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Justina Mintz

Jeffrey Dean Morgan faces corruption and temptation on his new Starz series, Magic City.

Brooding like Brando, Jeffrey Dean Morgan provides a tightly coiled, world-weary gravitas to the new Starz series Magic City, playing a self-made hotelier wreathed in smoke and only barely managing the shackles of money, corruption, violence and love in 1950s Miami Beach. (Think of it as Mad Men in Miami.) It’s a star-making gig for the 46-year-old Morgan, a Seattle native who spent almost two decades paying dues with television guest spots before breaking out with an indelible, poignant turn on Grey’s Anatomy. After high-profile gigs in films like Watchmen, it’s tempting to say Morgan has made it, but he’s the kind of man who’s always wanting more.

American Way: Between your characters in Watchmen and Magic City, it’s safe to say nobody smokes a cigar better than you.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan: Well, thank you very much. When I saw the first episode of Magic City, I realized I had some form of nicotine or tobacco in my mouth in every single scene. I’m not going to lie: I do like a good cigar. My character and I have that in common.

AW: On Magic City, your character is looking to hire some guys who are “not crazy, but hungry.” What does that mean to you as an actor?
JDM: My family will attest that crazy is part of wanting to become an actor, and as far as hungry, it was almost 20 years of literally [being] hungry. I’ve been at this for 25 years now, and for the first 15 years it was hard to keep a roof over my head and food on the table. But persistence says a lot about who someone is. Do you give up easy? I don’t. Maybe that’s because I didn’t have a lot of other choices I could make. What else could I do, really? I built fences and decks for people, but I kept going with acting. Maybe that’s crazy. Maybe that’s hungry. Maybe it’s both. I’ve been real lucky.

AW: It has been a good several years for you.
JDM: But I also know that it could all go away any minute. Maybe I’m just a flavor of the month. It happens all the time.

AW: So would you just grab your son, get on one of your Harleys and ride into the sunset?
JDM: That does not sound bad to me at all, man. [Laughs] If I could be gone into simplicity half the year and then working hard, nose to the grindstone, the other half, that would be all right with me.