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Interview: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Naomie Harris, Gong Li, Michael Mann for "Miami Vice"

By Paul Fischer Monday July 17th 2006 07:20PM
Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Naomie Harris, Gong Li, Michael Mann for "Miami Vice"

Hollywood director Michael Mann knows how to venture into dark territory, from the likes of Heat and Collateral, and now, Mann takes the cultural 80s TV classic Miami Vice, and transforms it into a dark foray into contemporary cinema.

he new Miami Vice movie bears little similarity with its TV counterpart, and Mann is happy to keep it that way, but that didn't stop reporters from drawing inevitable comparisons which Mann and some of his actors insisted on defending. Paul Fischer was present during a ridiculously short press conference, with Mann and Foxx doing most of the talking.

Question: Michael, the music was such an integral part of the television show. How important was it for you to maintain that level of authenticity, in terms of the music, with this film?

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 and Trudy 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.

Question: Michael, you had huge success with this series 20 years ago. Did you worry about going back to do it as a movie? And, for Colin and Jamie, to take on these iconic roles, what was the appeal?

Mann: First of all, it's all Jamie's fault because he talked me into this, starting in 2002, at Ali's birthday party.

Foxx: Yeah, I did.

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.

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.

Farrell: Here, here. No. 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 fuckin' 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?

Foxx: "You tell Colin Farrell, when he's through with my jock strap, to give it back." [Laughs]

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.

Question: 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: Let's hear from Naomie. [Laughs]

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.

Farrell: Like 9 inches. [Laughs]

Harris: Wrapped in a sock with a bow.

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.

Question: Was that your idea, 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.

Question: Colin, what about the sex scenes with you and Gong Li?

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.

Question: Colin and Jamie, how will this 'Miami Vice' make people forget the old 'Miami Vice'? And, how challenging was it for you to also step into the shoes of those particular actors? Was it hard for you to maintain a completely different degree of freshness to the roles?

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 hippness 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, [laughs] and I go, "Oh, they're running this? Oh, this is crazy!" And then, I head people 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.

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. So, 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.

Question: Why call it 'Miami Vice' then? 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.

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.

Question: Why didn't you use the theme song to put it all together?

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? [Laughs]

Question: For all of you, what was the most difficult part about shooting this film, and was there any kind of training for the weapons you used?

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.

Question: Just talking about being in 2006, obviously drug trafficking is a very serious thing, and you treated it that way. Even though this is a serious topic, the tongue-in-cheek from the old series wasn't in this. Was that on purpose?

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, and they weren't happy endings. So, there were these kinds of stories. And then, there was some lighter stuff that would enter in, once in awhile.

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 backstory, 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.

Question: Michael, how has your personal view on how you see these characters changed in the 20 years since you did the series?

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.

Question: Michael, there was no smoking in this film. Was that a deliberate choice? And, Colin, how did you manage to get through the takes without smoking?

Farrell: Oh, it was tough.

Mann: It was not a deliberate choice. John Hawkes, in one of the opening scenes, actually is smoking a cigarette when he's pulled over in that Bentley.

Farrell: We were originally going to go with a costume that was made of Nicorette patches for me, but it kept melting in the Miami sun. [Laughs] It was okay.

Question: What are your thoughts about all the smoking in movies? There was a report that came out this week about how there are more teens smoking because of what they see in movies and on television. Do you have any thoughts about smoking, in general?

Mann: I don't, really. But, when I'm making a movie, the integrity has to be about making that drama, and if somebody was to be a smoker because that's what his character would do, he would smoke.

Question: For Michael, the two Columbian guys are played by a Puerto Rican guy and a Spanish guy. What was the casting process for the Latino characters, and wasn't Gong Li's role originally done for a Latina?

