Miami Beach in 1959, is a time period that has always fascinated Mitch Glazer, the screenwriter of such hits as ‘The Recruit’ and ‘Scrooged’. The glitz and glamor of the time period had long cemented themselves in his mind and would eventually lead to the creation of his latest project, ‘Magic City’. Airing on Starz, ‘Magic City’ weaves a captivating narrative full of mobsters, Cuban exiles, straying wives, the amazing music that filled the air during that time, Judaism, and money — all centered on the mythical Miramar Playa hotel. Starring such heavy hitting actors as Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Danny Huston, the series is currently in production on it’s second intriguing season. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with series creator Mitch Glazer to discuss his journey in the entertainment industry, the origins of the series, what he has in store for fans in the second season and much more!
Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us today. How are you doing today, Mitch?
You are so welcome! We are in the middle of doing this incredibly cool scene that is kind of a dream come true for me. We are right outside the club where Betty Wright, who did the song “Clean Up Woman” when I was a kid growing up in Miami Beach, is doing a song in a date night setting for two of our characters. It is just incredible! This is one of the reason why I wanted to do the show “Magic City”! I get to live out the fantasy of seeing Betty Wright sing with a great R&B band in 1959 Miami! It is a very good day!
What initially got you started on your journey into the entertainment industry?
Originally, I was the editor of my high school newspaper. I was that kind of guy. I loved rock ‘n’ roll and my dream really was to write someday for Rolling Stone magazine. Given my age and the time I grew up in, I didn’t have the talent or courage to be a musician but I loved music. I ended up graduating NYU and working for some smaller rock ‘n’ roll magazines. I worked my way up and started writing for Rolling Stone and Esquire doing magazine journalism in New York in the 1970s. I met John Belushi very early on in 1977. I believe it was around the second year of “Saturday Night LIve.” John and I became really good friends. After knowing each other for a few years, he told me that he and Dan Aykroyd had an idea to do a movie. The movie was about two pot dealers for Universal. John said “Mitch! Why don’t you write it!” I said “Well, ok!” He called Universal and that was it! All of a sudden I was a screenwriter! [laughs] That was around 1980 but it took awhile to get a movie made. The first film I managed to get made was “Scrooged” with my main writing partner Michael O’Donoghue. It was kinda through rock ‘n’ roll and through journalism that it all happened. There was also a family connection. My uncle Sidney Glazer produced the Mel Brooks’ film “The Producers,” so I had seen someone in the family succeed in this weird business, so that also gave me hope.
For those who may not know, and you eluded to it a bit earlier, what initially sparked the idea for “Magic City”?
I was born and raised in Miami Beach, Florida in the 1950s. My father was an electrical engineer at a company that provided lighting for some of the more notable hotels of the day, when they were being built. I kinda grew up in the lobbies of those beautiful mid-1950s hotels and they really made an impression on me. I just thought it was the most glamourous, swankiest, coolest Rat Pack era vibe I had ever seen! It really stayed with me. As I think most writers do, you store away memories and things that are interesting to you. I have been doing other things in the meantime, be it other movies or articles but my mind would always go back to that era and the stories. I would write them down on the side and I finally sat down with it all to write my first and only TV attempt. I wrote a pass at this and now here we are!
In a way, I have been carrying around these stories since I was a kid, at least since I was a teenager. It really has been a dream come true to be back home, doing this show and celebrating Miami in 1959. It was such an important, exotic and cinematic time. You had the fall of Havana, the rise of Fidel Castro, the influx of Cubans to Miami at that time, The Mob, JFK being nominated and spending a lot of his time at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach.I really started digging into it and seeing how central 1959 Miami was to the American experience. I had an insight that most people didn’t have because I was born and raised here and knew some of the stories.
What has been the biggest challenge in bringing this project from script to screen?
I guess it was for other people more than myself in coming up with the stories but to be honest, this has been a story engine. There has been so much story and the Evans Family, the characters that I am writing about and the hotel are composites of the people I grew up with. I know the world so well that has been wonderful. There really haven’t been any major difficulties. STARZ has been amazing as far as supporting it. By definition, it is a successful hotel, so we need extras and period cars. We have built these amazing sets and the largest soundstage in Florida’s history! STARZ has truly been all in on this show from the initial vision of it. The cast is terrific as well. For the first time in my life, I got all of my first choices for the roles, the people I really wanted to bring these characters to life on screen. I have to say, I am expecting a giant meteor to come and take me out at any moment! [laughs] I come at this from the standpoint of doing movies even though the medium is television. We really are doing eight cinematic experiences. The scripts are very ambitious and dense, so it is a commitment on the part of the cast, crew and myself to make these films as beautiful and to have the best storytelling possible. So far that is what is happening!
