“Magic City” is one of the original series on Starz that the network hopes will put it on the Emmy-nominated map that is frequently populated by other cable networks such as HBO, Showtime and AMC. “Magic City,” whose first season is set in 1959, is a drama that centers on the suave but shady Ike Evans, the owner of the upscale Miramar Playa Hotel in Miami. “Magic City” is the kind of TV series that does not skimp on the details, as this specific period of time is painstakingly recreated in the set designs and costumes.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Ike, whose work life is complicated by the fact that he has to do business with mobsters while trying to project an image that he is an upstanding citizen, husband and father. Although Morgan has done many TV shows in his career, “Magic City” (which premiers April 6, 2012, at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time) is his first TV series in which he has a starring role as the main character. Morgan and “Magic City” executive producer Mitch Glazer shared behind-the-scenes stories about the show in a lengthy conference-call interview with reporters.
Mitch, could you talk about why you wanted to do a TV series set in 1959 Miami?
Glazer: Yes. It was always my intention. I mean I realize obviously that with the fall of Havana in ’58, that New Year’s Eve, which is obviously cinematic to the extent that it’s been in “The Godfather,” it was such a defining moment for Miami and for the country. But in Miami, you went from a city that had 30,000 Cuban immigrants in 1959 to, I believe, 250,000, 18 months later or two years later.
And so that night changed everything for the city and it also felt like kind of that pivotal, being on the prefaces before the Kennedy years … There actually is a book called “1959,” because there was massive cultural and political shift in the country and in the world that year and a lot of it happening as I found out in the lobbies of these hotels. So it was just the perfect period. And having been born and raised in Miami Beach and been alive at that point, although only 7 years old I want to make a point of …
Morgan: But you had an awesome memory.
Glazer: I have a great memory. It seemed like a very incredibly glamorous and cool era to write about as well as obviously kind of important.
So are you drawing on any of your experiences or what you when you were growing up?
Glazer: No. The real engine for me for the show, the thing that was pushing me was that like all writers you kind of write what you know and having a sense of place and time. I was born and raised there and in these lobbies of the hotels. My dad was an electrical engineer who lit the Fontainebleau, the Eden Roc, the Deauville. You know, the kind of the center of social life in Miami Beach when I was growing up were the hotels all of which I tried to sneak into and got thrown out of, as all the local kids did. So many of them to the point of embarrassment are based on stories that happened that I saw or older brothers and sisters or my parents told me — and it’s very specific.
And for what I like as a fan, what I responded to with — what David Chase in “The Sopranos” [did] was the specificity of that Jersey/Italian-American experience, the guys in front of the meat market. There are things that resonate because they feel so real and true. There was perfume there blowing out of the nozzle in Saks Fifth Avenue on Lincoln Road when I was a kid, so a lot of it is from my childhood.
Would you like to address the inevitable comparisons that “Magic City” will get to “Mad Men”?
Glazer: Only in that I didn’t watch [“Mad Men”] because I was working, much but the first year I thought was spectacular. And I know Matt [Weiner, creator/executive producer of “Mad Men”] a little and he’s been incredibly gracious since this show happened. And [“Mad Men” star] Jon Hamm, my wife and I have known for a long time and I’m crazy about him and I love his work.
As far as the shows being comparable they’re really not other than I guess the year. I mean Magic City is set in an ethnic Jewish/Cuban world, a tourist town. And again, I worked as a cabana boy at the Deauville Hotel. It’s not like I looked around and thought, “What’s a cool era to write about.” This is my home and this was the time for me. So it feels earned and I actually wrote the first episode of it in 2007, early 2007, summer of 2007, and so there was no influence, other than hopefully if we get compared to the storytelling and writing [in “Mad Men”] as far as quality, I’d be thrilled.
Jeffrey, can you talk abut Ike? He seems like a really good guy but he finds himself having to sort of do these things that he maybe would not really want to do.
Morgan: I think you’re dealing with a guy who is a good guy, who kind of raised through the ranks and built his dream mostly by hard work. And he’s a family man in his heart. I think that was sort of the thing that I identified with the character, that I loved that Mitch had written was this guy who loves his family and he’s thrown into an incredible pressures. And he’s forced to make decisions. And like all of us, he has trouble making decisions and he makes the wrong ones at times and there are repercussions.
But the great thing about being able to do this in long form and doing an actual series on Starz is that I get to — through Mitch or Mitch through me — kind of tell the story of this man and not only the great things that happen in his life but the mistakes and the horrific kind of repercussions of those mistakes and how this guy deals with them.
And does Danny Huston as Diamond scare you?
Morgan: Yes. Diamond scares me. I think Danny is an incredibly awesome individual and I feel real lucky to be able to go work with him every day. But Diamond is a little bit creepy.
Jeffrey, a lot of people are fans of yours because of your work on “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Supernatural.” How is it working on a show from Starz, which is obviously a cable network and is different in a lot of ways than working on a broadcast network?
