NEW YORK, N.Y. --- "Magic City," the Starz drama about Miami Beach in the late 1950s, returns Friday for a second season, and its hero, luxury hotel owner Ike Evans, finds his world rocked by Fidel Castro's rise to power in Cuba.
"The gift of this season that was so incredible was that when I went back and researched from January 1959, when Castro came in to Havana, to October of '59, he was actively courting American business," says creator, writer and producer Mitch Glazer. "That is the window that this season takes place."
The political upheaval in Cuba dominates much of the second season, with Ike using it to gain leverage against his mobster rival, Ben Diamond.
"This is like historical fiction. There's so much in our storytelling that's historically true," says Kelly Lynch, who plays Ike's sister-in-law. Lynch is also Glazer's wife of 20 years ("which in Hollywood is thousands of years," Glazer jokes.)
"The opportunity to tell the tale of what happened in Miami Beach – or my Miami Beach – was really the reason for the show," Glazer says.
Glazer grew up in Miami, working in the very sort of hotels his show's hero now runs.
Castro's actual appearances are brief, including a 1959 clip of him appearing on "Meet the Press." But he's constantly mentioned by "Magic City's" characters and the political turmoil in Cuba weaves through the entire second season.
"I knew firsthand that all these cute girls came into my elementary school, that was huge," says Glazer of the new Cuban immigrants at the time. "But in a political way, having been born and raised there, the Cuban experience in Miami post-1959 could be the story of Miami."
A wave of Cuban immigrants floods the city. CIA agents linger in hotel lobbies, plotting Castro's assassination. The mob looks for any way to exploit the upheaval. Glazer calls the moment "the most active, exciting dangerous and important period" in Miami's history. It's no wonder then that Glazer, who previously worked on feature films, chose it as the subject of his first television show.
Other details of Miami's history are included in the plot, like an opulent, Middle Eastern-themed brothel built by real-life Miami sex ring-leader Madame Sherry. But "The Godfather" – a fictional interpretation of mid-century Miami – was just as influential, Glazer says, since it and its sequel are two of his favorite movies.
"It was the only time I saw Miami Beach captured accurately," Glazer says. "In my mind, if I was ever going to do that period, that buttery textured look that the movie had and just the visual of how Miami is captured—it seemed incredibly accurate and atmospheric."
Glazer had his production team retrofit their modern hi-def cameras with the 1974 lenses used in the film. And the addition of James Caan to the cast as a Chicago mob boss increases that "Godfather" feel. He joins "Godfather" alum Alex Rocco, who plays Ike's father.
"Magic City" films many of its Miami scenes on location, using various hotels for shots of the Miramar, as well as Collins Avenue and other landmarks.
"Miami is very helpful in getting me into character — just the temperature alone, the balmy nights, that sort of tropical lawless feel," says Danny Huston, who plays Ben Diamond. "The support we have from people in Miami, when they sometimes believe I actually am Ben Diamond — that helps. It gives me a little swagger."