You mentioned the very talented cast of “Magic City” and how they were your first choices. Did anyone bring something to the table which you might not have expected?
I had hopes for the direction they would go and that is what I was writing to but, truthfully, everyone elevated my game. The lovely thing about writing television, as opposed to film which is more of a one-off, is you write it, shoot it and it is a living thing. I can watch these people do the scenes and be the characters and then really start to tailor my writing to them. Jeffrey Dean Morgan brings an authority and a righteous goodness to Ike that I hinted at but now it is great to know that whatever direction I decide to take Ike, if he were to do bad things, there is such an innate goodness in what Jeffrey brings to the character he has created that I can go anywhere. It is the same for Danny Huston. Ya know, I always saw the Ben Diamond character as more of a Roman emperor than a Mafia thug. Danny brings that decadent, elegant evil, for lack of better words, in spades. I had started writing to it but now, seeing how he holds court and how deep and strange Ben Diamond’s character really is, I can really write to that. Olga Kurylenko, who is starring in Martin McDonagh “Seven Psychopaths” and Tom Cruise’s upcoming movie “Oblivion,” obviously shows her range from action to what is more of a philosophical film. The character she plays was originally written as a trophy wife, more of Rita Hayworth type. Olga’s Russian and Ukrainian way and the depth of her performance made me change the character to a gypsy. I made her more of a European character. It is great because each character affords me the ability to tailor the role to the actor. My wife, Kelly Lynch, plays Meg Bannock who is based on or inspired by the “lost money” in Miami Beach when I was a kid. There were a lot of restrictive clubs that the wealthy elite had back then where no Jews were allowed or no Blacks aloud. There are places I had never been into to this day. That is where her character is a Grace Kelly-esque Miami aristocrat. Kelly brings such a warmth to the role that I started writing it in a different way. It is a really a dazzling group of actors. James Cann starts his role with us on Friday, as Sy Berman, who is Ben Diamond’s boss in the Mafia’s Chicago outfit. Last night, to hear Jimmy Caan’s take on that character — I am blessed coming and going! It has really been a treat!
Without giving too much away, what can fans like us expect from the second season of “Magic City”?
Deeper, better more! [laughs] I don’t know, I am on such a short leash when it comes to talking about that stuff and I am so inexperienced at it that there is usually a publicist sitting here going “NO! You are saying to much!” [laughs] I think part of the ambition of this season is to make the world larger, meaning to bring in more of the Cuban experience in Miami at that period and what was happening in Havana. At the same time, we want to tighten the screws and show the pressure that the family is under. Season two will be bigger and smaller at the same time, that is my ambition. We do have some new characters being introduced. We have Esai Morales playing a Cuban hero who defects from Cuba and Sherilyn Fenn, who I worked with 20 years ago this summer in “Three of Hearts,” who is playing a madam who Ben Diamond bank rolls at the most extravagant whorehouse in Miami. It is based on a real place that King Farouk and the first family of English royalty came to. So, there are newer characters but our chief family is still the engine for the show and things get more intense and more dysfunctional along the way! Hopefully, you will love it!
It definitely sounds even more intriguing! Obviously, “Magic City” is a huge part of your life at the moment. Are there any other projects upcoming that should be on our radar?
You know, there are two films that I wrote before I started “Magic City”. There is one that I specifically wrote for Bill Murray, who I also wrote “Scrooged” for years ago, along with the original “Charlie’s Angels”. I did 9 weeks on set with him and Billy remains one of my closest friends. I wrote another script for him but it is a difficult movie to make but he and I are both hoping to put it together in soon, maybe even this year when I finish this current project. Bill plays a Bill Graham type rock ‘n’ roll promoter, a sham rock ‘n’ roll promoter who takes an act to Kabul, Afghanistan.He gets dumped there and he is trapped in a war zone and he plays it as only Bill Murray could! [laughs] I hope I get to do it. It isn’t that easy to do a comedy set in Afghanistan right now but if anybody can it would be Bill Murray!
Thank you for your time today, sir! We really appreciate it and wish you the best of luck with all of your endeavors!
Thanks so much, man! Take care, Jason!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.