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27 Actors Who Got Their Starts on Miami Vice

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On September 28, 1984, Miami Vice made its premiere on NBC, and a new kind of cop show was born—one in which grown men weren’t afraid to pair pastel Ts with white Armani suits, music was an integral part of the storytelling, and pet alligators and sweet Ferraris were all within reach of an undercover narcotics officer. The show, which for the most part still holds up today (well, the first three seasons at least), is also famous for giving a break to dozens of then-unknown young actors who’ve since moved from the underbelly of South Beach to the top of the Hollywood A-list. Here are 27 of them. 

1. JIMMY SMITS: Season 1, Episode 1

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Before there was “Crockett and Tubbs,” there was “Crockett and Rivera.” As in Eddie Rivera, Crockett’s original—and beloved—partner, played by a then 29-year-old Jimmy Smits in his acting debut. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t make it past the pilot episode.

2. BEN STILLER: Season 4, Episode 2

Ben Stiller has made a career out of talking fast and being funny. Which is exactly what he was directed to do as a small-time con named Fast Eddie Felcher in his third-ever small-screen performance.

3. BRUCE WILLIS: Season 1, Episode 7

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Bruce Willis also owes the beginning of his small-screen career to Miami Vice, on which he played arms dealer extraordinaire Tony Amato in the show’s first season. Four months later, he was trading barbs with Cybill Shepherd as P.I. David Addison in Moonlighting, a role that earned Willis his first (and only) Golden Globe Award.

4. STEVE BUSCEMI: Season 3, Episode 7

Before he was Atlantic City’s most respected bootlegger on Boardwalk Empire, Steve Buscemi was the middleman for a Bolivian drug lord who sort of got his ass kicked by Willie Nelson.

5. JULIA ROBERTS: Season 4, Episode 22

The Miami Vice Community

Even the greatest of television series lose their way on occasion, and Miami Vice was no exception. Particularly when they went the “amnesia” route, which had Sonny Crockett believing he was in fact his undercover alter ego, Sonny Burnett, at the end of season four. Which is when Julia Roberts made an appearance as Polly Wheeler, an art gallery manager/drug dealer’s assistant with a penchant for bad boys. And Sonny is just her type.

6. CHRIS COOPER: Season 4, Episode 22

Miami Vice’s casting directors scored big with their fourth season finale, which featured not one but two Oscar winners: Julia Roberts (see above) and Chris Cooper, who landed a plum role as a crooked cop from Fort Lauderdale intent on blowing Sonny’s cover in the drug underworld. 

7. DENNIS FARINA: Season 1, Episode 6

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In 1981, the late, great Dennis Farina was an 18-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department who was hired as a consultant on Michael Mann’s Thief due to his burglary expertise. Mann saw something he liked in the guy, cast him in a small role, and Dennis Farina: The Actor was born. Throughout the character actor’s career, Mann would remain one of his biggest champions, so his appearance in Miami Vice’s debut season is not surprising (Mann was the show’s executive producer, after all). Nor is the fact that his character, gangster Albert Lombard, became somewhat of a recurring character. 

8. KYRA SEDGWICK: Season 2, Episode 10

At the height of his musical popularity in 1985, following the release of his Diamond-certified No Jacket Required album, Phil Collins stepped in front of the camera to play game show host/con man Phil “The Shill” Mayhew, who moved to Miami from London and quickly set about depleting the bank accounts of the city’s richest residents with a shady drug deal. His accomplice in this endeavor? None other than “The Closer” herself, Kyra Sedgwick, in one of her earliest on-screen appearances (she was just 20 at the time).

9. BENICIO DEL TORO: Season 3, Episode 23

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Also 20 years old at the time of his appearance, future Oscar-winner Benicio del Toro had a bit part on Miami Vice in 1987 as Pito, an ex-con-turned-thespian with a local theater group, Mi Vida Loca.