Morgan: For one thing, we’re not doing a 23-, 26-episode season. We have, in the first year, eight episodes and next year we’re going to do ten which allows us more time. We are less rushed than most of what we see on television, which kind of allows us to be much more cinematic. I never felt when I was doing this show that it was a television show. It didn’t feel like it when we were making it. The pace is still incredible, but as you’ve seen, it doesn’t look like anything I think that’s been on television. Everybody in [“Magic City”] comes from the world of film, both in front and in back of the camera.
So when I first got the scripts, it didn’t read as a television show. I was very leery of getting into a television show. Not that my experiences on “Grey’s” and “Supernatural” weren’t great. They were. I mean, they gave me a career. They put me in the opportunity to be Ike Evans in “Magic City.” But that being said, I think going to especially what Starz is doing now — it’s just not TV.
Does that change the way you approach acting?
Morgan: I think the great thing about doing this is I got eight episodes, as opposed to trying to cram a whole story and a whole character into an hour-and-a-half, two hours, which is what I’ve been doing really since I did “Grey’s” and “Supernatural.” And even with those shows, I was only on, like, 12 episodes of “Supernatural,” and I did, like, 20 of “Grey’s” throughout a three-year period. So I was never a regular.
Doing [“Magic City”] felt like I was going away and doing a film. And the beauty of it is I get to continue this movie. This journey that Ike is on, that Mitch is taking me on, I get to keep doing, which is great. I think my biggest fear about doing television is getting bored with the character — and I don’t have that feeling doing “Magic City.” I don’t think I’m ever going to get bored of playing Ike, and I think there are many stories yet to unfold and coming from the brain of Mitch Glazer there and I’m thrilled and happy and I can hardly wait to get back for Season 2.
Mitch, do you have thoughts about how you’re going to continue to develop this Ike Evans character?
Glazer: He is so not going to be bored. This guy is going to be so not bored I can’t even tell you. We’re laying out the second season as we speak … This going to sound like the gush-fest … Any kind of piece of Ike or move for him not only can Jeff do but he brings to places that I hadn’t anticipated. And people always ask me like “So like you’re on set all the time.” And half of it is as a fan. And I just want to watch these people work.
Ike Evans is charismatic but also has secrets. And you see the weight that he’s under at the same time how loving he can be and where he’ll go to keep his family and his vision of this hotel together all on Jeff’s face. I think it’s an astounding performance. As a writer, it’s the most liberating, inspiring work I’ve done. He [Jeffrey Dean Morgan] better rest up on the off season. That’s all I’ve got to tell him. Take a nap.
Morgan: So what’s been happening here in the first three episodes is we’re setting the story. Mitch wrote these first three. I think it lays a really great groundwork for what is yet to come and where Ike has to go in this first year where we end up. Look, I’m hoping I’m alive for Season 2. You know, I’ve got a tendency to die in things. And where we end this first season it’s anybody’s guess, although not Mitch’s. He’s the only one that knows what the hell is going on here.
Glazer: No, you’ll be back.
Jeffrey, how does it feel to play a character on TV that actually isn’t dead or in a flashback?
Morgan: I don’t know what’s going to happen. I made it through the first year, which is a first for me on any television show, which was thrilling. But, again, as this season goes the journey that Ike’s on is to some dangerous spots, so we’ll see where we go. But as far as being in the show and knowing that I’m not dead yet, it’s been great. It’s kind of liberating as an actor to know you’re not going to die in two episodes.
Ike seems really laid-back for the high position that he’s in. Does Ike have a dark side to him?
Morgan: See, I don’t take it that way. I think he puts on a front in front of everyone of this charming guy that’s a little laid-back. But I think what you see behind closed doors is not a guy that’s laid-back. It’s a guy that’s making hard decisions that people’s lives depend on, including his own. And so [he has] this sort of air that he gives out of everything being OK — and he gives that to everyone: his wife, his shady business partners, everybody. He has to.
But then behind closed doors, you see the cracks, you see the burden that he’s carrying. And I don’t think he’s very laid-back in those situations. I think as this goes on, it’ll be very telling about Ike’s personality. And I think this laid-back charm he has is going to be put to the test.
Now that Starz has renewed “Magic City” for a second season, does this put any more or less pressure on you?
Glazer: Yes, absolutely. It might be misguided confidence, but there is a special joy in seeing the [Starz president/CEO] Chris Albrecht smile and the congratulations thing, which was great, but I always had a feeling that we were going to be going forward and I’d already started kind of mapping out or planning in my head a second season.
I’ve never done television before, so I don’t know the politics of announcing or what any of that means. What I do know is Starz and Chris Albrecht in particular have a passion for the show, and he hasn’t been shy about that. So his support and kind of excitement about it is great fuel for all of us.
And I don’t feel any more pressure than I would’ve if we were waiting to hear. It’s a relief, truthfully. I can just kind of proceed and I have writers this time, as opposed to writing all of them as I did last year. I think I’ll look better at the end of the year.
Morgan: I, on the other hand, feel sh*tloads of pressure. You know, for me this is my baby. It’s Mitch’s baby and it’s my baby … So we’re letting our baby out of its crib for the first time. And there’s something really nice about having that to ourselves and to let it be out there and for people to judge something that you love so much. You always feel the pressure and I’d be crazy if I said, “Oh, it’s just great.” I feel pressure every single day.