Mann: No. It was a Cuban woman, and that was it. I've wanted to work with Gong Li for a long time, and there is a very vibrant Chinese Cuban community in Havana, which we visited and spent substantial time with. And, I know Luis Tosar from a film he did with Javier Bardem that hasn't been released here. And, John Ortiz knocked me out in 'Narc,' so he just had to be Jose Yero.

Question: Michael, I understand that, when you shoot these action sequences, you have a lot of cameras going. How much of this was story boarded, and how much do you do once you're there?

Mann: I don't story board. I do something else, which is I block it. We then train to the blocking. In other words, when everybody's training, they're actually training a lot of the moves that we are definitely going to use, and then, I do a lot of photography of that, and that becomes where the cameras go.

Question: Jamie, you obviously play a very good, cool guy in this movie, and you seem to be a cool, likeable guy in real life. The article that Kim Masters wrote kind of portrays you as the bad guy, as far as the making of this film was concerned. Would you like to comment about what was said?

Mann: That's just nonsense.

Foxx: See. [Laughs]

Question: The article was nonsense?

Mann: Yeah. The article is nonsense, and a lot of the perspective of the article is nonsense.

Foxx: This is one of those films where a lot of stories were just written. They were just writing stories about stuff.

Farrell: The second week into the shoot, me and Jamie were killing each other, and I hadn't even met him yet.

Mann: These guys weren't getting along, and we were finishing the movie in Peru. That was one story.

Foxx: But, that makes the opening [bigger]. "Let's go see what the entire 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.

Question: Isn't there a basis in 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, you know. It doesn't take much.

Mann: We knew we were going into a major hurricane season in Miami 'cause we were shooting in the summer. All you have to do is go on the web and look up the U.S. Weather Bureau, and you find out the history of hurricanes in Miami keeps getting worse, so we knew it, we provided for it in production's deal with the studio -- what would happen, officially, on this picture if there was a tropical storm watch to tropical storm warning to hurricane watch to hurricane warning. So, we all knew this was common and we prepared for it, and we were a lot more fortunate, in our circumstances, to weather these hurricanes than a lot of the local folks were, and certainly everybody in New Orleans that got hit by Katrina. And then, we had this shooting incident, and that went public. Absolutely, that happened. Our security precautions that we had prepared worked flawlessly. That's why a guy who was, in fact, a policeman was stopped by uniformed Dominican military, which was our outer-perimeter security. We take safety very, very seriously on every film I make, and that's why I've never had a serious accident or anybody killed, when I make a picture. Everybody had to leave in a very prescribed way. And then, I was not going to shoot in the Dominican Republic anymore because we didn't know what the backstory was. You have to think about these things. Does this guy have five brothers? Do they have a lot of animosity with the military that you don't know about, and now they're blaming Gong Li, or something? Who knows. So, you change the stuff you're doing. That's the process. The important thing is not the process. The important thing is the product.

Question: Michael, what was the purpose behind cutting the opening boat scene you had shot, and will it be on the DVD?

Mann: You always do it. I asked 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 a really tight construction, and I always felt the ['Miami Vice'] story should be tight. You should be dropped into their lives and just taken away from it. I think audiences are really smart and they're really intelligent, and I think that you can place the audience almost like they're right on Jamie and Colin's shoulder, and you don't have to explain, "Well, now we're going to go into this club and maybe this pimp, Neptune, is going to show up." You don't have to go through all that. You can bring the audience, hopefully, into a much more immediate experience of what these guys do and how they do it. You don't have to be inside a joke, you can be a participant in a joke. And 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 then, 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, heart-breaking decisions, sometimes, about material that is really great and that I really love, and people do fabulous work in. Unfortunately, I have to serve the greater good of the experience of the picture. So, the stuff will absolutely be on the DVD.

Question: For Colin and Gong Li, what was the chemistry like and how did you find the center between the two of you, with the obvious language barrier that you have?

Farrell: I sign. [Laughs]

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.

Question: And Naomi, did you have a body double for your shower scene?

Harris: Oh yeah, definitely.

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