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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Kelly Lynch (“Magic City”)

I can’t vouch for anyone else’s experience with the phenomenon of “going viral,” but in mine, when you collaborate with someone and the resulting effort ends up being viewed by literally millions of people, it creates somewhat of a bond between you, mostly because…well, it’s just weird, y’know? Or maybe it’s just weird for me because more people know about a story Kelly Lynch told me in our Random Roles conversation for the AV Club – you know, the one about how Bill Murray or one of his brothers will call Lynch’s husband, Mitch Glazer, whenever “Road House” is on, just so they can say, “Your wife’s having sex with Patrick Swayze right now” – than have ever read any other interview I’ve ever done in my entire career.

Either way, I’ve kept in touch with Ms. Lynch ever since that phone interview, getting to meet her and Mr. Glazer in person a few months later and earlier this month I was even invited to ask her and Danny Huston a few questions when they made an appearance on Huffington Post Live. After we wrapped up that brief virtual encounter (they were in the studio, I did my bit via Google+ Hangouts), I sent her a hopeful Tweet, saying, “Maybe we can still do a proper interview to talk about Season 2 of ‘Magic City.’” The next thing you know, we were back on the phone with each other, talking about where we’ll see her character, Meg Bannock, headed this season, how she handles work-related discussions with her husband, and how awesome it is to see Sherilyn Fenn turn up on the series.

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Bullz-Eye: How are you?

Kelly Lynch: I’m good! Well, I’m surviving. Mitch had a big party up at our house last night for his post-production group, who are some of the best post people I’ve ever been involved with. I mean, from sound to the music to the CG…they’re just amazing. A lot of them have never done TV, don’t want to do TV, and won’t do TV, but they’ve been Glazed, as we say. [Laughs.] He’s a beloved guy, and they just fell in love with the show and fell in love with Mitch. So we had a food truck and a bar with  mojitos and margaritas and stuff. We still have a pitcher of margaritas in my fridge that’s calling my name. I keep going, “No!” So I’m surviving, but needless to say, I had a few more margaritas last night, and I may yet have a few more today. But it was really fun, and it was really great to be able to say “thanks” to all those guys and gals. Half of the show is putting it all together.

BE: It’s a recurring theme in the comments section of my AV Club reviews of ‘Magic City’ about how it’s the best looking show on TV.

KL: It’s not an accident. I mean, they use the same lens that they used on ‘The Godfather’ on the cameras. Mitch screened the movie and said the only time Miami ever looked like the Miami he remembers from when he was a little kid was in ‘The Godfather’. He’s, like, “They got it right. They got the look right, the locations were right, the lighting, the way the sun hits the buildings and the way Miami looks…” And no one shoots on film anymore, so it’s not an easy thing to make a television show look beautiful. It’s very, very hard, actually.

BE: The work definitely pays off, though.

KL: Uh, yeah! [Laughs.] But what’s funny is that they’re all movie people, so they don’t know any different. Just about everybody who works on this, including the cast, we all do movies. So we just keep thinking we’re making this really long movie.

BE: Well, it often plays like one.

KL: Yeah, I think so, too. I mean, it’s not like there’s a caper every week. You know, there’ll be a slow burn, and then a thing that happens where you’re, like, “What?” [Laughs.] But I think this year it takes off. You’ll see this Friday, in the second episode. Things start to take off a little faster and more furiously, and the plot gets even thicker, with more knots and different pairings of people, who gets what, whether they get what they want, and if they do, how they get it, and by the end…

Well, look, we screened the eighth episode, and the small group of people that’s privy to see it just looked at each other and went, “Oh, my God!” [Laughs.] It was, like, “What have we done?” So we’re, like, itching for everyone to take the ride. But we’re not gonna be catering to you. Sorry, but if you’re gonna take the ride, then you’ve gotta buckle in, sit there, and take the whole ride with us. But it’ll be worth it.

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BE: In watching the first episode of the new season, it’s pretty clear that the tension between Meg and Vera is pretty substantial, even more so than it was at the end of last season.

