My favorite part of this new experience for me, if not for being able to listen to the wondrous creative people you’re about to read, was when a fellow journalist called me an asshole.
I suppose I deserved it, using my NYC elevator fleeing skills out here in more laid-back L.A., but still, I thought it was a great primer for whatever the Gods have in store for me, junketeering style. As such, I was part of a cadre of journalists who descended upon Mann, Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Naomie Harris, and Gong Li last week here in Los Angeles. I have to admit, it was an amusing experience, with the types of questions being asked and the whole raucous atmosphere swirling around us.
My tangent aside, Miami Vice really remains in name only. Colin Farrell and Jaime Foxx happen to be called Crockett and Tubbs, but that’s it. Michael Mann, who served as one of the driving forces behind the original wildly fluorescent Television series, jettisons everything else in favor of his unique directorial hallmarks. It pays off.
Not only is Miami Vice a great film, it’s one of the best examples we as moviegoers have to watch a skilled force like Mann using his talents to push his own signature styles from film to film. I feel that Vice is a great extension from Heat to Ali to this – each one informing the other. Just make sure you venture to the theatre to see it – it’s aesthetically progressive and is peppered with great scenes throughout.
Miami Vice opens on July 28th.
Q: The music was such an integral part of the television show, and it seems to be a case here with this movie too. How important was it to maintain that level of authenticity in terms of all the music in this film?
Mann: Music’s always key to me whether it’s Miami Vice or not Miami Vice. It’s dictated by the story of Crockett and Tubbs and Isabella and Trudy and in doing so, the movie tries to get into the lives and that gives the audience inner license as intensely as possible. I wanted music that kind of had that of pow opening, the power to do that. So that’s I guess what informed most of those choices.
Q: Do you worry Michael, a question that you can’t go home again, that you invested in the series 20 years ago, to go back and do this as a movie and for the two actors to take on these iconic roles, what was the appeal?
Mann: First of all, it’s all Jamie’s fault. He talked me into this starting in 2002 and Ali’s birthday party and the proposition that was exciting for myself and all of us what the idea of really getting into undercover work; what it does to you, what you do to it, and that whole idea of living a fabricated identity as an extension of yourself. Doing it in 2006 and doing for real and doing it right now, if you think about it, it 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, you know? And you’re going to do it for real as a big picture and it’s going to be R-rated because you can do dangerous work in typical places where bad things happen. You have relations with women, their sexuality, its language. And that became an exciting proposition. It started with a real function of the actors and myself as well. What is undercover work for real? What is that stuff? And all these folks went and did a lot of that work themselves.
Foxx: I did it because it’s hot. The hotness of this idea is, when I talked to Michael Mann and just learning about who Michael Mann was, I made a couple of rookie mistakes. I said “why don’t you do Miami Vice? You did it as a television show, I can just see –" [at this point he makes theme song noises] “It’s the Rock, and we do Jay-Z, and we do this and we do that” and he’s like get out of here. But after enough, you know, of going up to him and saying, “you know, I really think this is a really 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 film, summer movie, but it’s still held together by the Michael Mann way of thinking how a film is going to be. So that’s why.
Q: And Colin?
Farrell: Here, here. Yeah, you know, the two boys have said it was Jamie’s idea and then I talked to Michael for a couple of years about finding something to do together and then this came along and it was a perfect opportunity. I knew what Micheal from the onset wanted to get and we all know that he can get an action sequence whether it’s Last of the Mohicans or whether it’s that scene in Heat and you know that he understands the feel of an action sequence, a highly volatile one. But, unless it’s backed up with some human drama, unless you have some kind of an emotional investment with the characters, he understands the validity of doing big scale things isn’t there unless you do character. You’re watching. The bottom line is I didn’t really think much about good old Don Johnson, you know? If I was to think about the early Crockett I would have been in fucking trouble, because I would have been haggling with him over the suits that I wanted to wear. You know? No socks on my slip-ons, and all that. But, yeah, Jamie said he met Don in a restaurant in Los Angeles and, [looking at Foxx] what did he tell you?
Foxx: [in his best Don Johnson-esque accent] “Tell Colin Farrell that when he’s through with my jock strap to give it back.”
Farrell: I’m still waiting for it. It never arrived. I thought no one took Miami Vice, the TV show, you know this film – the TV show was the original genesis. Obviously it is for this piece, but we depart from it, from a very contemporary standpoint and it’s an all new entity really.
Q: For Jamie and Colin, can you talk a little bit about the love scenes? Jamie, Naomie told some stories about you at Pirates 2, about the love scenes.
Foxx: Well, let’s hear from Naomie.
Harris: I was really nervous about doing the love scenes. I haven’t done one at all, actually and being in front of 50 people is always intimidating but Michael is really great because there is as few people as possible in the room. Jamie was fantastic as well, because he tried to make me feel comfortable, very comfortable. He would keep me laughing for 24 hours. He presented me with a rather unusual present while in the shower about to do a nude scene together and –
Farrell: Nine inches.