That being said, I wouldn’t want to operate on any other axis. I like the pressure, and I think that brings out the best in me and I think it brings out the best in Mitch, regardless of what he’ll tell you how cool he is.
Glazer: I think I misunderstood the question, only in whether it was pressure going forward into a second year. The expectations, the pressure that we put on ourselves, when I would walk into a read-through and the cast was reading the new episode for the first time, the expectation level and the ambition level and the pressure was self-imposed, meaning Jeff and I were feeling that we were operating at a certain level. And you just wanted to continue it, and so I feel that. When I’m in with writers and kind of the storytelling and I just want it to get better and bigger and more powerful.
But as far as the world thing, Jeff’s absolutely right. It’s a vulnerable feeling because we’ve just been hugging each other saying how much we’re enjoying it through the whole process. And now it’s in the world, which is what we’re doing it for. But, yes, there’s definitely pressure attached. I’m not that cool.
Morgan: Also having announced the second season, it’s great. It is a huge sense of relief because we just started telling the story. I just am getting to live with Ike. I had six months living in his shoes and I really like this guy and I like telling the story. I like telling Mitch’s story. And so that part of going into season two is a huge relief and knowing that this network and Chris Albrecht has this confidence in us before we even air an episode, there is a certain amount of confidence that certainly gives us as artists moving forward, I’ll say that.
Why was shooting “Magic City” in Florida was so important to you?
Glazer: I can speak to the first part and then it really does kind of dovetail in for Jeff. But for me, it’s called “Magic City.” The city was always going to be a character. I’m such a Miami guy that the only time I ever saw Miami accurately portrayed was when Michael Corleone goes to visit Hyman Roth in Godfather II and you pull up to that little middle class Jewish home. That – I remember turning to someone and saying, “That is what Miami Beach looks like.”
And so it was a mission of mine to get down there and use the city [with] the largest kind of existing pre-1959 architecture in the world — that deco area and the light and the smells. But I also I had a dream that the actors would be inspired and be able to kind of become a part of the experience deeper from shooting it there which is what Jeff can speak to.
Morgan: Nice dovetail. I like that a lot. Well absolutely. I think shooting in Miami was maybe the single most important thing that we did as a production. The sets are beautiful, the most beautiful sets I’ve ever seen in my life, as a matter of fact. But being in Miami and being able to use the city and for me it’s just being a character as any one of us in the show is hugely important.
We’ve all seen the shows like “Dexter” and “CSI: Miami.” And it’s painfully obviously to those of us who are watching them that it’s not shot in Miami, and I think that brings a certain amount of realism to not only us as actors but the viewers are keenly aware of that kind of thing. And showing Miami in the light that we show it I think is a great thing not only for us but also the city of Miami.
Glazer: Also you know, because I grew up there when questions came up or more than questions I could actually take. We shot the pool area at the Deauville Hotel on Collins Avenue, which was built in like ’58. My father did the lighting for it, as I said, and I worked there as a cabana boy in ’73.
We shot a scene in Episode 6 in the ballroom that the Beatles played in, in ’64, and I was there. I was there watching “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and I could take Jeff in and a couple of the actors and the same chandeliers. And so literally, you can kind of immerse yourself, as Jeff said, in the reality of the moment, and I could speak to it. So to do it in Burbank or North Carolina, the storytelling and the performances would’ve held up, but there’s a depth to it from being in the place that you can’t compete with.
In the first three episodes of “Magic City,” Ike does seem rather sort of put-upon. We don’t see him sort of as active a participant, as dynamic a participant as maybe he’s coping with all these things that he’s got to sort of juggle. Will we see him become a little bit more of a hero, a little bit more active and a little less the guy who’s trying to deal with folks, trying to screw them over all the time?
Morgan: Yes, you will. Like I said, I think the first three episodes are a lot of kind of setting-up for what is yet to come. And as described by Mitch and me, this show is a train and it’s picking up speed. I mean it is very much fun, and what we’re seeing now are Ike’s wheels turning.
He’s going to have to get involved. He may have to get his hands dirty. Oh, hell, I’ll say it: He’s going to get his hands pretty dirty. He’s unable to sit back much longer. Everything is sort of coming to a head. And I think the first three episodes are providing that pressure, and something is going to burst.
I’ve said this, but I think doing this long form and having eight hours to kind of let this play out is that it can be a slow burn. And I know everyone is used to a “fast-food nation.” Everyone likes the immediate payback: “What’s going to happen and I want to see it happen now.” And I think we get to really sort of explore human nature in having more time.
And so I love being able to portray Ike and let the audience kind of walk in his shoes and it kind of is funny to me that people think he’s so laid-back, because I’ve watched those episodes and I know what was going on in my head during them and I know also where the story is going and when the payback happens. It’s going to be big, it’s going to be huge, and it’s going to make people sit up in their seats. So just hang on. It’s a ride.