KL: Oh, I know! Because it was kind of like…well, with the whole thing with Vera and Ike going out dancing with Cliff, and then Meg getting a tour of the Miramara Playa, things started getting a little bit bitchy. [Laughs.] Olga (Kurylenko) and I like to think we’re just as terrifying together as Ben Diamond and Ike, with their guns and their gangsters and all of that. We know that when two girls decide that they really aren’t fond of each other, it’s a whole other level of cat-fighting. Neither of them would dare say anything to each other, but then Vera decides she’s just gonna let Meg known how she feels, so…we’ll see what Meg does with that!

BE: The best bit of their back-and-forth in the season premiere was when Meg said, “I’m not the enemy,” and Vera snapped back, “Well, what are you, then?”

KL: Yeah. Meow! [Laughs.] And we learn a little bit more about how formidable Meg is in Episode 2. She has more skills than we’re aware of, which should make Vera more frightened of the possibility of pissing Meg off. And you’ve got to think that Meg…it’s weird enough that her heart is pulling her towards this man who’s Jewish. In her time, every place that she hung out and went and lived was segregated from Jewish people. But to her, Vera is some showgirl. You know, she’s, like, “This woman is going to raise your children? You’ve got to be kidding me!” I mean, we know and love Vera, we see her heart, and she’s an incredible wife and mother and all, but Meg is not choosing to see her that way. She’s not open to seeing her that way and has just made her mind up. She’s, like, “What? You married a showgirl? You spend a weekend with a showgirl, but you don’t marry a showgirl.” It’s just her class and her standing won’t even…it doesn’t even make any sense to her. But now, obviously, she and Ben and Ike are partners in the Miramar, so…it’s going to be interesting.

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BE: It was, at least, a nice gesture on Meg’s part…or it seemed to be, anyway…that she chose not to attend Ike’s celebration, even though she certainly would’ve been within her rights to be there.

KL: Oh, yeah, of course. Absolutely! But I don’t think she’s that anxious to be in gatherings with Vera, per se. She’s interested in Ike and she’s very much interested in the Miramar Playa. Last year, when Meg finally decides she’s been staring at this gaudy hotel long enough…as far as how she feels, she’s, like, “Oh, it must just be hideous inside, this place,” but she finally goes across the intracoastal and takes a look inside and is completely dazzled by it, like everybody else is about those great Morris Lapidus hotels. They make you feel like a movie star, you know? You walk in the lobby, and you just feel like, “Oh, my God, I’m Grace Kelly!” Or Cary Grant. That’s what they were designed to do, and Ike has designed his place to feel like a glamorous getaway for people. And she was completely dazzled by it and flipped on a dime from, “Oh, I can’t imagine this place! This is where our family used to have a little beach cabana, and this is where I used to play in the sand as a child, and now I don’t have this anymore because of my idiot father. [Laughs.] And Meg’s, like, “I want to be part of this. I want this in my life.” And the only blood relatives she has are those three children of Ike’s, so there’s that as well.

BE: You’ve talked before about how you’ve got a completely separate relationship with your husband when you’re working with him – as in, “He’s not my husband, he’s Mitch Glazer” – but how do you approach him when you find a moment in the script or on the screen where you feel like it needs some tweaking? Is it weird, or does that separation make it comfortable for you to do that?

KL: Oh, no, it’s totally comfortable. But I usually don’t do it at home. I’m really weird about it. There are a lot of actors who live and breathe their character 24/7 while they’re working, but we shoot over five and a half months or so, so for me it’d be a hard thing to do. So when we’re at home, we’re Mitch and Kelly, but at work, I will absolutely go to his assistant, the amazing Jennifer Jackson, and ask for a meeting with Mitch. And I will sit with him, like all the other actors do, and say, “You know, I know you can’t tell me what’s happening in Episode 7…” [Laughs.] “But here we are in Episode 3, and this thing that’s been laid in, is this something that’s, y’know, gonna keep going?” And sometimes he’ll say things like, “You know what? It’s like life. And I really don’t want you to know what lies ahead for you.” Other times he’ll say it’s something he wants the character to have in her, that there’s something that Meg wants and it’s this or whatever. But he won’t always spill the beans for me. Not at all.