10. VIGGO MORTENSEN: Season 3, Episode 19

Two years after making his big-screen debut in Peter Weir’s Witness, Viggo Mortensen partnered up with Lou Diamond Phillips to play two junior detectives (Eddie Trumbull and Bobby Diaz, respectively) working a case with Crockett and Tubbs. But when a deal goes bad and Viggo is killed, his partner becomes convinced that Tubbs is dirty. Annette Bening also appears in the episode. The end.

11. LIAM NEESON: Season 3, Episode 1

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Being a South Florida-set show about drugs in the 1980s, the bulk of Miami Vice’s episodes surround South American drug and arms dealers. Which made its third season premiere, “When Irish Eyes Are Crying,” a bit of an anomaly (in a good way). In it, Detective Gina Calabrese (Saundra Santiago) falls for an Irish philanthropist—played by Liam Neeson—who turns out to be a former IRA member and current terrorist. Oops!

12. MICHAEL RICHARDS: Season 2, Episode 17

If you thought Michael Richards’ inflections as Cosmo Kramer were specific to his Seinfeld character, close your eyes and listen to him playing a sleazy bookie in this episode from Miami Vice’s second season. You’ll swear Jerry, George, Elaine are in the room, too.

13. STANLEY TUCCI: Season 3, Episode 9

Miami Vice Wiki

In season three’s “Baby Blues” episode, Stanley Tucci played Steve Demarco, the adoptive father of a smuggled baby, and all went well. So well that the show’s producers brought him back for two more episodes in season four—but this time playing an entirely different character: crime lord Frank Mosca.

14. HELENA BONHAM CARTER: Season 3, Episode 16

Aww, Sonny Crockett is in love. And with a lovely young ER doctor named Theresa Lyons, played by Helena Bonham Carter. There’s just one problem: she also happens to be a heroin addict. Which causes a bit of friction in the relationship when Sonny sets his sights on taking down the dealer who supplies her.

15. RICHARD JENKINS: Season 1, Episode 15

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“Smuggler’s Blues” is probably one of the best known episodes of Miami Vice, first because it gave Glenn Frey (a founding member of The Eagles) the chance to show off his acting chops, and also because it featured his hit song of the same name. (Apologies if you get that stuck in your head for the rest of the day.) But separate yourself from all the Frey-ness of the episode and you’ll notice future Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins as D.E.A. Agent Ed Waters. (Jenkins appears again in the show’s fifth season, this time as a sleazy bookie named Goodman.)

16. LAURENCE FISHBURNE: Season 3, Episode 4

Back when he was still going by Larry, the man who would be Morpheus played a prison guard sizing up Tubbs, who was sent to the clink undercover in order to bust up an in-house drug operation. Turns out that Larry is one of the guys behind it.

17. JOHN TURTURRO: Season 1, Episode 16

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While the men are out busting up drug deals, the ladies of Miami Vice can usually be found in hooker attire, working undercover as prostitutes. So it’s only befitting that the show would feature a few pimps in its time, John Turturro among them (in his television series debut).

18. ED O’NEILL: Season 1, Episode 2

If Miami Vice taught us one thing about undercover work, it’s that your alias should be a different last name only (Sonny’s alter ego, for example, is Sonny Burnett). In the series’ second-ever episode, Ed O’Neill starred as undercover FBI agent Artie Lawson/Artie Rollins, a man who knows his way around a semi-automatic weapon. What would Al Bundy say?

19. BILL PAXTON: Season 3, Episode 10

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If there’s one thing an undercover cop should never do, it’s fall in love with a prostitute. Which is exactly what Bill Paxton, as Vic Romano, does. Much to the dismay of a pimp named Silk, played by Wesley Snipes in yet another Miami Vice Future Star Twofer.

20. OLIVER PLATT: Season 4, Episode 14

Stealing scenes is nothing new for Oliver Platt. He’s been doing it his entire career, including in his second-ever acting gig, playing arms dealer Speed Stiles.

21. MICHAEL MADSEN: Season 1, Episode 10

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Season one offered up yet another would-be-star twofer, when Michael Madsen played tougher-than-his-name-makes-him-sound drug dealer Sally Alvarado, with Terry O’Quinn (a.k.a. John Locke from Lost) as his lawyer.

