Set against the brewing Cuban Revolution, the Starz network's new hit series Magic City follows the dirty dealings of Miami Beach royalty, the Evans family, as they attempt to keep their (fictitious) Miramar Playa hotel kingdom afloat. Although its patriarch, Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), is constantly under surveillance for the establishment's illegal activities, no character is in more danger than his protegé and Lothario of a son, Stevie Evans.
Played by 26-year-old actor Steven Strait, Stevie's womanizing ways entangle him in a deadly love triangle with his father's business partner, mob boss Ben Diamond (Danny Huston), and his irresistible wife, Lily (Jessica Marais). Whether or not Evans will keep his limbs (or his life) through the end of the season—let alone the already green-lit Season Two—is still yet to be determined.
Complex caught up with Magic City's most enviable actor about deciphering the show's moral ambiguity, filming the countless sex scenes pertinent to his character, and getting into the mindset of a '50s-era, Miami-based businessman.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
Your character Stevie is the show's womanizer but, at least for me personally, what makes him hard to dislike is that he has a good heart. How would you say Stevie’s love for women plays into his character?
Stevie is definitely a womanizer and loves women but has never fallen in love with a particular one. I think his wants and his needs overtake what his intentions might be and he makes mistakes, but he does genuinely care about the people that he’s close to: his family, even Judy Silver, who is an employee of his.
There’s a juxtaposition between this guy falling into the traps of his vices and a guy generally trying to do the best he can in a very obscure, awkward, dangerous situation. I think that’s a position that people can have empathy for because it’s not something that anyone can handle perfectly, and he’s just trying to do what he can to protect the people he cares about.
Another thing about Stevie is that he’s fiercely loyal no matter how much danger it attracts. Can you relate to that mentality at all?
The character of Stevie is a different kind of person than I am, but the one piece that I can relate to most personally within him is his loyalty. He has an unquestionable loyalty to his father and his family. In my opinion, that’s all he has that roots him to reality and he clings to it with everything he has no matter what he’s doing in the rest of his life, no matter how reckless he can be, now matter how bad the people in his life are.
I’m not sure if that’s evident to all the other characters within the show itself. But it is evident to Stevie and it’s something that he takes a lot of pride in. His loyalty is definitely the core of who he is as a person.
Speaking of the family dynamic, he often clashes with his brother Danny (Christian Cooke), and he also has a very awkward, almost sexual relationship with stepmother Vera (Olga Kurylenko). Do you think Stevie’s capable of crossing that line that could essentially destroy his family?
There’s a lot of moral ambiguity with what Ike and Stevie do because they’re essentially part of the same team working towards the same goal. Danny is much more pure in that sense, in terms of he’s more about sticking to the rules and about a larger code of conduct, not necessarily just within the core of the people that he loves, which I think Stevie and Ike kind of abide by. Ike and Stevie will do anything for the people that they’re closest to but outside of that circle, it’s fair game.
It’s about the family’s survival. I think with Danny, it’s a much larger world view in that sense. So, their personalities are very different. Stevie, I think, looks at Danny as his younger brother but I don’t think Danny has ever saw Stevie that way. There’s also a lack of understanding between the two and the direction that Danny’s taking and that Stevie’s taking is progressively getting more and more divergent. That tension is always there but they do love each other and that’s also there, too. That said, it can be strained but I’m not sure it can be broken.
Stevie’s relationship with Vera is also highly complicated because his mother just died a couple years prior. Vera comes into the void that was left in this family’s life. She’s a similar age to Stevie, she’s attractive and he’s certainly not going to look up to her as mother. I think that the complication with Vera is that Stevie is at once attracted to her but he also resents her in many ways because she’s taken the attention and affection of the only parent he has left and whom he really looks up to. If there were any major obstacle in the way of Stevie falling into one of those moments of unthinking desire it would be his loyalty to his dad. It would have to be a very extraordinary circumstance for him to break that loyalty, no matter how attracted he is to her.
Given that the series is set against the Cuban Revolution, did you do any research about the time period?
Yeah, I did a lot. I did what I could to familiarize myself with not just the time—it was a monumental period globally—but specifically what was going on in Miami and in the Caribbean and the sociopolitical situations that were going on at the time. I read quite a few books to cover the topics that revolve around Miami at the time. There’s a book called Havana Nocturne, which is a great book that describes the Havana Mafia in Cuba and Miami. There’s this book called 1959, which more or less describes the year and some of the innovations that were happening that were going to change our culture and our country. The pill was created, the microchip was created, Sputnik went up—I mean, a whole bunch of things that radically changed the '60s from the '50s.
The character of Stevie is a different kind of person that I am, but the one piece that I can relate to most personally within him is his loyalty.
I also wanted to know what was going on in the area at the time. There’s a novel that’s called Telex from Cuba that described the Cuban situation in a more personalized way. There’s a also a book called The Feast of the Goat which is also a novel about Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. For me, in building Stevie—as I said before, he has a more localized outlook on the world—what he’s interested in is the stuff that will affect his business. He has to work with the mob down there. He has to know what’s going on in the Caribbean because there’s a huge connection between what’s going on in Miami and Havana prior to the revolution in terms of commerce. All of those things are things he would have to know and would know so that he can do his job well. So, research was a hugely important thing just to make it as a realistic as possible.
With how contemplative and mysterious your character comes off, it definitely seems like you have that running through your mind on screen.
Thank you! I'm glad it's coming through. I tried to keep it all in mind. I really tried to build Stevie within his personality characteristics and also within the research. The situation does shape who you are. Once you build that, you just let him live in those situations presently and as realistic as possible.
Stevie by far has raciest scenes of anyone on show in almost every episode. Coming from a background of teen-centric films, like Sky High and The Covenant, do you have any apprehension tackling those scenes?
Stevie’s major arch throughout the series is his affair with Ben Diamond’s wife and, obviously, it’s going to involve sex. There’s no way around that. But I didn’t have any apprehension about the scenes themselves. It was more important to me that they were done in a way that didn’t distract from the greater story at large.
Those scenes are honestly the hardest ones to do. But I felt that they were also necessary not only to his progression as a character but also because he is changed through that affair and it pushes the story forward as a whole narratively with the tension between Stevie and Ben, Lily and Ben and, unknowingly, Ike and Ben.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)