Elena Satine knew she had her work cut out for her. The shy, quiet Russian-born actress had just been hired to play outgoing, irrepressible Miami call girl Judi Silver in the new Starz series “Magic City,” a woman with whom she had about as much in common as she would with a stamp-collecting insurance adjustor from Dubuque.
While happy to have the role, she was also worried about how she could possibly transform into somebody so different. And then, she got The Wig.
"Judi is so the opposite of who I am," Satine confesses. "She's the life of the party, the girl who always says the funny thing and the one you want to be around all the time. I'm very reclusive. So I was trying to find ways to make the character believable. Then her wig showed up and I got lost in that other person."
Just minutes before she filmed her first scene in the series, the big head of bright blonde hair finally arrived and she slipped it on. One look in a mirror to herself in perfect period clothes topped by a Marilyn Monroe ‘do and “that was the moment I went, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ The power of The Wig was amazing.”
Judi is just one of the many characters in the new series who try to accurately replicate the look and feel of late 1950s Miami. Much of the drama in “Magic City” centers around a hotel in that city, the Miramar Playa, which is operated by Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The series is steeped in historical detail, covering everything from the revolution going on in nearby Cuba to the mob’s expanding influence to the political gamesmanship going on with the Kennedy family. Much of the plot revolves around Ike’s business relationship with hot-tempered, unpredictable mob boss Ben Diamond (Danny Huston).
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"The underlying theme in the first season is dark," says Satine. "Ike finds himself in an predicament in the first episode, and we see that unravel. It's a dangerous world for him, but the show has moments of everything. There's a storyline with his youngest son falling in love for the first time that is really innocent and sweet. There's also lightness and comedy. Much of that comes from Judi because she's somebody who has no filter."
She works as an escort at the Miramar Playa and has what Satine describes as "a very interesting relationship with Ike, where he trusts her with the secretive aspects of his business." She's also got her own troubled past, kind of like the Marilyn Monroe of Miami - "Judi has a really good heart, and is somebody who is loyal to a fault but finds herself in a lot of trouble. She's just as lost and damaged as Marilyn."
Even before landing the part, Satine had a fixation on Monroe to the point where she collected books so she could study the actress. That's why, "when I got the part of this Marilyn-esque character, all my friends said how fitting it was," she explains. To really understand the role, however, Satine researched the late '50s and early '60s in America and found a few other real-life inspirations for her character.
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“She’s such a rich and different female from what you’re used to seeing in that time period. She’s not a wife or mother,” says Satine. “So I researched women who were doing things outside the norm at that time. I studied Bettie Page because what she was doing, living in an apartment in the city on her own and doing her bondage pin-up stuff, was considered very jaw-dropping. I also read about Judith Exner, who was President Kennedy’s mistress but was also involved with Frank Sinatra and (mobster) Sam Giancana. She was entangled with the mob, and knew a lot about what was going on in politics. She had her phone tapped by the FBI. I can’t even picture being a person like that.”
After spending a season walking a few miles in Judi Silver's heels, though, that image is starting to get a bit clearer for her. Satine recently caught up with a friend she hadn't seen for a while and within minutes of meeting, he told her she was a different person from the last time they'd met. Which was pre-"Magic City." She couldn't have been happier, since she realized "a little bit of Judi is rubbing off on me. She's bringing me out of my shell. I guess it's the power of The Wig."
Satine has seen several episodes of her show now, even though she almost never watches her own work in order to avoid all the self-criticism that that would entail. And it's literally been an out-of-body experience.
“I got so lost in Judie, I retained little memory of what I said and did,” she admits. “So now when I watch the show, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh! I don’t remember doing that?’ And now I find myself missing Judi.”
She won't be missing her for long. Not only has "Magic City" already been picked up for a second season, it's first premieres this weekend and the first three episodes of Season One are already available online. We asked her to serve as a guest editor by selecting several shows for the XfinityTV.com homepage, including "Magic City." Here are her choices - and a brief explanation why.
