Although Jeffrey Dean Morgan has stolen countless scenes in movies as diverse as "P.S. I Love You" and "Watchmen," the actor -- perhaps best known for playing Izzie Stevens' dying love and heart patient Denny Duquette on "Grey's Anatomy" -- has always seemed to be bubbling under the surface of name recognition. TV has been a little more receptive to his charms, after the 2005-06 season put him on the map with a trio of breakthrough roles in quick succession on "Weeds" and "Supernatural," in addition to "Grey's."
But compelling guest spots as heartbreaking Denny and tormented father John Winchester on "Supernatural" never segued into full-time TV work, mostly because Morgan was wary of getting caught up in the grind of network TV. "I just didn't want to get bored playing a character, and that's kind of the benefit of doing films; you've lived with a character for four or five months and that's it, and you walk away from that character and you feel like you told a story," Morgan explained when HuffPost TV caught up with him by phone. "Sometimes in TV, it can get really stale, especially if you're doing these 23-episode years. It's a lot of work, and to put your family through that, on a location, is not always the greatest thing in the world."
The Seattle native knew that it would take a truly spectacular project to lure him back to TV, and he found it in Starz and Mitch Glazer's ("Scrooged," "Great Expectations") "Magic City," a lavish, sprawling drama that takes place in Miami Beach in 1959. The show has been renewed for a second season before the first has even premiered.
On "Magic City," Morgan plays Ike Evans, owner of the Miramar Playa, the most opulent hotel in the city -- albeit one with a decidedly dark underbelly. Thanks to an ill-advised deal with a mobster named Ben "The Butcher" Diamond (played with great aplomb by Danny Huston), Ike has truly built his castle out of sand. But as events spiral rapidly beyond his control, Ike must wrestle with his own conscience -- as well as Ben's less-than-scrupulous plans for the Miramar Playa -- while trying to keep his family and his business from crumbling. Rounding out the principal cast are Olga Kurylenko (best known as Camille in "Quantum of Solace") as Ike's vivacious ex-showgirl wife, Vera; Steven Strait as their eldest son, Stevie; Christian Cooke as younger son Danny; and Taylor Blackwell as their daughter, Lauren.
Though "Magic City" doesn't officially premiere until April 6, Starz will be previewing the first episode in its entirety after the season finale of "Spartacus: Vengeance," Friday, March 30 at 11 p.m. ET and you can watch it here on Sunday in full as well, so we figured we'd let the show's star set the scene for what viewers can expect from Season 1.
"Magic City" manages to balance Ike's familial drama with his mounting professional obligations in a compelling way, but Morgan's performance is truly what holds the story together. Though not an overt anti-hero, Ike's actions will grow increasingly dubious as the season's eight episodes go on, so the onus is on the actor to remain sympathetic, something he manages to convey effortlessly -- at least in the first three episodes that have been released to critics thus far.
Read on for Morgan's take on his troubled new character, shooting a period series and more!
Let's talk a little bit about your character, Ike. What are his motivations at the beginning of the series?
My interpretation of Ike Evans was that he was the guy that worked up the ranks of the hotel business. The guy started as cabana boy and 20 years later, owns the jewel of Miami Beach and he has begged, borrowed, and probably stolen to get to where he is. In his heart, I know he is a family man -- I think his family comes first, but in close second is this hotel, and he finds himself in bed with a partner [Ben Diamond] that he had hoped would remain silent, and this partner is not going to remain silent anymore, and it puts an intense amount of pressure on Ike. And there are other things. We see the pressures that Ike is feeling and those are going to build as the season goes on, and Ike will do some questionable things ...very questionable things.
Ike has a gorgeous new wife, Vera, but in quiet moments he still seems very affected by the loss of his first wife, Molly. Can you talk a little bit more about his evolving relationship with Vera over the course of the season?