Mitch, you said earlier that you wrote the first episode of Magic City” back in 2007. What had happened in between time. Is it something you’d been working on and off or is it something that you have been trying to pitch or trying to make for years? And how did you end up at Starz?
Glazer: I wrote it initially as a network show and it was one of those deals where I had never written TV ever, and I walked in and did the pitch and the woman that was running one-hour drama midway through the pitch, I said, “It’s Miami Beach, it’s 1959,” and she said, “Where did you go to high school?” And I said, “Beach High.” And she said, “I went to Gables,” which is our arch enemy and she said, “Let’s just do this.” And so it was kind of effortless and I wrote kind of a version of what it became.
But it was apparent to me once I started realizing that world, because I’d never dealt with it before, the kind of parameters of network TV in censorship editorially but also just the kind of demands of what it required. And then I really always saw it as being cinematic; it just wasn’t a natural fit. And so it was one of those things that because it’s a passion project and because it’s about my hometown and family in a kind of extended way, I held onto in my head. But to set up elsewhere required incredible generosity from the people I had written it for.
And it ended up at Starz in a kind of strange way. I went to Havana to do research for a movie I was writing. And Chris Albrecht was on the trip with us and we got to know each other socially. He had already left HBO but had not started at Starz yet. And we got to know each other. We walked into the lobby of the Riviera Hotel, which is the Morris Lapidus-designed 1959 building. I saw his eyes go up and it was this beautiful, swank hotel and it registered with me.
And so when he started at Starz very shortly after, I sent him the copy of the script and from that moment until now it’s like nothing, two years or something. It happened super-fast and which is how he operates. Maybe the last one who kind of operates from his gut and pulls the trigger like that and he just went, “This is great. I love it. Let’s do it.” And thank God he did.
There’s that beach scene between Stevie and Ike where you tell him that it was not love at first sight with his mother. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like to film the scene that day?
Morgan: I just remember that day being really, really hot. No, I think that was our first scene together and it was a scene that was sort of pivotal we thought during the rehearsal process for both our characters. It kind of established the relationship between father and son as well as what happens moving forward in the story.
So here’s what I’ll say about both my sons and everybody in the cast actually, but he’s so good. You know, he’s a young actor that. And what I got out of that day, because it was the first time working with him, he knows how to listen as an actor. You’d be surprised how few actors know how to listen in the course of the scene. And I remember being so proud of him, like a fatherly pride for Steve as Stevie. He’s going to be a handful as the show goes on and I think that’s sort of an indication of our relationship.
But I agree that that was a pivotal moment I think that we were filming that day and being that it was the first scene that we shot as these characters, I think it lays the groundwork for our relationship moving forward as well as what’s happened in the past that the audience hasn’t been privy to.
Mitch, what was your inspiration for that scene?
Glazer: Even in read-through and we read through the script a lot before we started the first one and every time we got to that scene, all the actors in the room would watch these two because it was really an appropriately deep moment and coming out of character and the writing of it. I find that the most magic happens sometimes when the characters — and this sounds insanely pretentious and psychotic even — start talking apart from me.
In other words, I set them in motion and that moment when Stevie says, “Was it like that with Mom?” Ike’s answer was Ike’s answer. It was just kind of like, “No, it wasn’t that way.” And it just came out and as I wrote it I went, “Wow, this is a heavy thing to say to your son.” I mean shattering even, but speaks to the kind of respect that Ike has for Stevie at that point and trust, but it’s an honest moment.
The other thing being, as constructed, Stevie is kind of junior partner, and Ike has created him as such and kind of designed him to be not a peer, maybe, but someone who’s an employee and a partner. So those kind of father/son moments are rare. And when we talked about it, the three of us, it’s so important. Stevie is so hungry, I think, for the character, for that time with his father and for Ike to give it up to him. My father and I love each other, and we’re really close, and I can count those moments on both hands and they’re precious to me, you know.
At the end of the first episode, when Ike and Stevie are in the Atlantis lounge and Ike puts his hand next to Stevie’s head and holds it there. And Steven, the actor, just leans against it, tilts his head against it, not scripted. These two guys having played the scene that you like, they were so in it with that kind of affection and tenderness. I’ve been asked about the comparisons to other shows of the period but that kind of father/son affection and relationship is something that’s really precious to me as a person and as a writer. And these guys are just killing it, I think.
Morgan: And just adding to it, I think I mentioned how important it is this relationship that I have with Vera but also with his sons. People are sometimes not willing to show a loving family and portray that. And I think it is the greatest part of this show is this family and how they aren’t afraid to tell each other that they love each other and they’re not afraid to deal with conflict within the family and yet you know that there’s this undercurrent of love.
Beyond anything else that happens in this first season, you’re going to know that Ike loves his family more than anything and that’s his foundation. It’s made him the man who he is. And certainly this relationship with Stevie is so important to who Ike is and Stevie kind of looking for this approval from his father who loves him and yet sometimes doesn’t give him the approval that he is so desperately searching for. It’s a windy kind of complicated road that these two are going to be on as well, as all the characters, but I love this relationship between Stevie and Ike because I think that Ike looks as Stevie as probably exactly how Ike was as a young man.
