Jamie Foxx, Colin Farell, Naomie Harris, Gong Li, and Michael Mann talk about remaking the classic TV series into the new film
When you set out to remake a cult classic show like Miami Vice, you have to look at what made it so popular - a little action, the hokeyness and the clothes. It wasn't really the storylines - however, those storylines made us return week after week to find out who Crockett and Tubbs were going to nab in each episode.
Michael Mann did remake Miami Vice into a feature film - like only Michael Mann could - long and a little drawn out. And surprisingly, very little action, considering that's what the 'Mann' motto, to add action in some not so actiony places.
The film stars Jamie Foxx as Detective Ricardo Tubbs and Colin Farrell as Detective Sonny Crockett, immortalized forever by Philip Michael Thomas (Tubbs) and Don Johnson (Crockett). Their main objective is to stop a major drug deal before it lands in the states; they go undercover to South America and land a job with one of the biggest international drug smugglers in the world, headed by Gong Li.
We sat down with the cast of the film, and Michael Mann to get the real story behind Miami Vice. Unfortunately in our room, mainly Michael was bombarded with questions about why he made this movie and why he didn't keep it closer to the TV show. After a while, it got a little redundant and even some of my fellow journalists in the room got a little restless and started booing the people asking the questions.
Check out the mad house that was the Miami Vice press conference:
Michael, how important was the music for this film?
Michael Mann: Music is always key to me, whether it's Miami Vice or not Miami Vice; it's dictated by the story, about what Crockett and Tubbs and Isabella (Gong Li) and Trudy (Naomie Harris) are doing. And, since the movie tries to get into the lives of these folks as intensely as possible, I wanted music that, hopefully, had the power to do that, consequently, the Mogwai and some of the Audioslave. So, that's what informed most of those choices.
Michael, did you worry about going back to do this as a movie
Michael Mann: First of all, it's all Jamie's fault because he talked me into this, starting in 2002, at Ali's birthday party.
Jamie Foxx: Yeah, I did.
Michael Mann: But, when the proposition became really exciting for myself, and then for all of us, was the idea of really getting into undercover work, and what it does to you, what you do to it, and the whole idea of living a fabricated identity that's actually just an extension of yourself, and doing it in 2006 - doing it for real and doing it right now. If you think about it, that then defines a whole bunch of stuff. You're not going to have crocodiles or alligators, and you're not going to have sailboats, you're not going to have nostalgia, and, you're going to do it for real, as a big picture that's going to be R-rated because you do dangerous work in difficult places where bad things happen, you have relations with women, there's sexuality and there's language, and that became an exciting proposition. But, it started with the real function, for the actors, and myself as well, as what is undercover work, for real? What is that stuff? And then, all these folks went and did a lot of that work themselves.
Jamie Foxx: I was in it because it's hot, the hotness of this idea. When I talked to Michael Mann, and just learned about who Michael Mann was, I made a couple rookie mistakes, saying, 'Why don't you do Miami Vice; you did it as a television show. And, we do Jay-Z, and we do this and we do that.' And, he was like, 'Get out of here!' But, after enough of me going up to him and saying, 'Look, I really think that this is a great opportunity for you to take a commercial hit, a franchise, and bring the real film capability that Michael Mann has together.' So, now, we're all protected, in the sense of, we're doing a big-time summer movie, but it's still held together by the Michael Mann way of thinking, so, that's why I wanted to do it.
Colin Farrell: Here, here; as the two boys have said, it was Jamie's idea. I had been talking to Michael for a couple of years about finding something to do together, and then this came along and it was just the perfect opportunity. I knew that Michael, from the onset, wanted to get - we all know he can handle an action sequence, whether it's the piece that he did with The Last of the Mohicans, or whether it's that very famous scene in Heat, he can understand the choreography of an action sequence, and a very highly volatile one. But, unless it's backed up with some human drama, and unless you have some kind of emotional investment in the characters - he understands that the validity of doing big-scale things isn't there, unless you really do care about the characters that you're watching. So, with that in mind, I didn't really think much about good old Don Johnson. If I was to think about the early Crockett, I would have been in f*ckin' trouble because I would have been arguing with him over the suits that I wanted to wear, and no socks with my slip-ons, and all that kind of stuff. And, where's my crocodile? Jamie said that he met Don in a restaurant in Los Angeles, and what did he say?
Jamie Foxx: 'You tell Colin Farrell, when he's through with my jock strap, to give it back.'
