If Season 1 of Starz’s stylish 1950s mob drama“Magic City”was about establishing the dynamic between suave Miami Beach hotelier Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his silent but brutal business partner, mobster Ben “The Butcher” Diamond (Danny Huston), Season 2 will be about blowing it up.
As the season opens on Friday (June 14), Ike is sitting in a jail cell after having been framed for a murder. He concludes he can no longer function with this association in his life, and he hatches a plan to rid himself of his glowering nemesis once and for all. It involves Ike’s pride and joy, the Miramar Playa, along with Fidel Castro, the hotels and casinos in Havana, and a Chicago mob boss by the name of Sy Berman (Oscar nominee James Caan, “The Godfather”), who happens to be Ben’s boss.
Once cleared of the charges, Ike puts his plan in motion.
“He comes up with this idea in Episode 1,” Morgan tells Zap2it, “which is he’s going to go to Sy with the idea that ‘I’ll take over the Cuban hotels and casinos, give you all the money that I make out of those hotels.’ These are all hotels that Sy and the mob were running until Castro cleaned it all out. So these hotels, we find out now, are a wasteland at this point. So Ike goes to Cuba and strikes a deal with Castro that ‘I’m going to bring these hotels back to life, I’ll do a 50/50 split with you,’ … and Ike wants to give all his money to the mob here just to get Ben Diamond out of the Miramar.”
And the man in Chicago whose help Ike seeks, Sy, has the distinct advantage of being able to make the evil Ben quake in his beach sandals.
Caan, who as a young man worked as a lifeguard in Miami around the time when the regime of Fulgencio Batista fell in the Cuban Revolution of 1959 that brought Castro to power, says that in creating Sy, he took inspiration from some of the Jewish mobsters who were running the Havana casinos at the time, such as Meyer Lansky, whom he knew.
“Meyer Lansky, you don’t look at him as a thug; he’s a pretty bright guy when you look at what he did,” Caan says. “I mean, I have people who are like heads of colleges who look at him as an idol, almost, because of his brain. So it was written in the beginning a certain way. He was a little coarser and a little more Jewish, [used] a lot of those Yiddish expressions.
“So we talked and collaborated, and I thought that was not necessary. I mean the mob down there, a lot of those guys were Jewish, of course, mixed in with the Traficantes and all those guys. So basically I tried to play him like I was the president of some big firm, but at the same time you’d know that he’d take your eyes out. There’s no doubt he’s a criminal; he’s a scary guy. … It was kind of fun, but nonetheless (a portrait) of an extremely poisonous guy, a guy with a lot of power.”
Mitch Glazer, the series’ creator, executive producer and writer, did extensive research into the time period and is proud of the historical accuracy of the Havana storyline.
“There was a window of time from … March to the summer of ’59, Castro was open to and actually pursuing American investors,” Glazer notes. “I mean, there was a moment before he was rejected by the U.S. government, I assume or whatever, that he turned to Russia full-on, where there was still a window where even post-Batista with Castro in power, there were business opportunities, and Ike sees that window and jumps through it. …
“As I started to do the research, it seems like it’s a period people don’t realize. You know, you assume Castro moves into Havana on New Year’s Eve ’58-’59, and then this door closes on the island, which wasn’t the case. There was a six-month period where Castro was here doing ‘Meet the Press,’ as you saw in one of the episodes, and in America basically asking for money at that point. So it gave me a really cool moment to involve Ike and Cuba and the mob, all of which was historically accurate.”
Morgan, who was thrilled to work with Caan, says he’s excited over this season’s storylines and thinks viewers will be in for a great ride.
But for Ike and his family — and especially eldest son Stevie (Steven Strait) and his illicit lover, Lily Diamond (Jessica Marais), The Butcher’s trophy wife — it probably won’t be a whole lot of fun.
“Last year, we found out he’s such a family man; he loves his kids, and he loves his wife, and that will hold true through Season 2,” Morgan says. “But by the end of Season 2, we’re going to see Ike very much alone. He’s sort of, through the things that he’s done and the decisions he makes, he pushes a lot of his family away, and the Stevie/Ike dynamic changes drastically this year. It was a hard thing to see and witness and play, as an actor and as a father. But Ike and Stevie are going to go through hell this year, and hopefully they’ll come out the other side.
“But I’ll say this,” Morgan says, laughing, “it’s not looking great right now.”
For a refresher, check out the Season 1 video recap below: