We may do a few celebrity interviews, but it’s not often that CableFAX gets to sit down with a legend. To be sure, James Caan adds considerable star power to the season 2 of “Magic City,” which premieres June 14 on Starz. The iconic actor, who exploded onto the scene as Sonny in Francis Ford Copolla’s 1972 classic The Godfather, will play yet another mob heavy as Chicago boss Sy Berman on Magic City. He sat down with CableFAX to tell us why he decided to guest star on the show, pontificate on the state of modern filmmaking and raz showrunner Mitch Glazer about his hair.
CableFAX: What attracted you to "Magic City." You’ve known showrunner Mitch Glazer for many years.
Caan: Well, that was basically it. He called me. “Oh, you know, I had this little epiphany last night,” and he created this character in his head. We had worked together. We had collaborated on some great script he wrote about Cuba and that we were going to do. So it’s a friendship. And we had gone to Cuba. It had nothing to do with this. This hadn’t been born yet, but it’s the same era. He said “Hey buddy”—You know when you hear “hey buddy,” that means you’re working for nothing. That’s what that means. “Hey pal. Hey, buddy boy.” So anyway, he said “I wrote this stuff and it can only come out of your mouth.” But it was good. It was really well written. So they brought me in. I do one scene in one episode, and then a couple others.
CableFAX: So you’re character pops in and out throughout the season?
Caan: Well, yeah. I was just going to do one. I’m not a member of the cast. But we were down there. And then I came down for another eight days or something like that.
CableFAX: We hear it’s an incredible set they’ve built down there.
Caan: Oh my god. It’s unbelievable. It’s beautiful. And the way they shoot it, it’s great… And Mitch writes great. He writes great stuff. And he wrote this character, which I felt was kind of interesting and fun. And having fun is where it’s at now. It’s not like it’s a career builder or anything.
CableFAX: I guess it could be.
Caan: It could be. I could go on to be old.
CableFAX: You’ve played good guys, bad guys and everything in between.
Caan: Singers, dancers.
CableFAX: Right, and certainly a lot of mob guys. Is there something more fun about that?
Caan: No. The truth of the matter is whatever’s well written and whoever you’re working with. I mean, you get to the point where you gotta make the rent. But I did a picture this last summer—I think a really good picture—called Blood Ties for a French director named Guillaume Canet. He’s married—or lives with, you know the French—with Marion Cotillard, she was in it. Mila Kunis was in it. Clive Owen was in it. Zoe Saldano. It was a really nice cast and a very good picture, but the rest of the stuff I read all year was really [grimaces].
CableFAX: So nothing that excited you?
Caan: It’s just not good. They’re just not making pictures with a beginning, a middle and an end, you know. The stuff on HBO and this is better than what’s out there—at least compared to the movies that I like to see.
CableFAX: So are you veering more towards TV because of the writing quality vs. movies?
Caan. No, no, no. I obviously want to do movies. But the movies on HBO are better than the ones I see in the theater, the kind of movies that I want to see, that I used to go see in the ‘70s and ‘80s, you know. Now, it’s so big and overblown, and the ones that do sneak by—the good ones—it’s one in 10,000. These poor independents are the only ones that once in a while come through.
CableFAX: What’s it specifically that you like about those movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Caan: I had the luxury of working with the best directors, the best actors, the best writers—and that isn’t around any more. I mean, some guy directs some stupid commercial… Or a guy jumps off a bridge or something, and he’s starring in a movie. Or he sings some hip-hop song or whatever—and they’re actors. I mean, it’s belittling. It’s demeaning. I’m friendly with Robert Duvall, and guys like that—you know, it makes very little of what he does. So I mean, I’m opinionated obviously, and I like to do good things, and I like to be with good people. And I like to have fun. If I can’t have fun, then I don’t need it.
CableFAX: Danny Huston’s Ben Diamond character is so brutal and seemingly unredeemable. Your character Sy Berman is essentially his boss. Does that mean you’ll be worse than him or more level headed?
Caan: That’s the choice. That’s the fun of it. I always say, “You can’t say ‘f–k you’ nicely.” You understand? So if I were to take your eyes out, there’s no nice way that I could do that. So Danny is a little more, his character is the butcher. But now you find out that this guy who takes no shit has a boss. But it says I’m his boss. I’m the boss. So what’s the difference how I behave?
CableFAX: You don’t have to be outwardly brutal.
Caan: I don’t have to do anything. If he does what I tell him to do, then I’m the superior guy. So basically that’s the tone. I snap at him, and you know that I’m dangerous. But I don’t play dangerous. Look, some of those guys like Meyer Lansky—he’s a genius. I never thought of him as being an evil guy. He’s a genius. It’s just like the choices we make… The point is that it’s a written. There’s no point in playing the words, and a lot of people just do that.
CableFAX: And in the history of the mob, the people who are more level headed and clever tend to rise higher.
Caan: Yeah. I’ve known some who act angry. And I’ve known some who you wouldn’t know if they’re [angry]… that’s what makes them even more dangerous.
CableFAX: So you’re done shooting Magic City for now. What’s next for you?
Caan: This is something that was very awkward for me because I’m not a cast member, you know? Like I said, they’re my friends and I came down here because they thought I would add—[laughs]—I don’t know what.
CableFAX: Well, frankly you’re a big name to add to the show.
Caan: I mean, yeah. But I’m not a member of the show.
CableFAX: Starz certainly makes it sound that way as they promote the season premiere.
Caan: Well, yeah. [Laughs]. My name is up there with this cast, you know.
[At this point, Caan notices Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays lead character Ike Evans, walking by our table. Morgan has grown a beard since Caan last saw him on the set].
Caan: [to Morgan] I bought you that razor yesterday, and I didn’t get to you in time. Sorry, man.
Morgan: [laughs] You know I did this in honor of you [Caan sported a mustache for his Magic City role]
Caan: I understand.
[Morgan continues on his way].
CableFAX: That reminds me. Was it your idea to grow the mustache for this role?
Caan: Yeah. This is part of why we can talk. “This sucks, Mitch.” [laughs]. We have a really good relationship.
CableFAX: I guess it’s good when you can have that honesty.
[Suddenly, Caan calls over Magic City creator and showrunner Mitch Glazer, who is milling about across the room].
Caan: Mitch! He translated something I said. I want to clear this up. [to CableFAX] What did you say, that we have a kind of honesty?
CableFAX: I guess I was extrapolating…
Caan: Like he’s never told me I’m f–king cheap.
Glazer: I always tell the truth. Always. The last thing I want in my life is Jimmy Caan catching me in a lie.
Caan: It’s for good reason. We’ve known each other, what? We have the ability to collaborate, which is great. Not in any argumentative way, but he’s free to say this, ‘Jimmy that’s legit, da, da, da.’ And that’s a great thing.
Glazer: You know, the dream is to work with an actor this gifted, and you get three of those chances in your life. And Jimmy’s really challenging but in a creative way. He reads dialogue, and he says “I don’t know if I would say this” or whatever. So from where I am, that’s a dream. To be able to create–
Caan: That’s another reason, so don’t forget, I had that going in since we’re friends. We kind of half-ass collaborate. I mean, he wrote it, but we’re all excited about the script, and I’d come up with an idea and call him in the middle of the night. So that’s something you usually don’t get.
Glazer: [to CableFAX] If he says anything nasty [about me], just come to me for a quote.
CableFAX: We’re actually talking later, so you’ll have ample opportunity to rebut him.
Caan: [to CableFAX] Get the secret of the hair, will you?
CableFAX: I will.
[Unfortunately, however, we never did learn the secret of Glazer’s healthy mane].