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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

Star Warped

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

Miami Vice Wiki

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

Internet Movie Firearms Database

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

The Miami Vice Community

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

Internet Movie Firearms Database

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

CHUD.com

“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

CHUD.com

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

Internet Movie Firearms Database

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

MiamiVice.fr

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

The Miami Vice Community

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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© 2017 USPS
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Speedy Delivery: Mister Rogers Will Get His Own Stamp in 2018
© 2017 USPS
© 2017 USPS

USPS 2018 Mister Rogers stamp
© 2017 USPS

After weeks of mailing out this year’s holiday cards, postage might be the last thing you want to think about. But the U.S. Postal Service has just given us a sneak peek at the many iconic people, places, and things that will be commemorated with their own stamps in 2018, and one in particular has us excited to send out a few birthday cards: Mister Rogers.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers’s groundbreaking PBS series that the USPS says “inspired and educated young viewers with warmth, sensitivity, and honesty,” the mail service shared a mockup of what the final stamp may look like. On it, Rogers—decked out in one of his trademark colorful cardigans (all of which were hand-knitted by his mom, by the way)—smiles for the camera alongside King Friday XIII, ruler of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Though no official release date for Fred’s forever stamp has been given, Mister Rogers is just one of many legendary figures whose visages will grace a piece of postage in 2018. Singer/activist Lena Horne will be the 41st figure to appear as part of the USPS’s Black Heritage series, while former Beatle John Lennon will be the face of the newest Music Icons collection. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, will also be honored.

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15 Surprising Facts About Steve Buscemi
Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival
Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

With his meme-worthy eyes, tireless work schedule, and penchant for playing lovable losers, Steve Buscemi is arguably the king of character actors. Moving seamlessly between big-budget films and shoestring independent projects, he’s appeared in well over 100 movies in the past 30 years. But if you think he’s anything like the oddballs and villains he regularly plays—well, you don’t know Buscemi. In celebration of the Brooklyn native's 60th birthday, here are 15 things you might not have known about the Golden Globe-winning actor.

1. HE WAS BORN ON A FRIDAY THE 13TH.

It only seems appropriate that Buscemi, who dies on screen so frequently, would be born on such a foreboding date. Growing up in Brooklyn and Valley Stream, New York, Buscemi also experienced plenty of real-life misfortune. As a kid, he was hit by a bus and by a car (in separate incidents). On the plus side, he used the money from the legal settlement following the bus accident to attend the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York City.

2. HE WAS A NEW YORK CITY FIREFIGHTER.

As a teenager, Buscemi worked a series of odd jobs: ice cream truck driver, mover, gas station attendant. He even sold newspapers in the toll lane of the Triborough Bridge. When Buscemi turned 18, his father, a sanitation worker, encouraged his son to take the civil service exam and become a New York City firefighter. Four years later, in 1980, the future star became a member of Engine Co. 55, located in New York City's Little Italy district. While he answered emergency calls during the day, at night Buscemi played improv clubs and auditioned for acting roles.

After four years working for the FDNY, Buscemi landed one of the lead roles in Bill Sherwood’s Parting Glances (1986), a drama set during the early days of AIDS in New York. Buscemi took a three-month leave of absence during filming, and afterwards decided not to return.

3. HE FORMED A COMEDY DUO WITH SONS OF ANARCHY’S MARK BOONE, JR.

For a brief while, Buscemi tried his hand at stand-up comedy (he bombed). In 1984, he met fellow aspiring actor Mark Boone, Jr., and the two began performing together. Part improv, part scripted comedy, the two would often carry out power struggles that pitted thin-man Buscemi against the larger Boone. The New York Times called their act “theater in the absurdist vein.”

4. HE DID NOT AUDITION FOR THE ROLE OF GEORGE COSTANZA.

Like any hard-working actor, Buscemi has had his share of failed auditions. His tryout for Alan Parker’s Fame lasted less than 30 seconds. In the late ‘80s, Martin Scorsese brought him in four different times to read for The Last Temptation of Christ. (Buscemi ended up reading every apostle’s part before being turned away.) He also auditioned for the part of Seinfeld’s George Costanza—at least according to numerous sources, including Jason Alexander himself. But it turns out this tidbit—fueled, no doubt, by the thought of a very twitchy, bug-eyed Costanza—isn’t true. On a recent episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Buscemi addressed the rumor in his typical good-natured way: “I never did [the audition] and I don’t know how to correct it because I don’t know how the Internet works.”

5. TREES LOUNGE WAS BASICALLY HIS LIFE AT 19.

After gaining momentum with roles in Mystery Train, Reservoir Dogs, Barton Fink, and other films, Buscemi took a turn behind the camera with 1996’s Trees Lounge. The movie, which he also wrote, follows a bumbling layabout named Tommy who spends most of his time at the title bar in the town where he grew up. It’s a classic flick for Buscemi fans and, according to the actor, it was pretty much his life as a teenager living on Long Island. “I was truly directionless, living with my parents,” Buscemi said in an interview. “I was driving an ice-cream truck and working at a gas station… The drinking age was 18 then, so I spent every night hanging out with my friends in bars, drinking.”

6. HE IS FULLY AWARE THAT HIS CHARACTERS OFTEN DIE.

Steve Buscemi in 'Fargo' (1996)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

He’s been shot numerous times, stabbed with an ice pick, riddled with throwing knives, tossed off a balcony, and fed to a wood chipper. Yes, Buscemi’s characters have died a variety of deaths, and the actor isn’t without a sense of humor about the whole matter. He’ll often joke in interviews that he’s living longer and longer as the years go by. Before the 2005 release of The Island, in which the aforementioned balcony-tossing occurs (and into a glass bar no less), Buscemi said he was happy his character lived almost a third of the way through the movie. Buscemi admitted that he will actually read ahead in any script he receives to see when and how he dies.

