With its 1950s period detail, showgirls and mobsters, Magic City is like a strange fusion of Mad Men and The Sopranos. Add the sultry Miami climate and bit-players such as Sinatra and the Kennedys and you have something truly evocative.
The series opens on New Year's Eve, 1959, in the court of Ike Evans, owner of the luxurious Miramar Playa Hotel. It's a perfect world with one imperfection: to ensure his survival, Ike has done a deal with the devil - mobster Ben Diamond (Danny Huston). Enter Lily Diamond, Ben's third wife, played by former Packed to the Rafters star Jessica Marais.
Marais, who relocated to Miami for the role, describes Lily as a ''bag of contradictions. She's inevitably flawed. She's probably a very damaged human being but one who is incredibly strong in the face of adversity and a real survivor.''
Married to the mob … Jessica Marais plays a gangster's wife in Magic City.
Lily's siren-like demeanour is an illusion, Marais says. ''There are so many layers to peel back with her, and as the first season unfolds [a second season is now filming] you realise there's so much more going on,'' she says. ''Lily is one of the only female characters that is capable of playing in this dangerous, masculine world.''
The series was created for the US cable network Starz by Mitch Glazer, who grew up in Miami. His father designed lighting for three of the city's iconic '50s hotels. The luxurious detail of that world, Marais says, entirely informs the series. ''They don't use anything that isn't authentically from the 1950s,'' she says. ''Even the things you don't see, the right undergarments, the size of a heel on a shoe. The result is a world which 100 per cent informs your performance and informs the detail in your work.''
Finding a simple hook for the series is challenging. It is a period drama, in the style of Mad Men. And a Mob drama, in the style of The Sopranos. But its rich tapestry of characters and personal relationships is more reminiscent of soap opera. Marais thinks it is a mixture of the lot. ''It's a bit of a melting pot of styles, narratives and storylines,'' she says. ''It's power, it's sex, it's revenge, it's all the huge themes that all the great tragedies, the best works of Shakespeare, have in them. And it's a 1950s version of it, with cars and costumes and fabulous characters.''
Jessica Marais, right, with former Packed to the Rafters co-star Rebecca Gibney.
The series aired in the US last year to mixed reviews but still secured a second series of 10 episodes. And Marais promises a bumpy ride. ''By the end of the first series you begin to see that Lily is one step ahead of her husband Ben and the relationship between the two of them is fraught with much more than just an abusive husband and a mobster's wife,'' she says.
''There's a lot more going on; it's much deeper than that.
''But I don't want to give anything away. I can't tell all her secrets but, believe me, she has so many secrets it's ridiculous.''
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