New York City-born actress Elizabeth Rodriguez never turned the channel to “Miami Vice” in the ’80s. The show, which first aired in 1984 and starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as two vice squad detectives in the Miami Police Department, was not something she found as entertaining television.
“I didn’t watch it at all,” Rodriguez told me during a phone interview. “I knew about it and I knew it was a big thing. People started wearing loafers without socks. I remember when it was affecting New York’s style and culture, but I never watched it.”
Although not a fan of the popular TV series, Rodriguez now finds herself starring in the film version of the show. The movie, which opens on July 28, is directed by Michael Mann (“Heat”) and stars Colin Farrell (“The New World”) and Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx (“Ray”).
Rodriguez portrays Miami Det. Gina Calabrese, one of two female officers who goes undercover with Det. James ‘Sonny’ Crockett (Farrell) and Det. Ricardo Tubbs (Foxx) to bring down an underworld of drug traffickers.
“In the series Gina was the one having a relationship with Crockett, but not in the film,” Rodriguez said. “My character is more of the go-to girl. I’m the support system. I specialized in operations. My character is ex-SWAT. I’m just sort of hands-on and all about my work and my people.”
Because she had never seen the original TV series before, Rodriguez, who’s film credits include 1995’s “Dead Presidents” and 2001’s “Blow,” decided she needed to take a crash course in “Miami Vice” 101. Purchasing the “Miami Vice” Season One DVD, Rodriguez said she watched over 20 hours of the show and also took the time to watch and re-watch every film Michael Mann directed, including “The Insider,” “Ali” and “Collateral.”
“I did a whole review of the Michael Mann films I hadn’t seen,” Rodriguez said. “And the films I had seen, I watched them again, but through a different eye.”
Watching “Miami Vice,” Rodriguez said, helped her a lot in seeing what Miami was like in the ’80s. It was her only way to get back to that particular city in that particular era.
“I had gone to Miami a couple of times but only in the 90s, so it had already started changing,” Rodriguez said. “I also dated a guy that was Cuban and was raised in Miami but that didn’t help too much. It was hard to put yourself back in the 80s.”
Although she thought Crockett’s pet crocodile Elvis was “corny” on the TV show, Rodriguez said she did understand why so many people tuned in 20 years ago.
“There was a Latin quality to it,” she said. “[The City of Miami] was its own sort of character in the show. The style is Michael Mann’s style – dark. You get to see the super high end of Miami down on South Beach and then you go into the real gritty and nastiness of life. Then you see how it’s all connected.”