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Danny Huston is Miami’s Favorite Mobster

The actor talks mafia, guayaberas and Tim Burton

The pulsating beat of 1960s Miami is back in full swing as Magic City returns for its second season on STARZ this weekend. DuJour recently had a chance to talk to Danny Huston, 51, son of legendary film director John Huston and brother of actress Anjelica Huston, who plays the deliciously twisted mob boss Ben Diamond on the dramatic series.

Ben is a quite a complex and downright evil character—what attracted you to the role?
When I read the first three episodes, I realized what a rich character he was; he’s villainous in a sort of colorful yet dark way. He reminded me a little bit of Edward G. Robinson’s character from Key Largo, one of my father’s films. I feel like he’s a fallen Roman emperor in a way: He lounges in a sort of Pompeii-like style, with this former gambling kingdom that he had in Cuba in his past. There’s something kind of lonely and sad about him, which I suppose gives him a certain amount of compassion for somebody who’s as psychotic as he is.

Is it hard to get into his skin?
Surprisingly not, for some reason. I scurry off into dark corners and read the episodes with great appetite, and sometimes I’m utterly shocked. Mitch [Glazer, the show runner and writer] is such a gentle, sweet soul so I find that all the more shocking [laughs]. But somehow when I put on the guayabera shirt or those odd Speedos that I wear, it just falls into place.

The sets and costumes are very well done—do you sometimes forget that you’re not in the ’60s?
I’m a big believer in shooting stories where they actually take place, and so being in Miami helps a lot. Just the humidity alone really helps you get into character. There’s a sort of tropical lawlessness about the place, something reckless about it. And, of course, the sets are just stunning. Everything is solid and genuine, so you feel that you’re inside this hotel.

You guys smoke a lot.
I know, forgive us. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose. There’s a sort of nostalgia that I feel for a time when one was blissfully ignorant about these things.

What can we expect from Ben this season, especially now that James Caan has joined the cast?
Sy Berman [James Caan’s character] is kind of the Meyer Lansky to my Bugsy Siegel. There’s something very paternal about him. He’s trying to get me to cool down and behave a little bit, but, of course, Ben Diamond doesn’t like to be told what to do and these aren’t necessarily men that are all that trustworthy. There’s lots of duplicity between the two of them, but there’s also a sort of a fondness.

What’s next for you?
My credo is to work with people I respect and all the better if they’re friends—that’s why I love working with Mitch—and I have a very small part in Tim Burton’s next film [Big Eyes] which starts filming next month.

I’ve read that you didn’t want to go into acting initially.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to [go into acting] or that I wasn’t interested. It’s just that that wasn’t my ambition; my ambition was to direct. That’s how I got into acting—I was rather frustrated in development hell and fellow directors and friends, out of the kindness of their hearts, gave me small parts and the parts got bigger. In a sense, I feel it’s the same gig—so to speak, storytelling. I come from a family of storytellers, and I love watching directors at work, how they approach things and how they create films.