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, the always charming and gracious Jeffrey Dean Morgan talked about how he initially thought the show was a mini-series but that he got hooked before realizing otherwise, how different it is to play the lead on a show that he actually get to survive until the end of the season on, how much he enjoyed working with Danny Huston and the phenomenal ensemble, and how he’s become a workaholic, juggling movies during the hiatus of Magic City, which has already received a second season order. He also talked about his next film, The Devil in the Deep Blue Sea, which he starts in New Orleans in April with Chloe Moretz and Jessica Biel, and how he hopes to do The Rut after Season 2 of the show. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Collider: How did Magic City come about for you? Was it something you were approached about doing?
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: Yeah. I had just finished a movie and I was in upstate New York, in my little tiny cabin in a snow storm, and my agent sent me three or four scripts and told me it was a mini-series. I had no real desire to jump in and do a full-time television show. I quite enjoy going from character to character, and movies allow me that, as an actor. It’s fantastic. But, thinking it was a mini-series, I was like, “Let me take a gander at it,” and Mitch Glazer’s writing was so great. All the characters were so flushed out, but this character, in particular, had so many places to go. The audience really gets to follow his journey.
It was just so well-written that I was like, “Oh, shit, this is really good. I’ll sit down with Mitch, but I’m not going to leave New York, so he’s going to have to come over to me.” And he did. He got on a plane, and he hates flying. He came out to New York and we met, and within 30 seconds of meeting him, I knew that I wanted to work with him. A half-hour in, I brought up the fact that it was a mini-series and he looked at me like I was off my rocker, and that’s when I figured out, “Oh, no, this is going to be an ongoing story.” But, by then, I was already in, hook, line and sinker. And here we are, with eight hours of extraordinary storytelling, in any medium.
I think this is really good. I don’t think there’s anything like it on TV. I’m super-glad that I read those scripts and met with Mitch. I really am. Normally, I’ll read 10 pages of a script and be like, “Ah, I don’t know,” and that will be it. Especially when I’m up at the cabin, it’s hard to get me to do anything. But, I love it and I’m so glad I did it, and it’s been a hell of a run.
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?
MORGAN: Yeah, we went right into production and did a season. Some of the best writing and acting is on the premium channels. All of the supposed film actors are doing television now – some great ones. Everybody involved in this show comes from the world of film. This is a different world, for all of us. I’ve done a lot of television, but not the lead of a series. I’ll go die on shows, aplenty, but to actually survive a first season is amazing to me. And, to be talking about what might be happening in the future is also amazing.
While we were doing it, it felt like we were doing a movie. I’ve seen three episodes and it moves like a fucking freight train. Every episode gets better. I’m exceedingly proud of that. And knowing that Mitch Glazer wrote every single episode is an amazing feat. He wrote a novel, essentially. It’s been such a lovely – and that’s such a weird word to come out of my mouth – work experience. I genuinely had so much fun.
It’s the hardest work I’ve ever had in my life. The work was incredibly hard. The scheduling of television is so much more than doing a film, when you’re shooting seven pages a day and I’m literally in 99% of the scenes of this show. So, I didn’t sleep for six months. I’d work my 15-hour days, have to go study for four hours, and then be on the set again. But, I had fun, even then. Even when I was exhausted and a little bit crazy from lack of sleep, the work remained solid and the people I worked with were great, and what a cool deal. I’m a big fan.
What can you say about who Ike Evans is and how he fits into the world of this show?
MORGAN: Well, it’s his world. Ike Evans started out as a cabana boy with big aspirations and dreams, and they’ve all come to fruition. He built the Miramar Playa, which in our story is the Fontainebleau of Miami Beach. It’s where everyone goes. It’s where the Rat Pack would be hanging out. It’s the place to go. So, he’s built the gem of Miami Beach, but in order to build this place and run it, he’s had to do some things. He’s a good guy, don’t get me wrong. He’s a good man.
