lot of time with Mitch. He approached me and said he was doing something that might interest me, and he wanted to approach me through my agents, in the classically correct manner, rather then abuse the friendship, in any way. He was very polite and a little cautious about the way that he approached me. I was like, “Absolutely not! I want to see it and read it now!” So, he sent me the first three scripts and I loved it. I thought it was a real opportunity to approach something in a longer form, which is the great thing about cable.
Was part of the appeal that you were just going straight to a full series order, instead of shooting a pilot, investing that time, and then having to wait and see if it would get picked up?
Absolutely! It would be difficult [to do it the other way]. Knowing that this was set and one could develop the character and go somewhere with it, [was appealing]. And working with somebody like Mitch, I knew I could talk to him about it. This whole thing where you don’t really know where the story could go, I find a little daunting, but I suppose that’s like life. You don’t really know what’s waiting for you around the corner, do you? With a film that has the more classic three acts, from a performing point of view, if you know that you’re going to do some heinous thing at the end, you can do a slow burn. You don’t have to reveal things. You can do a sleight of the hand and play things because you know where your character is going. With this, it’s harder. You’re not as sure-footed. But yet, you don’t want to just explode and give every facet of the character in too brief a time, so you’ve got something saved up that you can play with. The scripts are very good, in that sense. You feel that there’s still stuff that you can reveal, and you’re not stuck in some awful repetition.
What can you say about Ben “The Butcher” Diamond and how he fits into the world of this show?
He’s a Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel [lol cute because his nephew's on Boardwalk ♥], Edward G. Robinson type of guy. He’s all bad. There’s not a grain of good in him. There’s nothing redeeming about him. He’s quite a realist, in that sense. He’s got a certain flare. There’s something rich about his character, in the way that he speaks, and his manner and style. He always wants more. He’s a little devastated because Cuba has changed and now it’s in Castro’s hands, who he thinks is going to disappear soon. There’s a line where he says, “Dictators come and go like the weather down here.” He’s waiting it out in Miami, trying to see if he can bring gambling there, hence his interest in Ike. In the meantime, he’s trying to recreate himself in Miami, which was as much of an opportunity then as it is today. There’s always been talk about bringing gambling to Miami. Real estate was going down and there was talk about bringing casinos in and pumping the place up, which led to a big battle with the legislators. It’s a continuous potential profit-making evil. He’s also a bit like an emperor. He’s a little bored, so he likes to mettle.
Is it just really fun to play out the relationship between your character and Jeffrey’s Dean Morgan’s character?
I love it! I just love it. He’s certainly not all good, and there’s an affection between the two of us. I know how to tempt him, and he rolls his eyes. Every time, I just chip away at his soul and manage to own a little more of him, which delights me and infuriates him. But, he also knows that he has to deal with me. The last person you ever want to help you is Ben Diamond because you’re doomed, and Ike knows that. He’s not an innocent, and that’s a lot of fun to play.
Is he a villain who enjoys and relishes in being a villain?
A lot of the villains that I’ve played – and I love playing villains – don’t really know that they’re villains. They don’t see themselves as villainous. But, that might not apply to Ben Diamond. I think he knows he’s bad.
Well, he does have to live up to his nickname as “The Butcher,” wouldn’t you say?
Well, I wouldn’t call him The Butcher to his face. But, Bugsy Siegel had the same thing. He didn’t like being called Bugsy. He would have a fit. That’s what I like about this character. I discussed with Mitch whether we’d want to have a scene where we’d show a little heart or maybe why he became this way, and we decided not to because he’s just bad. He was in an orphanage and had this Dickensian childhood where there was no light, which is why he likes the sun so much. This is such a wonderful time. People smoked because they didn’t know it was bad for you. They laid out in the sun because they didn’t know it was bad for them. He does all these things and, in a way, I can’t help but feel some nostalgia for a time when people were just ignorant of potential medical complications that their actions may be having. I relish that. He’s very rich, in that way.