7. HE HAS A FAVORITE DEATH—AND IT ISN’T FARGO.

For connoisseurs of Buscemi's movie deaths, the demise of Fargo’s Carl Showalter by way of axe then wood chipper is the crème de la crème. But when asked about his own favorite onscreen death, Buscemi references another Coen brothers film: The Big Lebowski. In that movie his character, Donny Kerabatsos, succumbs to a heart attack. It’s a surprise for viewers, and so out-of-the-blue that Buscemi can’t help but be tickled at the randomness of it. “They thought, ‘Well, Buscemi’s in it, so we’ve gotta kill him,'" the actor said in an appearance on The Daily Show.

8. HIS CHARACTER IN CON AIR WAS WRITTEN SPECIFICALLY FOR HIM.

In Con Air, the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action movie filled with muscled-up prisoners, Buscemi played the most dangerous con of them all. His Garland Greene—a serial killer whose exploits “make the Manson family look like the Partridge family,” according to one character—enters the film strapped to a chair, Hannibal Lecter mask affixed to his face. Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg, a friend of Buscemi’s, wrote the part with him in mind, and was tickled when Buscemi accepted the role. To this day, fans will still serenade the actor with “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

9. HIS CHARACTER IN DESPERADO IS NAMED AFTER HIM.

Steve Buscemi in Desperado
Columbia Pictures

Although he inevitably dies (courtesy of Danny Trejo’s throwing knives), Buscemi commands the opening of Desperado, Robert Rodriguez’s stylish revenge movie, regaling bar patrons with the story of the title gunslinger, played by Antonio Banderas. Because his character’s name is never mentioned, Rodriguez decided to have some fun and name him "Buscemi" in the credits.

10. HE WON’T FIX HIS TEETH.

Buscemi’s crooked smile has helped him portray lowlifes and losers throughout his career. Dentists have offered to fix the actor’s teeth, but he always turns them down, knowing how valuable those chompers are to the Buscemi brand. In a guest starring role on The Simpsons, Buscemi poked fun at the matter after a dentist offers to straighten his character’s teeth: “You’re going to kill my livelihood if you do that!”

11. THERE’S SOME CONFUSION OVER HOW TO PRONOUNCE HIS LAST NAME.

Many people pronounce his last name “Boo-shemmy,” but it turns out Buscemi himself pronounces it “Boo-semmy.” In interviews, Buscemi says he’s following his father’s pronunciation, and says he doesn’t begrudge anyone who says it differently. It turns out, though, that his fans have it right—or at least mostly right. On a trip to Sicily to visit family, Buscemi recounted recently on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he noticed everyone saying “Boo-SHAY-me.”

12. HE GOT STABBED IN A BAR FIGHT.

Steve Buscemi in 'Trees Lounge' (1996)
Live Entertainment

On April 12th, 2001, while filming Domestic Disturbance in Wilmington, North Carolina, Buscemi, co-star Vince Vaughn, and screenwriter Scott Rosenberg went out for late night drinks at the Firebelly Lounge. After Vaughn traded insults with another patron (whose girlfriend had apparently been flirting with Vaughn), the two stepped outside, and a brief scuffle ensued before the two were separated. Buscemi, who was among the crowd that had gathered, was then confronted by a man who, after a brief exchange, attacked the actor with a pocketknife. Buscemi suffered stab wounds to his face, throat, and hands, and had to return to New York to recuperate. His attacker, Timothy Fogerty, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. In typical good-guy fashion, Buscemi declined to press additional charges and instead insisted Fogerty enter a substance abuse program.

13. HE REJOINED HIS FIRE ENGINE IN THE WAKE OF 9/11.

After the horrific attack on New York City’s Twin Towers on September 11, Buscemi—like many Americans—was desperate to help. Although it had been nearly 20 years since he had strapped on his fireman’s gear, the actor reunited with his Engine 55 brethren and for days scoured the towers’ debris for survivors. Buscemi didn’t want his actions publicized; when people asked to take his picture, he declined. It took more than 10 years, in fact, before word got out, thanks to a Facebook post from Engine 55. “Brother Steve worked 12-hour shifts alongside other firefighters digging and sifting through the rubble,” the post read. “This guy is a badass!”

14. HE NARRATES THE AUDIO TOUR AT EASTERN STATE PENITENTIARY.

People who take a tour of the historic Philadelphia prison may notice a familiar voice coming through their listening device. So how did Buscemi end up lending his talents to such a seemingly obscure place? It turns out Eastern State is a popular location for film and photo shoots. Scenes from Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys were filmed there, as were album covers for artists like Tina Turner. In 2000, Buscemi scouted the penitentiary for a film project. The location didn’t work out, but the actor fell in love with the history and grand architecture of the 190-year-old prison. When officials asked for his help to celebrate the prison’s tenth year running tours, he agreed.

15. HE DIDN’T BELIEVE TERENCE WINTER WHEN HE OFFERED HIM THE LEAD IN BOARDWALK EMPIRE.


HBO

After years of playing disposable villains and losers on the periphery, Buscemi had grown accustomed to being passed over for leading roles. So when Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter offered him the part of corrupt politician Enoch “Nucky” Thompson in the award-winning HBO series, Buscemi offered his usual reply. “When Terry did call me and he said that he and Marty [Scorsese] wanted me to play this role, my response was, ‘Terry, I know you’re looking at other actors, and I just appreciate that my name is being thrown in,’" Buscemi recalled. "He said, ‘No, Steve, I just said we want you.’ It still didn’t sink in.” Eventually, of course, reality did sink in, and Buscemi went on to win a Golden Globe and Emmy Award across the show’s five seasons.

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