First and foremost, he’s a family man. But, he finds himself in a position of having to have questionable business partners and those chinks in the armor that no one knows about, except for me and you, as the audience. My family and the rest of the people in the show don’t know. He walks into a room and he owns it. He’s a super-charming guy and he’s always got a smile on his face. He moves like a shark, in and out of these worlds. But, he sold his soul to the devil, so to speak, and he’s desperately trying to find a way out, keep his family safe and keep his dream alive. As we go through this and each episode plays out, you can see the pressures building, and he may crack.
What’s it like to have an actor like Danny Huston to play those moments off of?
MORGAN: Danny is a fucking great actor. I don’t even know what else to say. He’s so good. He and I have been around doing this for awhile now. For the scenes that we get to have, the powers that be have given us a lot of freedom with these characters. We’ll do four or five takes, of any given scene, and every one of them will be completely different, and having that ability to play is phenomenal. I can hardly wait to see some of the cuts that they choose. What Danny and I would do, in particular, is get two cameras going. You never knew what was going to happen. There could be these weird little improv moments that weren’t scripted. It’s a really great thing and special, as an actor, to work with someone that isn’t consistent in what they’re doing. Consistent with greatness, but every time we do something, each moment has a different thing in there that I can see him doing, and I react off of that and listen to what’s going on. That’s a great way to work, and a hoot.
We have a phenomenal cast. I love working with all of them. But, with Danny, in particular, I get very excited about playing with him. And he really does relish this bad guy thing. He enjoys it, and you can see him enjoying it, and that’s just a contagious thing. When you see someone enjoying what they’re doing so much, it makes it so much more fun and makes those days easier. We had scenes that had a phenomenal amount of dialogue, and yet there’s an ease to working with someone like Danny and a freshness that is sometimes hard to get with other people. I very much look forward to working with him. There’s not a dull moment. In any of the scenes that we have together, there won’t be a dull moment, I can promise you that.
What sort of family dynamic does your character have with his wife and sons? Does he want both of his sons in the family business?
MORGAN: Yeah. Stevie (Steven Strait), in particular, is a mini-me. I’ve raised him to be the spitting image of his father. I think Ike was exactly like Stevie, but maybe Ike was a little bit more ambitious. Stevie tends to go off on his tangents. First and foremost, and what I love so much about this character, is that the foundation of Ike is that he’s a family man. He’s not off having affairs. At heart, he’s a really good guy. Everything he does is to protect his family. He employs them. He wants Danny (Christian Cooke) to go to the best schools. He wants to bring Stevie up in the hotel business. Ultimately, he would like Danny to also be there. Danny is very much Al Pacino in The Godfather, as I would be Marlon Brando. It’s like, “You’re going to go be the good kid. You’re going to go to law school. You’re going to do this right. With my lack of education and Stevie’s lack of education, when I’m dead and gone, you will be the guy that can run this on the up-and-up.” Stevie is more like his father. But, at its heart, it’s a very loving family. I don’t think you see that in television much. No one is a drug addict in the family. Ike is very much in love with his wife, and I love that opportunity. One of the things I love so much is that, regardless of what’s happening in Ike’s world, he goes home to his wife who he loves more than anything, and her him. That’s rarely seen, and it’s so much fun to play.
When you work so hard on something like this, does that change the kind of projects you want to do on hiatus? Do you want to just take a break between seasons, or do you want to continue to balance the show with film work?
MORGAN: I want to do movies, too. What’s happened is that somehow I’ve become a workaholic. I never really planned on that. I like my time off, but I haven’t really worked now since we wrapped this show and it’s starting to drive me nuts. But, I’m going to do a movie before we start production back on [Season 2], and then I have a movie right after we finish [Season 2]. I love working, but I have to try to balance my family in there, too. Dragging them around is hard, so I’m going to enjoy this time that we have. I purposely am not going to work until April, and then I pretty much work until next January. But, I drag everybody with me, and they’re good.
Which film are you doing next?
MORGAN: I’m doing a movie called The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea in April. That will be the next movie, and that’s with Chloe Moretz and Jessica Biel. It’s a great, great, great, great script. I’m very excited to do it. We’ll be in New Orleans, doing that. And then, next Fall or Winter, or whenever we finish doing [Season 2], I think I’m going to do a movie called The Rut. I just keep my head down and keep working.
Magic City airs on Friday nights on Starz, starting on April 6th.