“MAGIC CITY“: My friends tell me they’re excited to watch because it looks so sexy and glamorous. It’s a world you want to be a part of from the very first frame. But the show is also really education for people who may not know much about the time period. They’ll find it fascinating to learn about Cuba, about politics in the U.S., and how entangled the mob was in the business of trying to legalize gambling. The show will touch on everything, from family to religion to politics to first love. Watch Full Episodes of “Magic City” On XfinityTV.com
“FRIENDS“: I moved to the U.S. from Russia when I was 11, and was obsessed with this show. I learned how to speak English from watching it. I related to Phoebe because I was new here and felt like a fish out of water. Everything I did was awkward and I thought everyone figured I was this weird, bizarre person. So I loved that she was also so weird and quirky. Watch Full Episodes of “Friends” On XfinityTV.com
“DEXTER“: It’s another Miami show! And one of my favorites. I love the idea of this character that walks such a thin line of moral ambiguity. He’s not a good guy yet you love him because he does the wrong things for the right reasons. And by the way, the twist in the most recent season….I totally called that from the first couple episodes. Watch Full Episodes of “Dexter” On XfinityTV.com
“THE KILLING”: They have such an incredible cast. And Joel Kinnaman, who plays Det. Holder, is the reason I first tuned in. He was in a movie called “Snabba Cash,” which was a fantastic thriller, so when I found out he was on this show I had to check it out. And then the storyline hooked me. Like everyone else, I want to see them solve the mystery. Watch Full Episodes of “The Killing” On XfinityTV.com
“THE WALKING DEAD”: I just love scary stuff! I’m a huge horror buff. So when I first heard Frank Darabont was making a show about zombies, my only question was, “When’s it on? I’m there!” Watch Full Episodes of “Walking Dead” On XfinityTV.com
“LOST”: I’m so obsessed with it. I like just shutting myself in the house and watching an entire season in a day or two. That’s the best way. All the storylines stay fresh in your had. I’m a big fan of supernatural things, and they did this show in a way that’s always keeping you guessing. Watch Full Episodes of “Lost” On XfinityTV.com
“ANCIENT ALIENS”: I’m fascinated by anything that deals with the unexplained. I love any show that totally makes me want to know more. How did they build these pyramids? Why did they find these carvings that look like spaceships? This show is something my mom and I agree with. We curl up in the be with a bowl of popcorn and have an “Ancient Aliens” marathon. Watch Full Episodes of “Ancient Aliens” On XfinityTV.com
“SMALLVILLE”: I was on this show for a while, playing Queen Mera, Aquaman’s wife. I’d seen it during the first season but after I was on it in the final season, I went back to watch every year. Now I’m a real fan because I see these characters and it’s like, “Oh, my god! I know who this is!” Watch Full Episodes of “Smallville” On XfinityTV.com
“GOSSIP GIRL“: This is my one guilty pleasure. I have a couple really good friends who’ve been on it so I first watched to support them. Then I got hooked because it’s so soapy and gossipy. A lot of the appeal, I have to admit, is because I’m a girly girl and the clothes are amazing. But it’s just a feel-good, fun, ridiculous show. Watch Full Episodes of “Gossip Girl” On XfinityTV.com
“FAMILY GUY”: It’s amazing! Inappropriate humor is so great! I love dark humor that crosses the line and makes you say, “That’s so wrong!” And that’s “Family Guy” to me. Plus, as inappropriate as it is, it’s also really smart. Watch Full Episodes of “Family Guy” On XfinityTV.com
“ROBOT CHICKEN“: I saw (series co-creator) Seth Green a couple nights ago at a birthday party and I just geeked out over the show when I talked to him. I just had to say, “On behalf of all us weirdos, thank you so much for creating it.” Watch Full Episodes of “Robot Chicken” On XfinityTV.com
“I LOVE LUCY”: Lucille Ball is the original funny redhead. I didn’t see this show when I was growing up, but I started watching when I came to America. And it’s so delightful! There’s really nobody who can light up the screen like Lucy. I’d love to be able to do comedy and make people laugh like that. Maybe that’ll happen with Judi Silver, as long as people laugh at the right parts. Watch Full Episodes of “I Love Lucy” On XfinityTV.com
“LAST MAN STANDING“: One of my friends is on this show, so I started watching to be supportive. Then I fell in love with it. It’s got great family values and it’s nice to see that throwback style of sit-com. It’s been a while since we’ve had that. It’s also a show that my mom likes. Watch Full Episodes of “Last Man Standing” On XfinityTV.com
“Magic City” premieres on Starz on Friday, April 6 at 10/9c.