When you do something like this that has so much historical content, and so much happened in such a short period of time during this time period, what sort of research did you do? Did you just focus on what was in the script, or did you want more of an overall feel for the time period?
Well, 1959 was an incredible year. There’s a book called 1959 that I read, that Mitch gave me. So much was going on. Of course, you’ve got Castro, which is obvious, in regard to my character. But, Kennedy was coming in, the [birth control] pill was on the market, there was the Atom bomb and free jazz, and so much diverse stuff was going on, which makes it a wonderfully exciting period. The hotel offers such a wonderful pallette to explore all of these issues. If we are lucky enough to have this go on, politically there are so many things to explore. Sammy Davis, who performed in the Fontainebleau, wasn’t allowed to stay there. You’ve got the CIA bugging these hotels and rigging things because of all the Cuban stuff that was going on. Women’s Lib really took hold. There were countless ‘50s commercials. "Mad Men" explores all of that in detail, and that existential crisis of man and woman. But here, you’ve also got the crime and all that other stuff going on. Miami is so close to South America. It’s not only Cuba. There are many, many other influences.
How much of this is factual, as opposed to how much is done for the sake of drama?
I think it’s quit e factual. We have the great privilege of having Mitch, who grew up around there. Anything that we think is maybe a little odd or we’re like, “Are you sure?,” he’ll have a story to back it up. It’s great having him there, constantly. That whole thing of the showrunner being the writer and creator is something that I’ve never experienced, in this way. He’s always there, he’s always present, and he’s always micro-managing. It’s just great to be able to pick up the phone and call him, at any moment, and have his support, as far as the facts of the story.
Is this a character that you’d like to continue to explore?
Yes, I would love it! There’s a lot to him, even though he’s blatantly what he is.
Is there something in particular that attracts you to projects, these days?
First and foremost, I suppose it’s the story and who you’re working with. Most of the people I’ve worked with, I respect. We’re storytellers. With this show, it’s weird because you don’t know where the show is going and I’ve never experienced that. I’m enjoying it, but it’s still a bit weird. I’m more focused on the story, these days. I feel like I’m more of a filmmaker, at heart. It’s the story that I want to support, first. If my character is interesting, all the better. I’d approach a character that was similar to another one I’d done. That wouldn’t matter to me. You try to maybe do something different, but if it’s not required, it’s not necessary. When you think of people like Robert Mitchum or John Wayne, they were playing the same character, over and over again. It’s the scope of the story, really, that I find what ropes me in.
What are you going to be working on next?
I started as a director and just fell upon acting. This has allowed me time to option books and develop screenplays, and possibly get back in the saddle and direct.
Do you have any acting work lined up?
At the moment, no. I’m just trying to get these stories done. Obviously, if something interesting comes up, I’ll do it. But, what’s great about working on a show like this is that you can map your life out a bit better. As an actor, it’s hard to direct because, suddenly, you’re not around. The thing which I hate about directing is the waiting game, but you’ve really got to wait it out and be resilient and keep it going and keep everybody motivated. It’s a real struggle to get a film made, and you’ve got to be present. You can’t just skedaddle off and do a movie, right in the middle of developing a story or trying to get financing, or whatever it is. So, this is offering me a certain luxury of time.
Is it fun to play a character like Poseidon for Wrath of the Titans, and be a part of such a fantastical film?
It is fun! It’s sort of childlike. When I was a kid, I remember the mechanical owl in the original. It’s dress-up. You don’t take it all that seriously, but then suddenly you’re there and the sets are fantastic, and I had the privilege of working with Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes. And then, you’re into it and it becomes very serious. At the end of your day’s work, you’re like, “What was that about?” We really believed that we’re three Gods, but what fun to play Gods. Those kinds of films are just very expensive. It’s outrageous, the amount of money that’s spent. Just to take a peek at that is fun, too. [NOTE: he's not in it NEARLY enough, tbh; I saw it Monday and I was quite bummed about that.]