22. TELLER: Season 4, Episode 8

Penn Jillette’s partner in magic-making’s biggest claim to fame may be his tendency to remain silent, but he had plenty to say as talky defense lawyer Ralph Fisher. Fun fact: Penn, too, appeared on the series, playing a middleman for a big-time New York City drug lord in the second season.

23. JOHN LEGUIZAMO: Season 2, Episode 21

Miami Vice Wiki

The tendency of Miami Vice’s producers to recast actors they liked—as completely different characters—is fairly legendary. No actor experienced this more than John Leguizamo, who had a recurring role as the vengeful son of the Vice squad’s main target, Calderone, between 1986 and 1987. Two years later, he was back on the show, this time as Angelo Alvarez, a drug dealer in his own right.

24. VING RHAMES: Season 1, Episode 17

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Ving Rhames, too, experienced the double-casting treatment. In season one he played a Haitian immigrant named Georges. In the fourth season he was Walker Monroe, a powerful arms dealer.

25. JOHN MICHAEL HIGGINS: Season 4, Episode 17

Miami Vice Wiki

Now a regular in Christopher Guest’s ensemble of comic actors, John Michael Higgins was a total unknown when he made his acting debut as Murray Phillips, a tabloid television reporter modeled on Maury Povich.

26. R. LEE ERMEY: Season 4, Episode 9

The Miami Vice Community

When R. Lee Ermey tells you to jump… you run. The same year he became a household name with Full Metal Jacket, the former Marine Corps Drill Instructor made his television debut as a tough-talking—and very corrupt—homicide sergeant.

27. CHRIS ROCK: Season 4, Episode 7

Miami Vice Wiki

Funnyman Chris Rock had the misfortune to make his first television appearance in what is inarguably the single worst episode of Miami Vice ever produced. “Missing Hours,” which saw the series take a sci-fi turn for the worse, even featured a guest appearance by James Brown… as an alien. Rock plays an eager young records clerk who the squad tasks with researching UFOs and aliens.

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Art
Get Crazy With the Official Bob Ross Coloring Book
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If you watched Bob Ross's classic series The Joy of Painting for hours on end but didn’t come away a terribly capable artist, you can still enjoy replicating the amazing public television personality’s work. You can now pretend you’re painting along with the late, great PBS star using a brand-new adult coloring book based on his art.

The Bob Ross Coloring Book (Universe) is the first authorized coloring book based on Ross’s artistic archive. Ross, who would have turned 75 later this year, was all about giving his fans the confidence to pursue art even without extensive training. “There’s an artist hidden at the bottom of every single one of us,” the gentle genius said. So what better way to honor his memory than to relax with his coloring book?

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the Ross landscapes you can recreate, all while flipping through some of his best quotes and timeless tidbits of wisdom.

An black-and-white outline of a Bob ross painting of a mountain valley

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a house nestled among trees.

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a farm scene.

And remember, even if you color outside the lines, it’s still a work of art. As Ross said, “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.”

You can find The Bob Ross Coloring Book for about $14 on Amazon. Oh, and if you need even more Ross in your life, there’s now a Bob Ross wall calendar, too.

All images courtesy of Rizzoli.

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entertainment
8 Movies That Almost Starred Keanu Reeves
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He may not have the natural ease of Al Pacino, the classical training of Anthony Hopkins, the timeless cool of Jack Nicholson, or the raw versatility of Gary Oldman, but Keanu Reeves has been around long enough to have worked alongside each of those actors. Yet instead of Oscar nods, the actor whose first name means “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian has a handful of Razzie nominations.

While critical acclaim has mostly eluded Reeves during his 30-plus years in Hollywood, his movies have made nearly $2 billion at the box office. Whether because of his own choosiness or the decisions of studio powers-that-be, that tally could be much, much higher. To celebrate The Chosen One’s 53rd birthday, here are eight movies that almost starred Keanu Reeves.