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One of the reasons that we both love doing this is that, y’know, you’re living a life. When I do a film, I try to know exactly how to calibrate everything. For one movie I did (‘Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story’), I was a crack addict, schizophrenic woman who’s dying from AIDS and also an alcoholic, based on a true story, and, y’know, that’s about as complicated as it gets! [Laughs.] And we were nominated for three Emmy Awards, and I’m very proud of it. Thora Birch played my daughter, along with a young Ellen Page. But I had to graph it out exactly, so it was, like, “Okay, she had her medicine for schizophrenia, right now she’s just had a bender and the medicine…” I literally graphed out the whole thing emotionally and physiologically. We have more information than what we actually do.

With Magic City, we get our scripts and we read them, all of us at the same time, and…I think, for all of us, the real, true challenge is to make the writing happen on screen. He should publish the writing, though, because he’s a beautiful writer. Everything’s there. The music, the setting, the smell in the room…everything. But, yeah, it’s funny, because I just approach him like he’s my boss. I have to make an appointment. He, like a handful of show runners, does everything. He cast all of us, basically, he writes all the stories, he’s completely involved with the editing and the post work. Every minute of all of it is him. So it’s, like, he doesn’t have any time, so I have to make an appointment. And I like it that way. I want everyone to be as hard on me as anyone else. I want the ride to be the same that everybody else has. I love being a working person, y’know? I come from Socialist, Minnesota. [Laughs.] We’re workers! We work! So I go to work. That’s how I look at it. And I love that feeling. I don’t want that taken away from me. Sometimes I do get really curious, though, and I’ll try to entice him into telling me secrets. So far, that’s, uh, not worked so good. He’s very strong willed.

BE: The last time we talked, I hadn’t actually seen the season premiere, but now that I have, I fully agree with you that Sherilyn Fenn wears her attire from the early ‘60s very, very well.

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KL: Yeah! Sherilyn is…oh, what can you say about her? I just adore her. She’s so good in the part, and Madame Renee is an ongoing character. If we’re lucky enough to go a third season, she’ll be back with us. She was very, very nervous about playing Madame Renee. She loved ‘Magic City,’ she read the script, and she was, like, “Oh, my God! I don’t know if I can do this!” [Laughs.] I mean, she was really, really nervous. And she just killed it. Every single episode she’s in, she’s fantastic. And you so see the girl in the woman, y’know? As far as Madame Renee goes, this is, like, Judy Silver or one of the other girls, and she’s grown up and decided that she wants to run her own empire. She’s based on a true character, a woman named Madame Sherry, who built the Moorish Castle, a house of ill repute, and was very much involved with the mob. So much of ‘Magic City’ is based on truth and fact and real people. Miami and southern Florida is the craziest place on the planet!

BE: As far as playing Madame Renee, I said in my review that Sherilyn “gives us an idea what the future might’ve held for Audrey Horne if she’d bothered to work her way up the corporate ladder at One Eyed Jack’s.”

KL: That was such a great quote. And I completely agree. She’s just incredible. I mean, she puts those clothes on, and…well, she always looked like she was 1958, y’know? She didn’t fit in then, she doesn’t fit in now. So much of what she did in the dreamy David Lynch stuff, it was, like, “Well, that’s perfect for her.” She’s very much a woman out of time.

BE: As for the show’s other notable new addition, it’s ironic that I wasn’t able to get my Random Roles with James Caan onto the AV Club until this week, since, as it turns out, he won’t make his debut on the show until this week, anyway.

KL: Exactly! Yeah, he comes in good and strong in Episode 2 this Friday. He makes his mark, believe me.

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BE: It’s actually a great idea, though, to give his character a week’s worth of being referenced, so that he’s set up as this power player before actually showing his face. It positions the viewer to start wondering, “So who is this guy?”

