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James Caan learns to say ‘Wilmette’ to play Chicago mobster on ‘Magic City’

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8 to 9 p.m. Fridays on Starz

Updated: July 15, 2013 7:21PM

Chicago is turning up the heat in Miami in the second season of “Magic City,” debuting at 8 p.m. Friday on Starz.

James Caan joins the cast of the premium cable net’s 1959 period drama as Jewish mobster Sy Berman, head of the Chicago Outfit.

Sy is the one man capable of intimidating Ben “The Butcher” Diamond (Danny Huston), a perverted gangster and perennial thorn in the side of protagonist Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the beleaguered owner of Miami Beach’s swanky Miramar Playa hotel.

Sy and Ben cut their criminal teeth growing up together in Chicago. Sy sits higher up on the food chain, and he’s not too thrilled with the way The Butcher’s been behaving in the Sunshine State.

“Magic City” creator Mitch Glazer, a Miami native who used to be a cabana boy at Deauville Beach Resort, said he had Caan in mind when he wrote the role.

“There aren’t many actors who can step into those shoes,” Glazer said about the man who portrayed hotheaded Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather” movies. “I wanted this character to be menacing and Jimmy can do that.” (ABC is hoping Jimmy can be funny, too. Caan stars in the network’s comedy series “Back in the Game” this fall.)

Sherilyn Fenn (“Twin Peaks”) is another new face on “Magic City” this season. Fenn plays a former call girl running a brothel backed by Ben, who’s “become kind of rogue in Miami,” Glazer said. “His appetites are unchecked, sexual and otherwise, while Sy’s character is all about business.”

When we first meet Sy in the second episode, he’s tending to his tulips at his home in Wilmette — a suburb Glazer chose for a couple of different reasons. He remembered it from his time nearby at Northwestern University, where he spent the summer of 1969 as part of a high school journalism program. It’s also the hometown of buddy Bill Murray.

“It’s a slight homage to Billy,” said Glazer, who had cause to question his decision once filming started.

“For some reason, it was hard to get Jimmy to say Wilmette correctly; he’d put the emphasis on the wrong syllable,” Glazer said. “Of course, he’ll come find me and beat me for saying that.”

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