Harris: Wrapped. Wrapped in a sock with a bow.
Foxx: But you know what? That’s the most supporting thing you can do in this love scene is that nobody makes love … after you’ve been with someone for three or four years. It’s never like music and flowers and, no, it’s not like that. It’s a little bit of fun, you kind of know each other, of having sort of that comic relief, of having sort of “we’ve done this, we’ve done it before,” so that makes it easy as opposed to the slow-motion and all that.
Q: Michael, was that your idea?
Mann: It comes out of the nature of the relationship. Tubbs is the more volatile of the two partners, but his wife is centered in this relationship. As Jamie’s saying, it’s light and “it’s light, it’s light, it’s Tuesday Night.” It’s not the profound experience that Crockett has when he’s after the right woman and the wrong woman and they get together. So there’s two very different ends of events.
Q: And Colin, with Gong Li?
Farrell: Yeah, I mean, Isabella and Crocket are two people that find each other as Mike was saying, in the wrong place at the wrong time. They’re the right people. That’s the important thing, what transpires between the two of them. That they, to quote good old Jerry McGuire, that they do kinda complete each other. They’re two people that live in volatile environments with one guy on one side of the law, this woman on the other. They come together and in a way it’s a very dangerous idea, a very bad idea for this thing to happen. And at the bar when they say “this is never going to last” and “it’s never gonna work,” but they find in each other that act of making love. It’s almost overwhelming. It’s almost too much to take. Crocket’s you know, had one night stands over the years, prolifically, and mostly never been tested and whether that’s one of the primary reasons why he finds himself involved with this woman, someone like her. It makes perfect sense. So our scene, doing it together, it was just kind of an emotional investment, an emotional realization in seeing some of yourself, maybe the best of yourself and some of the worst, in the other person. With something quite kind of tragic to it as well.
Q: Colin and Jamie, how will this Miami Vice make people forget the old Miami Vice? And how clumsy was it for you to step into these particular actors and maintain that complete degree of freshness to the roles?
Foxx: Not everybody is thinking the television series, because I don’t think they’re remembering every single episode. That’s why it’s a different thing. This is just a hot, hot concept, a hot movie and I don’t think they’re going to be comparing the two. You know what I’m saying? It’s like, I do things like “what do I want to see when I go to the movie theatre?”. I’m not quite as dense as Michael Mann is and that’s it. I got my popcorn and I’m sitting there and I’m thinking “what would be hot be see right now?” A car, two guys, in Miami, Jay-Z on the soundtrack and I see something in it that’s going down. So not everybody is relating back to what they saw. They know what happened in Miami Vice years ago, but they’re ready to go see what the new thing is. Because a lot of kids and a lot of cats are like 18, 19, 21, 17, whatever, they’re watching this trailer. They’re into the hipness of Colin Farrell or maybe Jaime Foxx and this combination of that looking – you know “this looks hot, I want to see that.” Because I put my hoodie on and sneak into the theatre or take a girl to the theatre and act like I don’t know the trailer’s about to run. “Say what is this? I gotta go see that,” and I pull my hoodie off and let people see, you know, that I’m in the theatre and then I bounce. I do that a lot. And that’s all it takes. It’s really like, it’s commercial, it’s the commercial thing you attach yourself to and you go with that. Like I said, this is where you’re grounded in that situation. It’s going to be compelling.
Mann: We never conceived of it as a derivative. It’s 2006. It’s Miami Vice for real, right now and in its core, we kind of cut an emotional over way of telling this story and it takes place in the alluring kind of cartoon reality of Miami. What you’ve got is this layer of things that are essentially so beautiful and underneath it is stuff that’s very, very dangerous. So in that sense, it’s as independent as the origin. You guys have all seen the movie so I think your reactions are your reactions. I don’t think people are sitting there. The two are co-equal. The series occupied its place in cultural history for better and for worse. That’s it, this is 2006 and we’re back.
Q: But why call it Miami Vice then?
Mann: Why call it Miami Vice? Why not Miami Ice?
Foxx: I don’t understand that question. You saw Starsky & Hutch and it wasn’t anything like the show. I know that’s what I’m saying, they did Starsky & Hutch but they did call it that.
[Colin says a phrase that I cannot, for the life of me, figure out.]
Foxx: It’s like you’re not taking Miami Vice serious. You’re taking the spirit of that and you’re doing that movie.
Mann: It’s the spirit of it, it’s the core of it, it’s the way the characters in Miami Vice leave their stories. It’s who these people are. At the core Crockett is Crockett, Tubbs is Tubbs, but they’re re-imagined for 2006. We live in a different world, a different place, a different Miami.