I think Vera is a pretty new relationship and obviously, she’s the most beautiful woman in the world. Ike fell in love with her immediately, and this is four years after his wife’s death. He marries Vera right away and throws Vera also into the position of being a stepmother to his three children, and she’s not Jewish, so there’s a whole story going on with her trying to figure out her place in the family. But I think these are two people that are very much in love, and I love that aspect. I fought hard for her. I think, a lot of leads in shows, when they get to breathe a little bit, a lot of them end up having these issues at home, or having affairs and I wanted Ike to be true to his wife and prove that love. It was really important to me to show a great relationship, a healthy relationship, and a sexy relationship as well. I don’t know that that’s necessarily been played real true in the world of the small screen, but I love that. I think as Ike's world is crumbling around him, the one thing that he protects and holds so dearly to him is that relationship with Vera. And though she doesn’t know everything that Ike is up to, she is his best friend and I like that a lot. I thought that was a really great thing to get to play, and I don’t think that is done in a realistic way on a lot of shows right now.
The biggest threat to Ike's world is Ben Diamond. Can you describe their tumultuous partnership?
There are plenty of conversations that Ben and I will have that will sort of explain our relationship, but Ben Diamond’s nickname is “The Butcher,” and he’s a mobster out of Chicago, played by the fantastic Danny Huston. He’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever worked with in my life, so that’s just a f---ing joy. Whenever I have scenes with Danny, both he and I are like little kids jumping up and down; every take is completely different. We'll just bounce all sorts of stuff off each other. So he’s a mobster out of Chicago who is Ike's silent partner, and he decides he wants a bigger stake. We find out why he wants that bigger stake rather quickly, and as the season goes, this relationship grows exceedingly tenuous and if you’ve seen the first three, from there I think every episode gets darker and weirder and more intense for Ike ... and certainly, his relationship with Ben Diamond is the reason why.
Ike seems willing to do anything to protect his family, but both of his sons seem to be heading down paths that will threaten what he's built. What can you say about the dynamic between Ike and his sons?
I love my kids, I do -- and that’s me, Jeff, saying that, and Ike. We say "the good son" [Danny] and "the bad son" [Stevie] in the promos, which cracks me up, because I think you could probably flip-flop that and it would make more sense. I'm grooming Stevie. Stevie is like me. He is the little Ike. I think he is probably making the same mistakes that Ike made when he was 20 years old, whereas Danny, on the other hand, is being groomed to be the Michael Corleone character. He's doing it right: He’s going to go to law school, he's going to make everything legit and above the board and then, there's a wrench thrown into that. I think that starts in Episode 2 or 3, where Danny starts heading down a path that Ike isn't going to agree with and that's going to cause some drift in the family dynamic. Stevie, on the other hand, Ike is sort of unaware of the troubles that Stevie is getting into at this point. Right now, he loves his kids. He just wants the best for his kids and I think he has groomed Stevie to kind of run the hotels now and Stevie is just his right-hand man pretty much, whereas I think Danny’s character would be coming in later to kind of run the hotel in the changing world and the changing times.
The show has a very cinematic feel -- it's glamorous and nostalgic. What do you think it is about this setting and this period in time that provides such a rich, fascinating backdrop?
Well, I didn’t know everything that was going on in Miami in 1959, and it was very interesting time there, certainly politically and because of what was happening in Cuba and the mob influence that was going on in that town. I just thought the stories were so interesting and the stories that we are telling are things that actually happened. When you're dealing with stuff that's really true, you can’t even believe some of the stuff that was going on there. It was something I wasn't that familiar with, so I really liked the idea of doing that and having Mitch [Glazer] who could go on for days and days about the stories that were going on there and the stories that we’re able to tell, and it just seems sort of infinite. I think in this first season, there's stuff that we get to explore, and we are throwing the audience into this sexy, glamorous, dangerous place in Miami. I think the viewers are going to immerse themselves in that and get lost in it, as I did as an actor. And then you combine that with the look of the show, and between our set design and our cinematographer, it has a feel of -- dare I say this -- "The Godfather." It's sort of this epic story, and the color palette is so rich and, I don't know, it could be something ... I'm super obsessive.
You can decide for yourself whether "Magic City" could be something on Friday, March 30 at 11 p.m. ET on Starz, before the show's first three episodes become available online, via the "Magic City" Facebook page, and through select Starz affiliates such as Xfinity TV, DirecTV, Dish, AT&T Uverse, Verizon FiOS and more, on March 31. Or, check back here on April 1 to watch the full first episode on HuffPost TV and let us know what you think.
We'll have more from our interview with Morgan after the first three episodes have aired.
Will you check out "Magic City," and are you excited to see Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a leading role, at last? Share your thoughts below.