Starz’s “Magic City” follows a late 1950s Miami hotel owner who attempts to run a legitimate business even as he finesses an uneasy alliance with the local mob. It’s the brainchild of creator and showrunner Mitch Glazer, whose season 2 premieres June 14 with some new starpower (including several guest appearances by James Caan) and a more action-filled storylines as Cuba’s revolution and increasing mob tensions raise the stakes. We sat down with Glazer to discuss the new season.
CableFAX: This has always been a slow-burning series. But judging from the trailer for the season 2, it seems like you’re going for a faster paced feel.
Glazer: The design and pace and look of the show is remarkably similar to last season. It’s been my take on what the show should be, so it’s not going to vary that much. But as you can see in the trailer, the world got bigger.
CableFAX: Always hard to know if it’s just the trailer making it look that way.
Glazer: No, it’s real. The first season in my head kind of set the table—so many characters to meet and so many stories to understand and relationships and all that—that with the second one I could really hit warp speed with the storytelling. Hopefully, the audience is comfortable and confident that they know these characters, so I could take Ike to Havana or kind of open it up.
CableFAX: So Ike is trying to open gambling operations in Havana because his efforts to get it legalized in Florida have so far been unsuccessful. Where’s that going to lead?
Glazer: The basic idea is that Castro has driven the mob out of these hotels, and what should be a huge money-making opportunity for Castro is just sitting idle. So you have actual goats and pigs in the lobbies of these incredible hotels, and Ike sees an opportunity.
CableFAX: Because he’s got clean hands as far as people know.
Glazer: As far as the world’s concerned, yes. So he’s going to come in and make an offer to Castro.
CableFAX: What does it mean to have James Caan involved this season?
Glazer: I would love to say that I was that canny to understand the worth of it—I’m obviously not a fool; I know he’s a movie star and a celebrated actor in the world—but I was selflessly thinking of who would be the best person to play this character who I was going to write, and his rhythms are familiar to me, and I’ve written a script for him before that we still want to get made as a movie. I’ve been around him. I’m familiar with him, and I know his voice. So as a fan for 30 or 40 years of work… As we were in the middle of negotiations with him, which you can imagine were complicated—
CableFAX: Imagine if you guys weren’t friends.
Glazer. Yeah. Exactly. Impossible. And I get home, and Thief is on. And there’s the scene with Jimmy at the diner, and I’m watching it going “My God. Am I going to be able to work with this guy?” His work is always and forever—like I said, he’s challenging and demanding, but in a correct way. But anything that elevates what I’m doing I embrace. So it’s not ego or diva or anything like that. It’s always productive. And if you listen, as I do, whether it ends up working for us or not, he always takes you to really interesting places. As a character and as a collaborator. But this part of it, what he means to the world and elevating the profile of the show and everything—it’s a lovely icing to all of it. And the fact that he’s here doing it. It’s not part of his deal. He’s here because he loves the show, which is terrific. But we’ve talked since we wrapped and would love to do some stuff. He’s so proud and complimentary to the show. This is an amazing cast… But when James Caan walks on the set, the temperature of the room changes. Everybody kind of goes “whoa.” You want to be at his level. For me, that’s the dream.
CableFAX: And of course you have Danny Huston’s character Ben Diamond, who is just such a horrible guy. I mean, it doesn’t get much worse than shooting the dog.
Glazer: I have one. I love dogs!
CableFAX: But really. I guess if you want a really efficient way to show how evil someone is, just have him shoot a dog.
Glazer: You know he’s a really bad guy. It was shocking. It really was.
CableFAX: So how do you handle the interplay between Ben and Sy? Who is more evil? Who is worse? And will Ben get knocked down a peg?
Glazer: It was interesting. Sy is a composite of several different guys—and also knowing the structure as I perceive it of the Chicago mob as well—his character is a part of Ben Diamond’s past. He kind of brought him up. There’s an element of Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel there, as there was in The Godfather. But you can create a dynamic where you have a ruthless, terrifying man, but it’s interesting to know that there’s someone who’s actually calling the shots above him. And really, in Sy’s world, trying to curb Ben’s flamboyance and wilder tendencies—
CableFAX: Ben’s pretty reckless, right?
Glazer: It’s crazy shit.
CableFAX: He needlessly kills a guy in season 1 when he could have just intimidated him—and he gets everyone under suspicion. And he didn’t need to go that far with it. He just did because he’s a sociopath.
Glazer: He’s not thinking. And that thoughtlessness is bad for business. And that’s where Sy comes in because he’s basically saying—when they were in Havana, the mob was making so much money that whatever Ben Diamond did was kind of overlooked. The second Havana is gone and he comes to Miami, suddenly the floodgates are turned off. Then he has to say, “The cops are watching you. Stop killing your partners. Get your shit together.” That’s really Sy Berman’s function. You’re family to me but…
CableFAX: He seems to be a more level headed guy.
Glazer: For me, the joy of Danny Huston’s character and why I love that it was recognized in the Golden Globes is that he’s more a Roman emperor of crime than a thug. The way I’m writing Danny and how he’s playing him, there’s a certain imperial mood to him. He’s elegant in his way with the robes and all of that stuff and the pretension of that. And Sy Berman is much more street and less effective in how he presents. It’s interesting when we have that first 6-minute scene between him and Danny Huston. Two different styles of acting and really interesting to see that gamemanship just as performers. The whole room was in awe. It was alive on so many levels. It made the writing look great. Thank you, Jimmy. Thank you, Danny.
CableFAX: You spend a lot of time honing this show, don’t you?
Glazer: This show more than most benefits from the full polish that goes with that. All the sound effects. It’s just such a glamorous world. You don’t want it to be imperfect.
CableFAX: And do you have a real water tank for those swimming models in the bar?
Glazer: Oh yeah. We built a… from the back, it looks like something out of industrial America. It’s a huge steel container. It looks medieval. And it literally holds all that water. The glass is 6 inches thick.
CableFAX: Was there a real hotel in the 1950s that did that?
Glazer. No, not in that way. The Edenrock had little portholes in the bar, and I used to go there. The Falco had a little viewing area. This literally was just my fantasy. I figured someday somebody should build it because it’s just the coolest thing. I think there’s one in CoCo Beach… but none in Miami… But the guy who is designing the Saxony.
CableFAX: Have you thought about Season 3?
Glazer: It’s a very expensive show to make.
CableFAX: But you’ve already built the set.
Glazer: Right, and it’s gorgeous. What else are you going to do with it? Here’s hoping. I would love to come back.