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 Steven Strait talked about how he came to be a part of Magic City, his vision for the role of Stevie, the father-son relationship, his extensive research of the time period, and how amazing this ensemble has been to work with. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Collider: How did Magic City come about for you? Did you audition for the role?
STEVEN STRAIT: Well, I read it and just fell in love with the first script. It was so lush and real and interesting and complicated and historic and accurate. The characters were all different and multi-faceted and compelling. And then, I met Mitch Glazer, who is a genius and a lovely person. He explained his vision for it, and I talked to him about how I saw Stevie. And then, I read for it and that was it.
At that point, did you know that this had already been picked up for series, and that it wasn’t just a pilot that you had to film and then wait to see if it got picked up?
STRAIT: I did know that, and it made sense to me. The quality of the material was just so extraordinary that it was probably just a prudent idea to go with it. That kind of material doesn’t come along very often. I think everyone wanted to take advantage and make it what it could possibly be. This is my first television series, so the whole process has been fairly new for me. But, I found that shooting this and the process of it coming together is far more similar to film then I would have imagined television to be. It was really great. And, it was great to know that we had the opportunity to really do all of the background work and research and know that you’ll have a body of work that you can use it for, as opposed to just the pilot. That was a big luxury. That’s not usually done.
What can you say about Stevie Evans and how he fits into the world of this show?
STRAIT: The show essentially revolves around the family that built Miami into the resort city that it is today. Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is based on a real guy. It’s at the time when all of the big, beautiful art deco hotels were opening up and he’s growing his empire, but it’s a very specific moment in socio-economic America, and particularly in Miami because there’s so much going on. Cuba was falling and the mob was moving in from Chicago and fleeing Havana, trying to turn Miami into a new Havana despite everyone’s best efforts to keep gambling out of Miami. And then, there were these regular folks, trying to build their business and their empire. It’s about how they handle the incredible pressures and the very dangerous and powerful people. The government and the CIA opened a huge field office there to try to kill Castro. There were all these very bizarre bedfellows that started to intermix together within the lobbies of these hotels. That really happened, which is the most extraordinary part about all of it.
My character fits into the mix because he’s the one who runs the ground game. If Ike handles the larger, more political aspects of his empire – like calling the Kennedys and making sure they come down, or the businessmen that they need, or the television executives that have the Miss ‘59 pageant there – and Stevie handles the grimier side of all of it, with the prostitution and the gambling. He’s the one who is physically interacting with that world, all the time. He’s the one who runs the ground game within the hotel and makes sure that all of Ike’s plans are facilitated. He really is his father’s son. He’s cut from the same cloth.
He really looks up to Ike. As opposed to Danny, Christian Cooke’s character, who’s my younger brother on the show, who’s more of the Bobby Kennedy generation. He wants to be a lawyer and change the world. Stevie is not quite there. He fits into this really bizarre slot. He’s not quite in the Chet Baker era, and he’s not really in The Beatles era either. He’s in this really weird mix of transition for the country and for culture, in general. It was really fun to play him. He’s a very murky, multi-faceted character.
How is the father-son relationship between Ike and Stevie?
STRAIT: They’re very similar. Ike, for Stevie, is the pedestal. Stevie is being groomed to take over this empire. His focus is far more localized then his younger brother, who looks at causes and things that are more global. Stevie’s life exists in Miami and that general region, and he’s focused on growing that business there. In general, he stays more specific to the interests of the family, as opposed to the interests of the general population. Judgements aside, it’s just a different mind-set that he shares with Ike and got from Ike. They’re very similar people.
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?
STRAIT: I did a lot of research. I thought it was really important to understand the reasons why things were the way they were. It’s such a unique time and so much happened. This is 1959. By the early ‘60s, the stakes are really high. You’ve got the Cuban Missile Crisis and the world almost on the brink of extinction with a nuclear holocaust. It’s the circumstances that led up to this bizarre intermix of the mob, the government and local businessmen. I read quite a few books on different aspects of the show. For Stevie, as a character, I read a couple different books, taking bits and pieces of characters that I thought were similar to him, and then just bent them to how I saw him.
I re-read The Godfather. I also read a book called 1959 that really describes the year, which is an extraordinary book that is really eye-opening. You have Sputnik and the creation of the micro-chip, and all of these really big, innovative, huge things going on. I also wanted to understand the region and the dictators and the Dominican Republic, and Castro kicking out Meyer Lansky. All of that stuff needed to be researched and known because Stevie would have known that stuff. I focused the books on the area and the time. It wasn’t more general then that because I didn’t feel like Stevie would have an interest in what was going on in Europe. He’d have more of an interest in what was paying the bills at the Miramar Playa. Havana Nocturne is a really great non-fiction book about the mob in Cuba, who are a lot of the same players that ended up in Miami when Cuba fell.
So, there was a lot of research that went into it. I wanted to get really specific with Stevie because he does fall in that strange area of a country in transition, and him also in transition. He’s becoming an adult and a man. Stevie gets to reap all the rewards of his father’s work without any of the really large responsibilities, but as time goes on, that starts to change. I thought it was really important that all the choices for him were very specific, even down to his clothes and the fabric of his suits. But, I had a blast playing Stevie and developing him. He does so much mask work. He’s a hustler, so when he’s talking to his prostitutes, he’s one guy, and when he’s handling the gambling and the mobsters in the cabana, he’s another guy, and when he’s talking to his family, he’s another guy.
Do you think he even knows which one he actually is?
STRAIT: Yes, I do. And, that was a choice. It was either going to be that he’s doing it subconsciously for his own survival and forward movement, or he’s actually choosing it for his own survival and forward movement. It does inform who he is and how capable he is. So, I decided to make Stevie really smart because his father is. Ike is a genius. He came from nothing in Miami and built this empire because of his brain, and it only made sense that that would transfer down. In him being Stevie’s tutor, those qualities would inevitably end up rubbing off on him. It was also more fun to make it a conscious choice for me. To be able to come out of one cabana being one guy, actually take a moment and change the mask, and then go into another one, it was great. It was really fun. I built the subconscious of the character, and then I had to build the ones that he built for himself. There’s a couple different layers and directions, which was really fun to play with. You just have a lot of colors to paint a picture with.
STRAIT: It was amazing! Mitch’s writing is just beautiful. To be able to work with this kind of material with these actors, who are all so incredible, on a consistent basis, it doesn’t really get any better then that. I was just so happy, shooting this show. It was incredibly gratifying, creatively. Everyone was committed and really embodied their characters. It was a blast.
So, needlessly to say, this is a character you’d love to explore some more?
STRAIT: I would love to! As long as they’ll let me, I’ll be doing it.
Magic City airs on Friday nights on Starz, starting on April 6th.