KL: Absolutely. And I don’t know if you remember, but Lily is actually on the phone with Sy (Caan’s character) at one point in Season 1.

BE: I did not remember that.

KL: Yeah, she has a phone conversation with him. Y’know, for people who think that they get everything and they know what’s going on and that it’s so obvious… If anyone thinks that, there’s going to be so much that’s going to happen that’s building on little tiny clues and secrets that you may not have caught, but they’re there. There’s a very complicated web of mob activity going on, as there really was in Miami. And a lot of women were involved in that as well. Lily’s playing a really, really dangerous game, and she likes it. Part of the reason why she’s playing is because she likes it. There’s something about her, obviously, that she’s afraid of her life on one hand, but on the other hand she’s made this life. She’s drawn to it, this level of danger and these guys. But, yeah, she’s acquainted with Sy, which is something her husband is not aware of, I don’t think.

BE: Would you say that Meg’s playing a game as well, or is she just being a businesswoman?

KL: Well, I… I guess we’ll just have to find out.

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BE: Oh, it’s like that, huh?

KL: [Laughs.] Well, I’ll tell you one thing: she’s her own woman. She’s managed her money just fine. She has a team of advisors, but she’s in charge of her empire. She makes all the decisions. She gets the facts. The first time we see her is with Ike, when they’re together at the segregated bath club. When she says, “Give me the books,” and all of that, she’s the one who… She can look at those sheets and balance the numbers herself and tell you if it’s a good idea or not. So she knows money, and she knows how to make it, and she knows a good thing when she sees it. She was a powerful woman back in her day, which is so much fun to play.

In fact, one of the things that I really think is cool about Mitch’s show is that you have women of their time, but all these women are intelligent and empowered. Judy Silver absolutely is in charge of her empire. She rents her stool at the Miramar, as the women did in the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc and those hotels back in the day. But she doesn’t work for anyone. Stevie helps her out, but she makes her own money. Lily, as you’ll see this year, becomes even more empowered in her own story and her life. And Meg, she’s looking to have a relationship or people in her life because she wants it, not because she needs it. She doesn’t need the security. She needs the love and the family. Vera had been a superstar in Cuba and had her own career going on. So these are all women who are quite formidable and want to be partners with men. They don’t always get what they want, but they’re asking for that. Mercedes, y’know, is becoming a young career woman, flying around the world on her own, but with the situation with her mom and not wanting to leave her dad all alone in the state that he’s in, that changes her plans. But she’s a foreshadowing of the ‘60s, really: the girl who’s so young and kind of deciding to be a career woman. All these women are sort of self-possessed and have these things they want to do.

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BE: Which is good to see on TV. You can’t say that about but so many shows.

KL: No, you really can’t. Not even in the ones set in modern day. A lot of times, you’ve got a really, really attractive woman, but then suddenly there’s a guy, and she’s really just the wife who has nothing to do. If it’s a comedy, then he’s dumb but funny, and she’s… [Trails off.] I don’t even know how many of those shows there are. But we all appreciate ‘Magic City’ because of that. To live half the year in that time, there are challenges, and we do feel put in our place in one regard, because that’s the way it was for women. In some ways it still is. Some women are making 70 cents to a man’s dollar. It’s still not what it could be or, obviously, should be.

With that being said, I don’t feel I’ve ever looked more put-together in my whole life on any show I’ve ever done, outside of Ivan on ‘The L Word,’ who was quite dapper, albeit a guy. [Laughs.] But just the makeup, the wardrobe…all of it. The cars we drive, the home that my character lives in…it’s outstanding. Meg has a ballroom. It’s ridiculous! And I’m really a jeans and t-shirt girl, so it’s really fun for me to go so far out of my own comfort zone and find myself fitting into this other world. I used to look at these movies, seeing Grace Kelly and all that, and just think, “Wow, what would it be like?”

BE: And now you’re living the dream.

KL: I am! [Laughs.] It’s “Let’s Pretend” to the 10th degree!

  

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