Q: Why didn’t you use the theme song? That would have put it all together.
[At that moment, there’s a thunderous uproar]
Foxx: I’ll put it to you this way: I understand exactly what you’re saying. I believe this movie has returned, because you do go away with what you think. You can’t keep rehashing. It’s like watching the Dunk contest today. We can’t go in and do the Dr. J dunk anymore because we’re past that. So if you go do a couple from the free throw line it’s like you’ve seen that. But if you went in Dr. J’s jersey and you bounced it off the backboard from the back, then you’ve got the spirit of Dr. J and you’ve changed it. You got it? Cool.
Q: What was the most difficult part about shooting this film? Was there any kind of training for the weapons you used? The weapons scenes were realistically incredible. Did you have any kind of training?
Mann: Everybody went to training. Went through a lot of it and a lot of hard work went into it and they look good because they really are good. They could really do everything that you see in the film. Including all of the physical stuff and everything else. The most difficult thing is to acquire is all the skills that I think these guys have in terms of really being in an undercover situation. When they’re confronted in Jose Yero’s and these guys have responses and accuse them of hooking up with the DEA or the street theatre that they put down on Isabella on the house when they pretend that they’re bringing back the dope which we know is stolen, and the aplomb and skill, the self-confidence that they have, that came from lots of scenarios that Colin and Jamie and Naomie and Gong Li did with real folks who really do do this stuff. It’s an area, a simulation that was very, very realistic and they did it a lot. I’m real proud of their work and the benefit of it.
Q: Talking about the spirit of it being in 2006, obviously drug trafficking is a very, very serious thing. And you treated it that way. But this was so serious and it’s hard to have Jamie Foxx in the movie and Colin Farrell and nobody got off, or looked off or smiled. Even though this is a serious topic, it seems as if the kind of twinkle in your eye, the kind of tongue-in-cheek that you did see in the old series, just kinda wasn’t in this movie. That was on purpose? You wanted it really serious?
Mann: Are you asking Jamie?
Q: I’m asking you.
Mann: It’s a different subject. If I took you through the first two years episodes, which I can consider to be, you know, the real core of Miami Vice, there were a lot of these exact stories that were being told. You know, whether it was Out Where The Buses Don’t Run, Smuggler’s Blues, or Little Miss Dangerous or all these episodes where some were poignant. They were emotional, they weren’t happy endings. So there were these kind of stories. There was some lighter stuff, they were factored in once and a while.
Farrell: It only became Miami Vice as I remember it and a lot of people I know remember it like “ahh, you’re wearin’ the suit and the whole thing, it’s hilarious.” But you know in hind-sight it was a really cutting edge show. It was really dark, really dark subject matter: drugs, prostitution, so on, so forth. Crockett’s back story with his two children and his wife, there were some very reality-based situations that were dealt very honestly for the time. As he said this has just been elevated to today’s modern age. I mean, I saw a twinkle in Jaime’s eye when I was watching it.
Mann: You know, something reminded me of a line in the pilot where Tony Yerkovich wrote the pilot. Tony Yerkovich created Miami Vice, and there was a line in the pilot where a woman says to Crockett, she says “do you sometimes forget who you are?” and he says “darling, some times I remember who I am.” And that is the core of that character, in the futility of Tubbs and the way he would rise to anger. In one episode he gets furious for some reason and shoots at them with a machine gun, because a machine gun would scare them and he wants them to get scared. In the eighties. In that spirit, it’s the same. These characters, in that sense, in their hearts, in their souls in what they reach down into and what they really have to rise to the occasion are identical. The center of these people is the same.
Q: I noticed that there was no smoking in the film. Was it a deliberate choice and how did Colin manage to get through the shoot without smoking?
Farrell: It was tough.
Mann: It was not a deliberate choice. John Hawkes in the opening scenes actually is smoking a cigarette when he’s pulled over in the Bentley.
Farrell: I was going to have a costume made that was just a Nicorette patch. [waits for laughter to subside] My Miami shoot, it was ok.
Q: There was a new report out this week about how more teens were smoking on film and television and how do you feel about it?
Mann: I don’t. I feel when I’m making a movie it has to be – the integrity has to be there, the drama. If somebody was to be a smoker because that’s what his character would do, then he’d smoke.
Q: The two Colombian guys are played by a Puerto Rican guy and by a Spanish guy. How was the casting process of the Latino part of the movie? As far as I know the part for Jose was written for a Latino and then it got changed.
Mann: No. It was a Cuban woman and that was it. I had wanted to work with Gong Li for a long time and there was a very vibrant Chinese Cuban community in Havana, which means we could spend some time with. Luis Tosar I know from a film with Javier Bardem he did that hasn’t been released here and John Ortiz knocked me out in Narc and so I met him and he just had to be Jose Yero.