Although Jeffrey Dean Morgan has stolen countless scenes in movies as diverse as "P.S. I Love You" and "Watchmen," the actor -- perhaps best known for playing Izzie Steven's dying love and heart patient Denny Duquette on "Grey's Anatomy" -- has always seemed to be bubbling under the surface of name recognition. TV has been a little more receptive to his charms, after the 2005-06 season put him on the map with a trio of breakthrough roles in quick succession on "Weeds" and "Supernatural," in addition to "Grey's."
But compelling guest spots as heartbreaking Denny and tormented father John Winchester on "Supernatural" never segued into full-time TV work, mostly because Morgan was wary of getting caught up in the grind of network TV. "I just didn't want to get bored playing a character, and that's kind of the benefit of doing films; you've lived with a character for four or five months and that's it, and you walk away from that character and you feel like you told a story," Morgan explained when HuffPost TV caught up with him by phone. "Sometimes in TV, it can get really stale, especially if you're doing these 23-episode years. It's a lot of work, and to put your family through that, on a location, is not always the greatest thing in the world."
The Seattle native knew that it would take a truly spectacular project to lure him back to TV, and he found it in Starz and Mitch Glazer's ("Scrooged," "Great Expectations") "Magic City," a lavish, sprawling drama that takes place in Miami Beach in 1959. The show been renewed for a second season before the first has even premiered.
On "Magic City," Morgan plays Ike Evans, owner of the Miramar Playa, the most opulent hotel in the city -- albeit one with a decidedly dark underbelly. Thanks to an ill-advised deal with a mobster named Ben "The Butcher" Diamond (played with great aplomb by Danny Huston), Ike has truly built his castle out of sand. But as events spiral rapidly beyond his control, Ike must wrestle with his own conscience -- as well as Ben's less-than-scrupulous plans for the Miramar Playa -- while trying to keep his family and his business from crumbling. Rounding out the principal cast are Olga Kurylenko (best known as Camille in "Quantum of Solace") as Ike's vivacious ex-showgirl wife, Vera; Steven Strait as their eldest son, Stevie; Christian Cooke as younger son Danny; and Taylor Blackwell as their daughter, Lauren.
"Magic City" manages to balance Ike's familial drama with his mounting professional obligations in a compelling way, but Morgan's performance is truly what holds the story together. Though not an overt anti-hero, Ike's actions will grow increasingly dubious as the season's eight episodes go on, so the onus is on the actor to remain sympathetic, something he manages to convey effortlessly -- at least in the first three episodes that have been released to critics thus far.
Let's talk a little bit about your character, Ike. What are his motivations are at the beginning of the series?
My interpretation of Ike Evans was that he was the guy that worked up the ranks of the hotel business. The guy started as cabana boy and 20 years later, owns the jewel of Miami Beach and he has begged, borrowed, and probably stolen to get to where he is. In his heart, I know he is a family man -- I think his family comes first, but in close second is this hotel, and he finds himself in bed with a partner [Ben Diamond] that he had hoped would remain silent, and this partner is not going to remain silent anymore, and it puts an intense amount of pressure on Ike. And there are other things. We see the pressures that Ike is feeling and those are going to build as the season goes on, and Ike will do some questionable things ...very questionable things.
Ike has a gorgeous new wife, Vera, but in quiet moments he still seems very affected by the loss of his first wife, Molly. Can you talk a little bit more about his evolving relationship with Vera over the course of the season?
