Kelly Lynch was that girl—the actress everyone wants to decorate their film, their party, their magazine—and for a lot longer than most beautiful young things are in Hollywood. She had the good fortune to start right, as Matt Dillon’s girlfriend in Gus Van Sant’s smart, cool Drugstore Cowboy in 1988, which helped when she wanted to be more than a pretty face.
On April 6, Lynch will return to the screen—the small screen—in the highly anticipated Magic City on STARZ (the network has been ramping up its original programming since the recent arrival of Chris Albrecht, the programming chief at HBO during the era of The Sopranos and Six Feet Under). Set in a glamorous Miami hotel in 1959, the drama features Lynch as Meg Bannock, the Grace Kelly-like former sister-in-law of the hotel’s ambitious, mob-connected owner. (Watch the trailer).
As it happens, Lynch has a connection to Miami: her husband, writer/producer Mitch Glazer, is the creator of the show, and he based it in part on his memories of growing up there. In the midst of Oscar week, Lynch called me from her home in Los Angeles to talk about it.
How are things in L.A.?
It’s been a crazy Oscar week. It’s work but it’s also really fun. I’ve seen a lot of my girlfriends. I tend to look at it this way: once, I ran into Lucille Ball surrounded by people asking her for autographs. I asked, “Doesn’t that get tiring?” She said, “I’ll be sad when they stop asking.” It’s important to have perspective.
Are you shooting Magic City in Miami?
All of it. Mitch was born and raised there, and it was very important to him that we shoot there: the sky looks different, the vibes, the humidity. To not shoot there would be like The Sopranos not being shot in New Jersey. We have the most incredible sets: 200,000 square feet of hotels, restaurants, lingerie shops. You walk through the door and it’s like the beautiful old Fontainebleau hotel of 1959.
Is this a world you can relate to or at least imagine?
I’ve been going to Miami for the 23 years that I’ve been with Mitch, and I’m really intrigued by it—it’s a city built on a marsh, it’s a creation, they built it to sell it. In the 1950s, there was a huge contingent of CIA there, because of its proximity to Cuba. My husband was told that JFK would fly to the Fontainebleau with three helicopters hovering over the hotel, go in and have relations with his mistress Judith Campbell Exner and then go back to the helicopter. Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr., were also around, though Davis was not allowed to stay on the beach.
My husband’s father was an electrical engineer for the hotel—in fact, he designed a special elevator for Frank Sinatra to go up to his suite. Miami was the center of the universe then. And Mitch grew up with it.
How did you prepare for the role?
I play a very well-to-do woman, one of those WASPy, to-the-manor-born types. A dying breed. I listened to a lot of voices from the time, including a really great interview with Grace Kelly. I thought about her in terms of what she might have looked like at my age—remember, she quit acting at 26. And of course, you study the design of the era. It was a very muscular time in terms of design; even the delivery trucks look so groovy—all that chrome, the styling. You look at them and think they could take a direct hit.
Did your family have cars like that in Golden Valley?
We had a giant Cadillac. My dad had to have one, a Cadillac with fins. People drove by just to look at the car.
What was your life like then?
Very Minnesotan. I went to public school—it’s now Breck. My dad would flood the back yard to make a skating rink. We had a sauna. We were those crazy Scandinavians who hit the sauna then go in the snow naked. And if we ever felt a cold coming on, my mom would wrap us up with Vicks and put us on the top shelf of the sauna like chickens.
Were your parents performers?
Not exactly. My dad ran the old Boulevard Café. My mother was sort of a performer: she was in the Aqua Follies for the Aquatennial. They had synchronized swimmers, girls on floating stages, and they’d dance around my mother. I have a feeling it was my mother making sure I was getting ballet classes. My dad was determined that I should get into the family restaurant business.
But you didn’t?
No, I had a car accident when I was 20 that changed my life. I was dragging my feet on the restaurant thing and instead had taken a job as an airline stewardess for Northwest Airlines, which I approached like an audition: I’d put my Rollerblades on to serve cocktails on the flight, I’d put the oxygen mask on my head like a monkey-grinder hat. It was like a comedy routine for me. I got written up a lot.
Anyway, a few blocks from the restaurant, on Highway 12, I saw a pair of headlights going the wrong way. I turned into a ravine to my left doing about 50 miles per hour. I went through the windshield. The steering wheel almost cut my legs in two. They thought they’d have to amputate both of my legs. The car caught fire, and I was awake the whole time. I was in the hospital for almost a year. I lay there thinking, “If I get out of here, I’m going to give this acting thing a real shot.” When I got out, I went to New York and started studying.
What does Mitch think of Minnesota?
Mitch is always worried that the big Jew hunt is about to happen when we arrive. Everyone is blond and blue-eyed. He thinks everyone is German and Scandinavian. He also thinks it’s a really cool, weird place. He sees it the way people from the outside see it. I brought him to Byerly’s once and he was like, “What’s the deal with this place?”
Do you carry Minnesota with you in L.A.?
It absolutely has kept me sane and normal. My nickname is the Anomaly. I’m not sure I completely understand what it means, but perhaps that’s the point: it’s saying, “You’re like a human being.” In Minnesota you have a job, you work. It’s something that will always be attached to me. I’ll take it.