Q: Michael, my understanding is that when you’re shooting these action sequences and just in general you have a lot of cameras going. In terms of preparation, how much of this is storyboarded and how much you expect to find while you’re there, just actors going in?
Mann: I don’t storyboard. I do something else, which is: I block it. We then train through the blocking. In other words, when everybody’s trained, you’ve been actually training a lot of the moves that we’re definitely going to use and I do a lot of photography through that. That becomes where the camera is going.
Q: Jamie, it’s obvious you play a very good guy, a cool guy in this movie, very much the cool guy. There’s an article out in Slate that came out and kind of portrays you as kind of a bad guy in terms of making this film. Since it’s out there, would you like to comment about it, what was said?
Mann: That’s just nonsense.
Mann: The article is nonsense and a lot of it, the introspective of it is nonsense and –
Foxx: This is one of those films where a lot of stories are just written. They were writing stories about –
Farrell: Second week in, me and Jamie were killin’ each other. I hadn’t even met him yet.
Mann: These guys weren’t getting along, and we were finishing a movie in Peru. That’s one story.
Foxx: But you know that makes the opening, you know “let’s go see what all the hubbub is about.” It’s like, when you have something like this that’s just so great, man, it’s so, everybody descended on Miami just because we were shooting down there, you know what I’m saying? It’s one of those things were you just, you know, because I’ve read crazy, crazy stuff. You know it wasn’t the truth, but I think that it all plays into the hand of nature of get up and get in there and get them tickets and see what’s going on.
Q: But isn’t there a basis and fact for these rumors? They just come out of nowhere?
Farrell: Yeah, we’re in the same film together. That’s all it really takes.
Mann: We knew we were going into major hurricane season in Miami because we’re shooting in the summer. So all you had to do was look up in the weather bureau and you’re gonna find out the history of hurricanes in Miami and it keeps getting worse. We knew it, we provided for it, we provided for it, and my deal, the production’s deal was with the studio what would happen officially on this picture if there was a tropical storm watch. From that point on, if there was a tropical storm warning, a hurricane warning, so don’t lose a comment that it would get a lot worse. In our circumstances whether these hurricanes are alive, what matters is the local folks are and certainly everybody in New Orleans, everybody in Katrina. Absolutely that happened and our Security precautions that we had prepared worked flawlessly. That’s why a guy who was in fact a Police Man was stopped by uniformed Dominican Military, which was our outer perimeter Security.
Foxx: And Michael shot that. That’s on the DVD version. “Get the camera on that, it’s real! … Go back!”
Mann: Everything else, everybody had to. We take safety very seriously on every film I make and that’s why we’ve never had a serious accident or anybody killed. Or anything to ruin the picture. And everybody had to leave in a very prescribed way and that’s why I wasn’t going to shoot in the Dominican Republic anymore, because we didn’t know what the back-story was. Think about these things – does this guy have five brothers? Do they have a lot of animosity to the military that we don’t know about? Are they blaming, you know, Gong Li, or something. Who knows?
Farrell: [to Gong Li] It was you!
Mann: So you change the stuff you do. And that’s the process. The important thing is not the process, the important thing is the planning.
Q: You touched on this a little earlier, but do you think that people have a different recollection of the TV series? Does it seem to be they’re caught up in the superficial aspects of it?
Mann: Maybe they do, but it’s not a natural thing.
Q: All right then, you cut out about what, say ten minutes or so of the movie – like the opening boat race. Should we expect that on the DVD?
Mann: You bet.
Q: What was the purpose behind cutting it?
Mann: You always do it. It’s like, I ask myself way in the beginning, “how should this story tell itself?” and one of the things that attracted me to Collateral, by the way, was the fact that it was of really tight construction. I always felt the story should be tight. You should be dropped into their lives and it’s just taken away from you. I think audiences are really smart and they’re really intelligent and I think that you can place an audience kind of like almost as if they’re right on Jamie and Colin’s shoulders and you don’t have to explain “now we’re going to go up to this club and maybe this pimp, Neptune, is going to show up.” You don’t have to go through all that and yet you can bring the audience into the much more immediate experience of what these guys do and how they do it. You don’t have to be inside the joke, you can be kind of a participant in the joke. So the movie tells its story that way and I wanted it to have an intensity and a drive where – bang – you’re in it. And when that movie ends, it cuts to black and that’s as much of this story as we’re telling right now. So consequently, I have to make a lot of really difficult hard, heartbreaking decisions sometimes about material that is really great that I love and people do fabulous work in and unfortunately they have to serve the greater good of that experience of the picture. So stuff will absolutely be on DVDs is the answer.
Q: Gong and Colin, what was the chemistry like, or how did you find the candor between the two of you with the language barrier? How did you work it out?
Farrell: I sign.
Gong: There are a lot of things you don’t have to use language to communicate. You can use eye contact, body language, so forth and so on. That’s what art is about.