And he knows the mistakes he’s made and he wants Stevie to be able to make those mistakes as he did but at the same time he wants to kind of save him from that. So it’s going to be an interesting dynamic moving forward and I know what we shot and it gets complicated this whole relationship. And I think that scene sort of sets the tone for what is yet to come.
What’s the biggest challenge you face, in terms of telling the story in “Magic City”?
Glazer: The greatest challenge in telling the story? The engine behind the show really is, for me, in popular in entertainment or even in novels — a family situation, a family-driven piece of work has always been the most compelling. And so really at the heart of what Jeff has just been saying, at the heart of “Magic City,” even with all the period icing and other things that are going on, is Ike’s effort to hold this family together — and by extension, the larger family of the hotel.
As far as the challenge of storytelling, I’ve got to say I wrote all these scripts for the first season. Writing is hard but these were characters that once they were set in motion kind of making sparks against each other, the stories kind of came organically and I was really pleased with the storytelling.
I don’t know how Jeff felt, but even for all the hard work and the ambition was to make a feature film every 10 days or nine days or whatever, so everybody killed themselves but we all were kind of harnessed to the same purpose. I felt inspired by the work and trying to do something great. So even though there was the challenge of just getting these shows done at the level we were trying, there was a satisfaction that we felt we were doing something special.
Jeffrey, how was the process to get in the character of Ike?
Morgan: I would love to say how difficult it was so that would make me sound like this great actor. But to be honest with you, the scripts that Mitch wrote were so great and so detailed and I had this partner in him that I’ve never had before on a set. So with him at my side and putting on my white dinner jacket and walking onto these phenomenal sets, really, a lot of my work was done. It was easy for me to get into Ike mode.
First and foremost, to do any show, any movie, it has to start with what is on the page, and I think what Mitch put on the page is so incredibly inspiring to me as an actor and so much of it was there. He wrote beautiful characters that were pretty well-fleshed-out. I just came in and did what I did as an actor but there was a foundation there that I’ve never been able to work with before.
So it wasn’t as hard as I would love to say it was because I had a great script to work with and I think any great show or film it starts with what’s on the page. If you don’t have that, you have nothing. And so it was there for me and I just had to do my job and not screw up Mitch’s work.
It’s cool to be wearing a tuxedo in the ‘50s, right?
Morgan: You know what? It’s not so bad. I’ve never been a shirt-and-tie guy, as Mitch will attest to. You know, he would die every morning when I would show up in my pajamas, mostly because I’d only slept like three hours the night before. But I’d show up and he’d be like, “Where’s Ike Evans?” And give me a little half hour and I’ll be in my shirt and tuxedo and everything will be great.
Glazer: He looked gorgeous. It was disturbing. Yes. But it’s true. He would show up on his motorcycle and say to me, “You’re not going to believe this but I slept in these clothes last night.”
And I went, “You know, I believe it. I believe it.” He absolutely did. And then literally half an hour later walk on set the skinny tie and the beautiful suit and it’s like my world. I think it was the happiest his mother ever was.
Morgan: My mom is exceedingly happy to see me dressed up a little bit and looking good. And much credit needs to go to our costume designer, Carol Ramsey, who dressed everybody, including 150 extras on any given day. She did a phenomenal job. And it helps so much as an actor having those pieces in place. So you have your sets and your wardrobe and it makes it so much easier for us as actors.
Mitch, you said that you had had this idea and you took it to TV. Sid you ever envision it as a film project or was it always a TV show?
Glazer: I did … because that was my orientation, I hadn’t really ever thought about TV. And, yes, initially it was always going to be a feature in my head and it really was function of doing research and starting to kind of look at all the stories laying them out that I realized it was absolutely impossible to tell the tale that I wanted to tell in 90 minutes or whatever and it was just bigger and it kept growing.
And one of the reasons I’d hesitated about doing television wasn’t a question of whatever TV versus movies. I was trying to think, as Jeff said, of something that would actually hold my interest. You know, so the last thing you want to do is commit to something and then kind of start looking around going, “You know, God, I should be writing this thing or whatever,” and this one was a story engine. I started to look into it and I realized, “God these are subject matter and a world that I can keep writing about.” And so, yes, it just kind of exploded on me.
And then also with the birth of premium cable, truthfully it happened around the same time. I started looking at the first season of “The Sopranos,” which was my favorite work of the year of anything. And I started going, “There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Chris Albrecht.” So the opportunity to do it with him in that form is the best of all worlds.
I don’t think there’s an accident that Gus Van Sant and Michael Mann and [Martin] Scorsese and all the writers and directors that are being attracted to premium cable. It’s a great place to tell stories.
And compared to your 2011 film “Passion Play,” how does working in TV compare to that last project?
Glazer: As far as the actual process it’s pretty much identical except my DP [director of photography] isn’t insane.
Morgan: And I’m a lot like [“Passion Play” star] Mickey Rourke too, so it’s like hand in hand.