I think Vera is a pretty new relationship and obviously, she’s the most beautiful woman in the world. Ike fell in love with her immediately, and this is four years after his wife’s death. He marries Vera right away and throws Vera also into the position of being a stepmother to his three children, and she’s not Jewish, so there’s a whole story going on with her trying to figure out her place in the family. But I think these are two people that are very much in love, and I love that aspect. I fought hard for her. I think, a lot of leads in shows, when they get to breathe a little bit, a lot of them end up having these issues at home, or having affairs and I wanted Ike to be true to his wife and prove that love. It was really important to me to show a great relationship, a healthy relationship, and a sexy relationship as well. I don’t know that that’s necessarily been played real true in the world of the small screen, but I love that. I think as Ike's world is crumbling around him, the one thing that he protects and holds so dearly to him is that relationship with Vera. And though she doesn’t know everything that Ike is up to, she is his best friend and I like that a lot. I thought that was a really great thing to get to play, and I don’t think that is done in a realistic way on a lot of shows right now.
The biggest threat to Ike's world is Ben Diamond. Can you describe their tumultuous partnership?
There are plenty of conversations that Ben and I will have that will sort of explain our relationship, but Ben Diamond’s nickname is “The Butcher,” and he’s a mobster out of Chicago, played by the fantastic Danny Huston. He’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever worked with in my life, so that’s just a f------ joy. Whenever I have scenes with Danny, both he and I are like little kids jumping up and down; every take is completely different. We'll just bounce all sorts of stuff off each other. So he’s a mobster out of Chicago who is Ike's silent partner, and he decides he wants a bigger stake. We find out why he wants that bigger stake rather quickly, and as the season goes, this relationship grows exceedingly tenuous and if you’ve seen the first three, from there I think every episode gets darker and weirder and more intense for Ike ... and certainly, his relationship with Ben Diamond is the reason why.
Ike seems willing to do anything to protect his family, but both of his sons seem to be heading down paths that will threaten what he's built. What can you say about the dynamic between Ike and his sons?
I love my kids, I do -- and that’s me, Jeff, saying that, and Ike. We say "the good son" [Danny] and "the bad son" [Stevie] in the promos, which cracks me up, because I think you could probably flip-flop that and it would make more sense. I'm grooming Stevie. Stevie is like me. He is the little Ike. I think he is probably making the same mistakes that Ike made when he was 20 years old, whereas Danny, on the other hand, is being groomed to be the Michael Corleone character. He's doing it right: He’s going to go to law school, he's going to make everything legit and above the board and then, there's a wrench thrown into that. I think that starts in Episode 2 or 3, where Danny starts heading down a path that Ike isn't going to agree with and that's going to cause some drift in the family dynamic. Stevie, on the other hand, Ike is sort of unaware of the troubles that Stevie is getting into at this point. Right now, he loves his kids. He just wants the best for his kids and I think he has groomed Stevie to kind of run the hotels now and Stevie is just his right-hand man pretty much, whereas I think Danny’s character would be coming in later to kind of run the hotel in the changing world and the changing times.
The show has a very cinematic feel -- it's glamorous and nostalgic. What do you think it is about this setting and this period in time that provides such a rich, fascinating backdrop?
Well, I didn’t know everything that was going on in Miami in 1959, and it was very interesting time there, certainly politically and because of what was happening in Cuba and the mob influence that was going on in that town. I just thought the stories were so interesting and the stories that we are telling are things that actually happened. When you're dealing with stuff that's really true, you can’t even believe some of the stuff that was going on there. It was something I wasn't that familiar with, so I really liked the idea of doing that and having Mitch [Glazer] who could go on for days and days about the stories that were going on there and the stories that we’re able to tell, and it just seems sort of infinite. I think in this first season, there's stuff that we get to explore, and we are throwing the audience into this sexy, glamorous, dangerous place in Miami. I think the viewers are going to immerse themselves in that and get lost in it, as I did as an actor. And then you combine that with the look of the show, and between our set design and our cinematographer, it has a feel of -- dare I say this -- "The Godfather." It's sort of this epic story, and the color palette is so rich and, I don't know, it could be something ... I'm super obsessive.
Submitting my name to be the resident stan of this show because I love JDM and because of my continuing obsessive loyalty to the entire Huston clan. Anyone else?
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