Colin Farrell: I'm still waiting, but it never arrived - the jock strap. It might have added something interesting to the character. 'Why is he always itching his balls?' 'He's wearing Don Johnson's jock strap.' But, no, Miami Vice, the TV show, was the original genesis for this piece, but we approached it from, as Michael said, a very contemporary standpoint, and it's its own entity, really.
Can you talk a little bit about the love scenes?
Naomie Harris: I was really nervous about doing the love scenes because I haven't done one before, actually, and simulating sex in front of 50 people is always really intimidating. But, Michael was really great because he made sure that there were as few people as possible in the room, and Jamie was fantastic as well because he really tried to make me feel comfortable, and keep me laughing, as well, as much as possible. He presented me with a rather unusual present, while we were in the shower, about to do our nude scene together.
Colin Farrell: Like 9 inches.
Naomie Harris: Wrapped in a sock with a bow.
Jamie Foxx: I thought the most important thing to do with this love scene is, nobody makes love; after you've been with someone for a period of years, its never like music and flowers and candles. No, it's not like that; there's a little bit of fun, you kind of know each other, so that was the reasoning of having that comic relief. We've done it before, so that makes it easier, as opposed to slow motion.
Was that your idea, Michael?
Michael Mann: As he was saying, it comes out of the nature of the relationship. Tubbs is the more volatile of the two partners, but his life is centered in this relationship. And, as Jamie was saying, it's Tuesday night; it's not the profound experience that Crockett has, when he meets the right woman and the wrong woman, and they get together. That's what was appealing to me about the whole structure of it -- these two very different kinds of events.
Colin, what about the sex scenes with you and Gong Li?
Colin Farrell: Yeah, as we were saying, Isabella and Crockett are two people who find each other, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, though they're the right people. That's the unfortunate thing about what transpires between the two of them - to quote good old Jerry Maguire, they do kind of complete each other. They are two people that live in very volatile environments; he's on one side of the law and this woman, Isabella, is on the other side of the law, and they come together in what is a very dangerous idea and a very bad idea. The scene they have in Havana, they say at the bar, 'You know, this is never going to last, it's never going to work,' but they find in each other, in that act of making love, that it's almost overwhelming - it's almost too much to take. Crockett's someone that would have had one night stands, over the years, prolifically, and never be emotionally attached to anyone, and one of the primary reasons would be the work that he involves himself in. But, he finds, with this woman, someone that seems to make complete sense, perfect sense. And so, doing our scene together was just about emotional investment, or emotional realization, in seeing some of yourself - maybe the best of yourself, and none of the worst - in the other person, but there is something quite tragic too it, as well, I suppose.
How will this Miami Vice' make people forget the old one, and how challenging was it for you to also step into the shoes of those particular actors?
Jamie Foxx: Not everybody is thinking about the television series because I don't think that people are actually remembering every single episode; that's why it's a different thing. This is just a hot concept, hot movie, and I don't think they're going to be comparing the two. I always view things like this, and you tell me if this plays true to you. I view things like, 'What do I want to see when I'm in the movie theater?' I'm not quite as dense as Michael Mann is, in that sense. I've got my popcorn, I'm sitting there, and I'm thinking, 'What would be hot to see right now? A car, two guys in Miami, Jay-Z on the soundtrack, and something is going down.' Not everybody is relating back to what they saw. They know what happened with Miami Vice years ago, but they're ready to go see what the new thing is. A lot of kids who are like 17, 18, 19, 21, that are watching this trailer, are into the hipness of Colin Farrell, of maybe Jamie Foxx, and they're going, 'That looks hot; I want to see that.' I put my hoodie on and sneak into the theater, or take a girl to the theater and act like I don't know the trailer's about to run, and I go, 'Oh, they're running this? Oh, this is crazy!' And then, I say, 'Oh, man, I've got to go see that,' and then I pull the hoodie off and let people see that I'm in the theater, and then I bounce. I do that a lot. And, that's how it is. For the sake of it, it's commercial. It's really that commercial thing that you attach yourself to and you go with that, but like I said, this is where you're grounded, in that situation, so I don't think that there's going to be that comparison.
Michael Mann: We never conceived of it as a derivative; it's 2006, it's Miami Vice for real, right now, and, at it's core. It has an emotional, overt way of telling its story, and it takes place in the alluring, perfumed reality of Miami, in which you've got this layer of things that are very sensuous and beautiful, and underneath it, there's stuff that's very, very dangerous. In that sense, it has an independent origin. I don't think people will be sitting there and comparing the two; the two are co-equal. The series occupies its place in cultural history, for better and for worse, and this is 2006; it's a new day.