Glazer: It was either Jeff or Mickey. It was a toss-up. But, no, I did grow up with Mickey and went to high school with him in Miami. And we were friends going in, and still are, but as far as the process, it feels like we are shooting feature films. Our [“Magic City”] DP, who I think is brilliant, comes out of features and for no other reason, there wasn’t any prejudice, it just turned out that way. So because it’s what I know, it kind of felt very similar. I’m trying to think of the differences.
Morgan: The pace. I think the pace is a little different. I think on this show we were shooting between seven and nine pages a day just depending on locations. We moved quite a bit so we could shoot two or three locations a day and that is not an easy day’s worth of work. Films, you don’t do that. You shoot maybe two or three pages a day. Some independent films, you shoot up to five to six pages but that’s rare.
TV, that’s the thing, is the pace and when you’re working with all these people behind the camera. The DP and his crew, they all came from the world of film. And so you’re putting a lot of pressure on your crew for one to make this look like a film every shot. And so it’s a learning process for all of us. You know, it’s just the pacing of it.
You want to shoot, like Mitch said, a movie in nine days. And we saw the first couple episodes on the big screen. This plays on the big screen better than it plays on the television. It’s shot like a movie.
It looks like a film and the fact that our crew and our cast, they got to keep up with this brutal kind of pace that we are putting is a testament to every single one of them and Mitch’s scripts were huge. They were huge, in terms of what is done on television. And we were able to somehow miraculously pull that off.
And this is the first time that I can remember in a long time where in reading the script you have this vision of what it’s going to be. And when I read this script it read as cinema and you can see the scenes playing in your head. And there are visions of “Casino” and “The Godfather” racing through there and the reality of that is that doesn’t normally happen.
You know, the blowback is the results are never what you want to see and with this that’s not the case. This is exactly, maybe even better than, what my little brain was able to imagine in first reading these scripts. So it was awesome. But that’s the only difference between this and a big movie was we had to be really fast. The results are beautiful.
Jeffrey, you seem to have a great time when you’re on Craig Ferguson’s talk show. How much fun is his show to do?
Morgan: Oh, I love it. I have kind of a really special relationship with him. You know, it’s impossible to actually talk about a project on that show for him and I because we just go off on crazy tangents and I adore him.
Whenever I am doing press for anything or even just on a Tuesday he’ll call and say, “Hey, you want to go do the show?” And I’ll say, “Absolutely.” As a matter of fact, I leave in two days to go do a show, so I’ll see him on the 5th and I’ll make sure that he knows that people are enjoying it other than just us.
We have a little bit of a love affair not much different from my love affair from Mitch, maybe a little bit crazier. But I love going and talking to him and usually something embarrassing comes out of it for both of us, but we seem to have a good time.
“Magic City” is about to join a few other successful American period dramas that are on right now and are big hits with viewers. Why is it that you think that TV viewers are embracing these more historically-driven series at this time?
Glazer: For me, I can’t really speak to the others. I follow good storytelling personally. It was interesting when I saw “Godfather I.” I was in college and it was about two weeks later that I realized that it was period. I went home and I was going, “Hey, wait a minute. Pacino was in the uniform. What was that? What war was that at the end,” because I got so swept up by the storytelling and the performances and the family drama of it and action and all that that I just didn’t see it.
And I think that at the heart of all the shows probably that you’re referencing has to be the people get hooked to the characters and to the dilemma that they’re in and also the stories that are being told. And the world is hopefully attractive and kind of has its own cool hook as well, but it’s really secondary to the universal which is we all come from families fathers and sons and things like that or husbands and wives and that kind of storytelling I think is really powerful.
And, for me, also the specific is universal and as I think I might’ve said when I first saw Sopranos, which obviously isn’t period, the specificity of those guys sitting in front of that meat market in Jersey just felt so real and authentic that with Magic City hopefully because I grew up there we’ll have that same really gritty and authentic sense of place and time that will anchor the show.
And, for us, anyhow it was an incredibly explosive time. We’re going to in the second season hopefully get to JFK’s announcement for his presidency of the United States in January of ’60. It was one of the most important and defining times in the country and we get to explore it through the lobby of this great hotel.
Morgan: Yes, all that stuff and I think for me personally — and I will only speak on my behalf on this one — I’ve always kind of romanticized the past. I was always and I still am a believer in I was born in the wrong era. There’s just something about this time period Frank Sinatra and the mob and I think I would’ve loved being a part of. And in my own special way, thanks to Mitch, I get to be a part of that now. And maybe viewers out there are a little bit taken with that past too and if there is the opportunity to kind of throw in some history in there, it makes for really great stories.
And God forbid people will actually learn about what was going on in 1958 or 1959 by tuning into “Magic City.” It’s a cool time. It was a cool period and it was a romantic, classy, glamorous time and I don’t think the world has that now, you know. So I embrace it and for a lot of those reasons and I think viewers do as well in watching the other period shows and certainly I think they will watching “Magic City.”
How much did the history of the Fontainebleau and also Ben Novack play in preparing for the character and sort of drawing the character of Ike Evans?