1. X-MEN (2000)

In Hollywood’s version of the X-Men universe, Hugh Jackman is the definitive Wolverine. But Jackman himself was a last-minute replacement (for Dougray Scott) and other, bigger (in 2000) names were considered for the hirsute superhero—including Reeves. Ultimately, it was the studio that decided to go in a different direction, much to Reeves’ disappointment. “I always wanted to play Wolverine,” the actor told Moviefone in 2014. “But I didn't get that. And they have a great Wolverine now. I always wanted to play The Dark Knight. But I didn't get that one. They've had some great Batmans. So now I'm just enjoying them as an audience.”

2. PLATOON (1986)

For an action star, Reeves isn’t a huge fan of violence, which is why he passed on playing the lead in Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Vietnam classic. “Keanu turned it down because of the violence,” Stone told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. “He didn’t want to do violence.”

3. THE FLY II (1989)

Few people would likely mistake Reeves for the son of Jeff Goldblum, but producers were anxious to see him play the next generation of Goldblum’s insectile role in the sequel to The Fly. But Reeves wasn’t having any of it. Why? Simple: “I didn't like the script,” he told Movieline in 1990.

4. SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL (1997)

Speaking of sequels (and bad scripts): Reeves was ready to reprise his role as Jack Traven in Jan de Bont’s second go at the series … then he read it. “When I was offered Speed 2, Jan came to Chicago and so did Sandra, and they said, ‘You’ve got to do this,’” Reeves recalled to The Telegraph. “And I said, 'I read the script and I can’t. It’s called Speed, and it’s on a cruise ship.” (He's got a point.)

Even when the studio dangled a $12 million paycheck in front of him, Reeves said no. “I told [William Mechanic, then-head of Fox], ‘If I do this film, I will not come back up. You guys will send me to the bottom of the ocean and I will not make it back up again.’ I really felt like I was fighting for my life.”

5. HEAT (1995)

Reeves’ refusal to cave on Speed 2 didn’t sit well in Hollywood circles. And it didn't help that he also passed on playing Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer’s role) in Michael Mann’s Heat in order to spend a month playing Hamlet at Canada’s Manitoba Theatre Centre. From that point on, Reeves told The Telegraph that it’s been a struggle for him to book any studio movies. “That’s a good old Hollywood story! That was a whole, 'Hey, kid, this is what happens in Hollywood: I said no to the number two and I never worked with the studio again!’”

6. BOWFINGER (1999)

By the time Frank Oz’s Bowfinger rolled around, Eddie Murphy was pretty much the go-to guy for any dual role part, but the movie wasn’t always intended to play that way. Steve Martin, who both starred in and wrote the movie, had actually penned the part of Kit Ramsey for Reeves (whom he had worked with a decade earlier in Parenthood).

“When Steve gave me the script for Bowfinger, it wasn't written for Eddie Murphy,” producer Brian Grazer explained. “It was written for a white action star. It was written for Keanu Reeves, literally. I said, 'Why does it have to be an action star?' He said, 'That's the joke.' I said: 'What if it were Eddie Murphy, and Eddie Murphy played two characters? That could be really funny.' He said: 'You know, that'd be great—that'd be brilliant. Let's do that.' He processed it in about a minute, and he made a creative sea change.”

7. WATCHMEN (2009)

A year before Zack Snyder’s Watchmen hit theaters, Reeves confirmed to MTV what many had speculated: that he had turned down the chance to play Dr. Manhattan in the highly anticipated adaptation. But it wasn’t because of lack of interest on Reeves’ part; it just “didn't work out.” Still, he made it as far as a set visit: “They were shooting in Vancouver while we were filming so I went over to the set to say, 'hi.' They showed me some stuff and it looks amazing! I can’t wait. It’s going to be so killer, man!”

8. TROPIC THUNDER (2008)

By the time Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder made its way into theaters in the summer of 2008, the meta-comedy had been more than a decade in the making. So it’s understandable that the final product veered from Stiller’s original plan for the film, which included Reeves playing the role of Tugg Speedman (Stiller’s eventual part). Initially, Stiller had planned to cast himself as smarmy agent Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey picked up the slack).

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