That snappy synth theme tune, designer stubble, pastel suits, fast cars and faster boats… In 1984, people all over the western world pelted home, had dinner, put the kids to bed and perched their cheeks in front of Miami Vice.
While shows like M*A*S*H* were looking back, Vice looked forward in every sense: fashion, music, dialogue, storyline. Don Johnson’s facial hair caused the kind of stir that would only be matched a decade or so later by Jennifer Aniston’s hair. Every week, fans in their tens of millions tuned in to watch undercover detectives James ‘Sonny’ Crockett and Ricardo ‘Rico’ Tubbs go deep and take down the bad guys.
“When I first read Tony Yerkovich’s screenplay for the original Miami Vice pilot, my first instinct was to make this as a feature film, that’s the first thing I wanted to do,” Michael Mann, former executive producer of the hit TV show, tells Total Film from the luxury of a hotel suite - 22 years after the show first aired and two weeks before his Miami Vice movie opens in UK cinemas.
For those salivating at the thought of an updated version of the TV show, take heed - you won’t get it. Jan Hammer’s scything TV soundtrack is replaced by the bob-and-weave bounce of hip-hop, Don Johnson’s laid-back southern charms are nudged aside for Colin Farrell’s twitchy and urgently sexy Sonny Crockett. But, frankly, who wants to see a serious slice of drama based on a show that is almost 20 years out of date?
“Well exactly,” a relaxed Mann chuckles. “Who’d want to make a show based in 1984? The exciting thing for me was to locate this in 2006, in the present, with fast-breaking events that change these characters lives. I just moved it right into now, looking at exactly what’s happening in the future, which is what we did in ’84 – we weren’t looking back into the ‘70s, we were looking forward.”
Farrell’s Crockett is joined by Jamie Foxx’s Ricardo Tubbs as they battle to salvage an undercover drug operation that is falling like a house of cards.
One thing that remains the same - and is a factor that can be traced back through Mann’s movies - is the heightened sense of the characters’ surroundings. Just kick back with either Collateral or Heat in your disc-spinner and notice how the locations and cityscapes hook into your consciousness, bright but somewhat superficial, beautiful but somehow stained.
“I find that if you can bring your actors into those environments and really have them be your background, that audiences sense the kind of truth telling style of the environment that the action is happening in. It’s things you can’t begin to artificially create here. As good as our crews are, there’s nothing as exciting as the real texture of it, of the real people on the screen.”
Creating reality was a painful experience for Colin Farrell, especially when it came to field research. “Oh, you heard about that?” The Irish-born star asks as Foxx breaks into a fit of laughter.
“We spent a lot of time with some undercover cops, running scenarios and having spent over a week with this set of guys, I felt I’d formed some kind of trust with them,” Farrell says, cracking a trademark cheeky grin. “There was a particular day that came along where they were going to make a buy, purchasing 40 kilos of cocaine from these Columbians to establish a relationship with them – these were working undercover cops. They said because the week had gone so swimmingly well, I could come along and have a look, so I went along. To cut a long story short, the shit hit the fan, guns were pulled, I had an accident in my pants and I felt the real sensation and emotional effect of what it would be like to be in that environment when something goes awry.” See, it’s not all glamour and women.
The lampooning coppers didn’t fill Farrell in on their little game until the next day.
“Yeah, I thought it was real and I found out the next day it was a set-up. I felt like a plonker as you can imagine. It was probably more useful than I gave it credit for at the time.”
Foxx, having got over his fit of the giggles, nods in agreement. It seems the cops were a little less harsh with the Ray star. “I did this undercover thing where we were supposed to be buying drugs from this guy, and somebody comes up on the side of the car and points a gun to the back of my head and says that’s how easy it could go wrong. So it’s a little bone chilling, you know, you think wow, you’re in this world and gunplay is so prevalent and so easy to happen. So it really gives you a sense, it was a plastic gun, but it really gives you a sense that if that were to happen, that your head would be blown off. So it’s a dangerous game when you play an undercover agent.”
Despite Mann’s desire to almost distance Vice The Movie from the Vice The TV Show, he concedes there will always be comparisons – especially when one of your leading men is such a collosal fan of the show.
“Oh yeah, it was just something people had never seen before,” Foxx says, leaning in. “You never seen in-your-face action like that, you never seen boat chases, you never seen car crashes every week. I mean this was something else; it was like ‘what is coming into our living room?’ It was cutting edge: the women were fly, the actors and the guest stars, they had guest stars, the music sound track. So, it was hot, you know, it was where everybody wanted to be. And so now, to see someone, re-birth that, I think that’s gonna be hot.”
It wasn’t just the style of the show that grabbed Foxx - it was the star. Phillip Michael Thomas played Tubbs in the ‘80s as a black cop with his own mind and sense of style, plus he had the respect of his peers – something a young Foxx was in awe of. So much so, he decided to borrow a few of Thomas’ trademark moves.
“That swagger, man! I don’t know if I even got close to it but he has such a swagger. I wanted Tubbs to have style in the movie. I wanted him to look fly.”
“He brings a strength to Tubbs. He’s a very honest person and he’s very dignified,” Farrell says as he taps a cigarette from its pack and lodges it neatly behind his left ear. “He’s exciting to watch and the combination of Jamie and Michael were just too good to turn down.”
So what is it about the man Michael that makes actors so desperate to attach themselves to one of his projects?
“Michael’s all about making the experience and the environment as real as he possibly can, you know?” Farrell continues. “He’s all about making it click. His attitude is ‘why fake it when you can do it for real.’ He pushes the envelope.”
Slipping into the criminal underworld, Crockett and Tubbs have to look the part, so out went Farrell’s spiky hair and clean-shaven look. In the flick, Sonny sports a rather dodgy mullet and some suspect facial hair – we tread carefully and suggest this was perhaps the direct influence of Don Johnson?
“Oh, good question. Did Don have a mullet?” Farrell asks Total Film, before turning to his director and co-star. “Don’t you remember?” Mann asks him jokingly as Foxx puts his head in his hands, his shoulders pumping with laughter. “How could I?” Farrell says in mock-disbelief. “I was eight fucking years old at the time.”
Miami Vice is released nationwide on Friday 4 August.