Glazer: My father worked for Ben, and I’ve heard stories my whole life of my father going to get $500 for payment for lighting. And in the middle of an argument, Ben would take out his hearing aid and pretend he couldn’t hear any more. So he’s not really Ike Evans.
Ike is a composite truthfully, from my side of the creation, of several people and is a more kind of charismatic and elevated version of these guys, who were kind of a really different kind of street-level guy. Ike operates at a different level in some way.
But the one thing that does draw in some of the great hotel guys in Miami Beach like Ben Novack being the most obvious is that they were running these mini-cities, I mean these empires. And I mean some of the history of how the Fontainebleau came to be assembled was – the history of it was inspired by it but it happened to several hotels on the beach it really wasn’t limited to one from my end.
Morgan: I was sort of blind to the whole thing going in until I went back and started doing research a little bit on the Miami owners. And certainly Ben Novack is the first name that comes up from this era. He was larger than life and a bit of a celebrity in this world. And I think Ike is a little bit as well and so you can garner a little bit of information from that.
Ben had his hands in all sorts of things in Miami Beach. Ike as we’re going to find out has his hands in a couple things as well. But there’s probably many more people than Ben Novack. Ben is just kind of the biggest and the name that people will recognize most from certainly the Fontainebleau and that time period. But a little bit. I certainly read up on them.
Jeffrey, how is it working with Olga Kurylenko?
Morgan: She’s great. I think this is a really amazing opportunity for her to play a character that she hasn’t played before. And she will be the first to tell you that’s one of the things that attracted her to this project. And as far as working with her, I mean, have you seen her? I’ll start with that. Okay. It might sound superficial but, God, she is gorgeous and it was easy for me to play a guy that was in love with this girl just by looking into her eyes.
That being said, she’s a phenomenal actor. She is a really, really strong actor and it’s been really fun having the opportunity to work with her and see her kind of embrace this character and the trials and tribulations that kind of Vera goes through not only by herself but as well as the stuff that her and Ike go through. I think the arc that she goes on as an actor is really, really strong. I can’t say enough about her. I just think she is such a great actor and it was just a privilege to go to work with her every day.
This next question is for Mitch. Is the Vera character going to become a little more active? Because in the first episode, we just sort of see her as a housewife. She’s supporting Ike but we also see the way Stevie looks at her.
Glazer: It’s a combination of things. First of all the role of a woman in 1959 which you’ve all kind of known various iterations of, was much more restricted in a way. And particularly married to a guy like Ike Evans — as he said he’s the quick king of this world, and she’s the queen, and what I want to explore is really what that means.
There were definitely avenues open to women, the approved one — like motherhood, for example, or to kind of be on Ike’s arm, but Vera is pushing for more and has been more. She was kind of a star at the Tropicana in Havana on stage, which was how they met and so she knows what it feels like to lead a creative life and all of which she’s kind of put aside at this point.
And then she’s an outsider. She’s the ultimate outsider. She’s literally kind of gypsy from Eastern Europe pushed down to Havana and then Ike brings her in. And so there’s an element of nose-against-the-glass for her all of that trying to become more Jewish than the Evans family ever was.
My mother was a high-school English teacher and taught in the school system my whole life. And she was maybe the only working mother of all my friends. In the ‘50s, my experience was that a woman is a partner in the home. [Vera’s] journey through the season is kind of pushing against the kind of barriers that are put there for a woman in ’59, particularly one as beautiful and talented as Vera is. And Ike has to ride that because she’s a force that he’s never had to deal with before.
Morgan: And they’re going to butt heads too.
Glazer: Yes, oh, yes.
Morgan: They love each other but they’re going to butt heads along the way because Ike is also probably more forward than 99 percent of the men of that era but there’s a little bit of old-fashioned guy in him too so he resists a lot of the changes that Vera is pushing for. So it makes for an interesting dynamic between the two of them. But at the end of the day they love each other.
Glazer: One of the things that I wanted to do and one of the things that I told Chris Albrecht at the very beginning was I wanted a functioning, sexual, romantic marriage — and obviously pulled and kind of by the stresses around them and in the world and as you are in a marriage. But at the same time instead of both husband and wife kind of straying or whatever, they’re committed to it and are kind of fighting to keep it whole and real and that’s something that both Jeff and Olga bring to it is that there’s such fire there and kind of romance organically to them as a couple as actors that I think it’s a way to keep that relationship vital, it helps me in the writing of it.
Jeffrey, can you talk about how the role of Ike Evans came to you? Mitch, can you talk about what Jeffrey brought the role that you didn’t see in anyone else?
Morgan: I can hardly wait to hear that part of it. It came to me last winter. I was up in my cabin. I had just finished something and was up here like not looking for anything and my agent sent me not one script but three for a project that they sold me on to read it by not saying it was a television series because I wasn’t looking to doing a television series but by saying it was a miniseries. So I want into reading them thinking, “Oh, it’s a miniseries. It’s not a series. We’ll tell the story and that will be it and that way if I don’t get along with the creator, I’ll be in and out of this thing.” And I read them and I loved them.