Why call it 'Miami Vice' then?
Jamie Foxx: Why call it Miami Vice? I don't understand that question. You saw "Starsky and Hutch", but it wasn't anything like [the original]. Do you understand what I'm saying? You're not taking Miami Vice, the series; you're taking the spirit of that and you're doing the movie.
Michael Mann: That's exactly right; it's the spirit of it, it's the core of it, it's who these people are. So, at the core of Crockett is Crockett, at the core of Tubbs is Tubbs, but they're re-imagined in 2006, in a different world, in a different place, in a different Miami.
Why didn't you use the theme song to put it all together?
Jamie Foxx: I'll put it to you this way - I understand exactly what you're saying. I believe this movie is high risk, high return because you do go away from what you think it is. But, you can't keep re-hashing it. It's like watching the dunk contest today; you can't go in and do the Dr. J dunk anymore because you're kind of past that, so if you come from the free-throw line, you've seen it. But, if you're wearing Dr. J's jersey, and you bounce it off the backboard from the back, and then you dunk it, you've got the spirit of Dr. J and you changed it. Did that do it for you?
Was there any kind of training for the weapons you used?
Michael Mann: Everybody went through training, and went through a lot of it. A lot of hard work went into it, and they look good because they are good, and they are good because they really can do everything that we see in the film, including all of the physical stuff. The most difficult thing to acquire is all the skills that I think these folks have, in terms of really being in an undercover situation. When they're confronted at Jose Yero's, and these guys have responses, and they accuse Yero of being the man hooked up with the DEA, or the street theater that they put down on Isabella in the house, when they pretend that they're bringing back the dope which we know they stole, and the skill and the self-confidence they have came from lots of scenarios that Colin and Jamie and Naomie and Gong Li did, with real folks who really do this stuff. They did simulations that were very, very realistic, and they did it a lot; I'm real proud of their work, and the benefit of it is what you see on screen.
The tongue-in-cheek from the old series wasn't in this; was that on purpose?
Michael Mann: It's a different subject; if I took you through the first two years' episodes, which I consider to be the real core of Miami Vice, these are exactly the kind of stories that were being told. They were poignant, they were emotional, they weren't happy endings. So, there were these kind of stories, and then there was some lighter stuff that would enter in, once in awhile.
Colin Farrell: As I remember it, and a lot of people I know remember it, Miami Vice only became camp in hindsight. At the time, it was a really cutting edge show; the subject matter was really dark - drugs, prostitution, so on and so forth - with Crockett's back story, with his two children and his wife. Some very reality-based situations were dealt with very honestly, for the time, and as you said, this has just been elevated to today's modern age; I saw a twinkle in Jamie's eye when I was watching it.
Michael, how has your personal view on how you see these characters changed in the 20 years since you did the series?
Michael Mann: Somebody reminded me of a line in the pilot. Tony Yerkovich wrote the pilot, and created Miami Vice, and there was a line in the pilot where a woman says to Crockett, 'Do you sometimes forget who you are? And, he says, 'Darlin', sometimes I remember who I am.' And, that is the core of that character, and the volatility of Tubbs and the way he would rise to anger. One episode, he gets furious because somebody shoots at him with a machine gun cause machine guns scare him, and when he gets scared, he gets really angry. That spirit is the same in these characters; these characters, in that sense, in their hearts and their souls and what they reach down into when they really have to rise to the occasion, are identical. So, the center of these people is the same.
What is your take on the article that Kim Masters wrote about the rivalry with you and Colin?
Michael Mann: That's just nonsense, and a lot of the perspective of the article is nonsense.
Jamie Foxx: See; this is one of those films where a lot of stories were just written. They were just writing stories about stuff.
Colin Farrell: The second week into the shoot, me and Jamie were killing each other, and I hadn't even met him yet.
Michael Mann: These guys weren't getting along, and we were finishing the movie in Peru. That was one story.
Jamie Foxx: But, that makes the opening - 'Let's go see what all the hubbub's about.' You let all that go; everybody descended on Miami, people were coming to Miami just cause we were shooting down there. I've read crazy, crazy stuff that wasn't true, but I think it all plays into the hands of making people get up in there and get them tickets, and see what's going on.
Gong Li, how did you find the center between you and Colin with the obvious language barrier that you have?
Colin Farell: I sign.
Gong Li: There are a lot of things that you don't have to use language to communicate. You can use eye contact, body language, and so on; that's what art is about.
You can see Jamie, Colin, Naomie, and Gong in Miami Vice when it slides into theaters July 28th; it's rated R.