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.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Danny Huston talked about how he came to be a part of Magic City, how much he enjoys playing a character that has no good to him, the research that he did for the role, and how factual the show actually is, with creator Mitch Glazer having grown up around there. He also talked about what attracts him to projects now, how much fun he had playing Poseidon in Wrath of the Titans, and how he’s hoping to direct again soon. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of Magic City?
DANNY HUSTON: 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?
HUSTON: 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?
HUSTON: He’s a Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, 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?
HUSTON: 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?
HUSTON: 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?
HUSTON: 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?
HUSTON: 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?
HUSTON: 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?
HUSTON: 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?
HUSTON: 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?
HUSTON: 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?
HUSTON: 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?
HUSTON: 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 peak at that is fun, too.
Magic City airs on Friday nights on Starz, starting on April 6th.