It’s a Friday afternoon in Pasadena, Calif., where the cast of Starz’s new drama series Magic City (premiering Friday, April 6) has converged at the Langham Hotel for a press junket.
The star of the series, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, is in great spirits. And he should be — he’s got the incredible role of Ike Evans, the glamorous king of 1959 Miami Beach whose drive and ambition turned this hotel cabana boy into the owner of the luxurious Miramar Playa Hotel.
Grinning handsomely, the 46-year-old Morgan playfully skips over to greet me. It’s been a few years since we last saw him on television as the lovable Denny opposite Katherine Heigl on Grey’s Anatomy.
When I tell him I’m still scarred by Denny’s sudden death, he laughs and says, “I am too, a little bit. I’ll never completely get over it. This is no joke. I literally wake up daily and thank Shonda Rhimes for the opportunity because it has given me a career. It gave me the opportunity to do this show and everything in between.”
“Every couple of months I send her an email and say, ‘I just want you to know that I just @#$%ing love you.’ Now I’m lucky enough to meet another showrunner in Mitch Glazer; he’s turned into my brother.”
Glazer is the writer, creator and executive producer behind Magic City, and he’s taken his childhood memories of growing up in Miami Beach in the late 1950s and translated them into a gritty, edgy drama that captures the wealth, power and turmoil of that time period (The Kennedys, anti-Castro forces, the mob, the Rat Pack). Morgan, who had no interest in returning to serial television, credits Glazer for changing his mind.
“I was lied to initially by my agents, who told me it was a miniseries, which is why I was reading it in the first place, because there was no way I was going to do a television show right now. I’ve got a new family and I don’t want to live on some location for-ever and the workload is tremendous and doing one character can be a pain in the butt after a while,” Morgan shares.
“But my agent was like, ‘Oh it’s a miniseries — you do eight hours and that’s it. It’s a one-off.’ So I read the first four and I was like, ‘Oh God, this is really good.’ Mitch flew into New York to meet with me. I sat down for a half-hour with him and I said, ‘I’m in.’ And I said, ‘Plus, who does miniseries anymore? That’s such a cool idea.’ And he looks at me like, ‘Are you serious? This isn’t a miniseries, man.’ By then it’s too late — I’m sold. I’m in. And that was the end of it, so here we are living in Magic City.”
And living in Magic City is what Ike Evans is all about. “He’s the face of the jewel of Miami,” Morgan says. “On the surface you see Ike; it looks like he’s got it all. He dresses the part, acts the part and then behind closed doors when he has those moments alone you see that all is not what it seems, which is kind of the great stuff to play with as an actor.”
But Ike is a devoted, faithful family man desperately in love with his second wife Vera, played by the beautiful Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace), who is the stepmother to Ike’s three children — Stevie (Steven Strait), Danny (Christian Cooke) and Lauren (Taylor Blackwell).
Ike will do whatever it takes to keep his family and dream intact, despite making some bad decisions — including going into business with mob boss Ben “The Butcher” Diamond, played by Danny Huston.
“The great thing about Ike, and one of the things that attracted me to this role, was portraying a family man,” Morgan says.
“I don’t think audiences have really seen that kind of love and faithfulness and loyalty — it’s refreshing,” Morgan adds. “It really sets the tone for who my character is in such a way that you know he’s willing to die for his family — first and foremost.”
And with love comes those dreaded nudity scenes, something Morgan groans about when asked.
“My thing is, I’m 46 years old and I’m not real convinced anyone wants to see me naked, especially when you got these young people running around that are working out and doing that whole thing — because I’m not”
“But it’s not a huge concern for me. I didn’t think there’d be a lot of it for me but there’s probably more than I anticipated and my thought pattern for that was: ‘Look, if I’m naked then probably Olga’s naked, and who doesn’t want to see that?’”
I’m thinking fans of the pinup model won’t argue that point. But truly, in addition to the cast, it’s the setting, characters and storyline that make this series refreshingly appealing.
“I’ve never seen anything like it on TV,” Morgan says. “It gets so good. I mean I thought the pilot was fine … by the time we get to the eighth episode it’s going to blow the doors off anything that’s been done on television. I really believe that.”