Again, I can’t say more about how great these scripts are and as an actor and you read, I don’t know, millions of scripts it seems. And having these three scripts that you have one and you get sort of an idea. But having three, you get a much better idea of where the story is going to go and who these characters are. And, for me, in particular Ike and they were kind of so well-fleshed-out. And then Mitch flew to New York and we met at the Mercer. And within two minutes, I found out it wasn’t a miniseries. And at about the 10-minute mark I told him that I was absolutely in 100 percent and to look no further. And I think that’s how our love story started and now we’re here where we are at this point.
Glazer: Now we’re engaged. Yes. Usually, I write to kind of a voice in my head. And in this case, the miracle, the weird thing about how Jeff and I met or how I became aware of Jeff was we have a mutual friend, Griffin Dunne, who directed a film that Jeff was in. And at one point he came to me and said “Would you think about doing a rewrite of the ending? I’m thinking about doing a reshoot.”
So he gave me the film. It was called “Accidental Husband” and it was with Colin Firth and Uma Thurman and Jeff. He gave me the film to watch in a really rough, rough stage of it. And 10 minutes in, and particularly there’s some great scenes in the top of it with Jeff. I hadn’t seen “Grey’s Anatomy,” and I said, “Who is this guy?”
This is five years ago. And it was such a miracle to see someone that compelling and fully realized and a man and that it just stayed in my head. And so Jeff was somebody that I thought of almost instantly when I was trying to imagine Ike Evans. And so, yes, the second I heard that he was interested, I jumped on a plane to the Mercer and it was one of those.
I’m married to an actor [Kelly Lynch]. I love actors. I’m in awe of them, and I’ve had the good fortune to write for some amazing actors over the course of my life in movies. But I sat across from Jeff and basically my lips were moving and I was talking, but all I was thinking was, “Please, come on do this show,” because I just knew that together we could create something, a memorable character.
And also Ike, as I designed him even in the first three episodes, was in virtually every scene. So poor Jeff, bless his heart, the work was out of control. But from my end I needed somebody who could hold it together and be a force through the series. I think most great television has that guy. And the second I sat down with Jeff and we started talking, I knew it was him and then it was just close the deal … make it happen.
Morgan: Which is also a great testament to Mitch because I think I showed up with like a Grizzly Adams beard and I was looking not like Ike Evans. So for him to still to think that was his guy, that was pretty good. Thank you, man.
Glazer: And it is a great partnership. You know, not to jinx us, which clearly we both have, but on set, off set, Jeff is the kind of leader of this group by design but also by temperament. We went to his house for a July 4th party with the whole cast the weekend before we started shooting last year and he’s just the partner that you dream of creatively and as a best friend.
And at a certain point in life, you don’t expect to really make best friends anymore. You kind of have these people that you’ve met. And so it’s been a joy. Except for when the Seahawks and Dolphins are going to be playing, other than that, we talk constantly.
Morgan: It’s the greatest partnership I’ve ever been a part of and probably the most gratifying thing I’ve gotten from this whole experience and which all of it has been very surreal in the best of ways. The greatest thing has been having Mitch Glazer in my life. And regardless of what happens with “Magic City” I’ve got a friend and collaborator for life and that is the single greatest thing that I can tell you that’s come from all of this — and there’s many a great thing.
Mitch, who was the first person you cast and how did you decide upon the actors? Did you have anyone in mind in the beginning?
Glazer: I’m almost positive that Jeff was the first person cast.
Morgan: Yes. I was the first one and I think the Brothers Grimm fell quickly after that.
Glazer: Yes. And I saw with the exception of Jeff, everybody else read and this was the only time in my entire life — and this is 30 years of being involved in movies particularly — where everybody in the show is exactly the person I wanted. We saw 90 women for Vera … There were no compromises. It was a dream that way.
So when I see them all assembled in front of me, there’s none of that regret or what if. This is exactly the group that should’ve been. And by the way, I’m incredibly appreciative of it because there’s no way that you can do this kind of feature film every nine days without the cast showing up — forget knowing their lines — I mean in the pocket, I mean totally ready to do the performance, because there’s just no time to kind of explore that. They have to be committed to it and know and this group is, they really are these characters on the day.
And but, yes, it came together and I think subconsciously not ever having put together a TV show before, you also kind of think and pray that in success these are going to be people that you’re going to be living with for years. So it’s not just a month. And then see you later or not, these are people that are in our lives now.
Morgan: Yes, they are. And also I think to our benefit, Chris Albrecht and the rest of Starz was really great in the casting process and in listening to Mitch, because sometimes it’s been my experience that networks don’t tend to agree with what the show creator necessarily wants. And so it was really nice having Starz and Mitch being on the same page when it came to the whole casting process.
Because as Mitch just pointed out, these not only have to be great actors but it’s a family now and spending six months on location with these people who you see every day it sure is nice if you don’t mind going out to dinner with them and have them over at your house which is what we did. We hung out all the time. So it not only is a bunch of great actors that Mitch assembled but I think more importantly they’re all really spectacular people and we’re incredibly lucky.
Glazer: Really, it’s a great group.
For more info: “Magic City” website
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