Don Johnson


  1. Dirk Benedict, Battlestar Galactica, 1978-1979.    Johnson’s Southern accent just wasn’t galactic. Benedict modelled his Starbuck on James Garner’s  Maverick. Katee Sackhoff’s kick-ass version of Starbuck was part of the reason the show only really took off  in its 2004-2008 second coming.
  2. William Hurt, Body Heat, 1981.     Sure was sexy enough, just did  not look dumb  enough.
  3. William Petersen, Manhunter, 1985.    “Hey! Get Don- he’d make a great Will Graham!”Having locked in Michael Mann to direct the first Hannibal Lecter (then, Lektor), the studio smart-asses thought it would be a clever move to reunite him with his TV series star as the FBI man.Not realising that would have the public thinking this was aMiami Vice chapter.
  4. Rex Smith, Street Hawk, TV 1985.   There were two pilots called Falconer that season. Neither glowed, although this one went beyond its poilot, at least. Johnson was up for Jesse Mach, secret crime-fighter on his snazzy mo’bike… until NBC OKed a little something called Miami Vice. Street lasted 13 episodes, Miami, five years. 

  5. Kevin Costner, The Untouchables, 1986.    
    “I’m better than De Niro, I’m better than Pacino. I’ve got the talent, they’ve got the material…   I read a ton of scripts and there aren’t many that blow my skirt up.  Or out it another way, he was contracted to Miami Vice… as the highest paid TV star.  Don congratulated his pal Costner on  winning the Eliot Ness role, never letting on that he’d been in the mix.  Or not until they co-starred in The Tin Cup ten years later.

  6. Mel Gibson, Lethal Weapon, 1986.     In all, 39 possibilities for the off-kilter, ’Nam vet cop Martin Riggs – not as mentally-deranged as in early drafts (he used a rocket launcher on one guy!)  Some ideas were inevitable: Alec Baldwin, Michael Biehn (shooting Aliens),Jeff Bridges, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Al Pacino, Sean Penn, William Petersen, Dennis Quaid, Christopher Reeve, Kurt Russell, Charlie Sheen, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, Bruce Willis. Some were inspired: Bryan Brown, Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum (he inherited Gibson’s role in The Fly), William Hurt (too dark for Warner Bros), Michael Keaton, Michael Madsen, Liam Neeson, Eric Roberts. Some were insipid: Jim Belushi, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Kevin Kline, Stephen Lang, Michael Nouri (he joined another  cop duo in The Hidden),  Patrick Swayze. Plus TV cops  Don  Johnson, Tom Selleck… three foreign LA cops:  Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dutch Rutger Hauer and French Christophe(r) Lambert. And the inevitable (Aussie) outsider Richard Norton.
  7. Robert De Niro, Midnight Run,1987.   There were 23 possibilites for the lean, mean skip-tracer (tracing felons who skipped bail) – on the run from the  FBI and the Mob after capturing Vegas embezzler Charles Grodin.  Who knew De Niro could be more subtle at comedy than… Johnsobn, Jeff Bridges, Charles Bronson, Michael Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Ryan O’Neal (!), Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds, Mickey Rourke, Kurt Russell, John Travolta, Jon Voight and even the musclebound Arnie and Sly – Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Director Martin Brest, that’s who.

  8. Bruce Willis, Die Hard, 1987.    
    There were 17 possible John McClanes… From Michael Madsen, Tom Berenger, and top TV heroes Don Johnson and Richard Dean Anderson to A-listers Charles Bronson, James Caan, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Nick Nolte, Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone… and Frank Sinatra?  Yes, well, Roderick Thorpe’s book, Nothing Lasts Forever, sequelised  The Detective  – and  that 1967 film  starred Sinatra (as Joe Leland,  changed here to  McClane) and so Sinatra had first dibs on any sequels. At age 73, old Rheumy BlueEyes wisely passed. Otherwise it could have  been “Dooby-dooby-do”  in place of  “Yippee-ki-yay.”  In his 1980 move debut, The First Deadly Sin, Willis is seen leaving a bar as Sinatra walks in.  So it flows… He was soon  taking roles from most of those on the McClane list.

  9. Kevin Costner, Bull Durham, 1987. Ron Shelton had one helluva job trying to win backing for his directing debut. “Baseball? Get outa here. Ball movies don’t sell.”  But his producer Thom Mount was part-owner of the real Durham Bulls squad and recognised what Roger Ebert would call “a sports movie that knows what it is talking about – because it knows so much about baseball and so little about love.” Orion stumped up $9m, eight weeks, creative freedom – the cast cut their costs because of the script. For the minor-league veteran, Crash Davis, Shelton  looked at: Alec Baldwin, Tom Berenger, Jeff Bridges, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Tommy Lee Jones (he was baseball icon Ty Cobb in Shelton’s Cobb, 1994), Michael Keaton, Stephen Lang, Nick Nolte (more into football), Bill Paxton, Ron Perlman, Dennis Quaid, Kurt Russell (who worked on the script with Shelton), Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis – and even three foreigners to the game: Aussie Mel Gibson, French Christophe(r) Lambert and Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger. Result: more sports from Shelton (basketball, golf, boxing) and more baseball movies from Hollywood: A League of Their Own, Eight Men Out (with Sheen), Field of Dream (Costner), Major League (Berenger and Sheen).  

  10. Billy Dee Williams, Batman, 1988.
  11. Mark Harmon, The Presido, 1988.  Lee Marvin and Jeff Bridges as two cops with a history  became  Sean Connery and Don Johnson (Miami Vice got in the way) and wound  up as Connery and Harmon…   Strange that so many – Alec Baldwin, Michael Biehn, Jeff Bridges, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Michael Keaton, Dolph Lundgren, Bill Pullman, Dennis Quaid, Kurt Russell, Patrick Swayze, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis… even rival biceps Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone – were contacted for the second banana rôle. And a bad one. Matching what Chicago critic Roger Ebert called “a clone, of a film assembled out of spare parts from… the cinematic junkyard.”
  12. Richard Gere, Internal Affairs, 1989.     ’Tis the season to be cops…. with two offers…   UK director Mike Figgis said Paramount wanted Mel Gibson or Kurt Russell (big hits in ’88’s Tequila Sunrise) as the badass cop-cum-hit man. “If we’d hired a movie star to play Peck,” noted producer Frank Mancuso Jr, “we might not have been able to so successfully explore the darkness of the character.” Some 19 other stars – Johnson, Alec Baldwin, Tom Berenger, Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Keaton, Nick Nolte, Al Pacino, Christopher Reeve, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta… and four outsiders Richard Dean Anderson, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Ron Silver – all passed Peck to Gere for a double whammy comeback with Pretty Woman. “I’ve never been away,” snapped Gere. Oh, but he had. Almost to Palookaville.
  13. Kurt Russell, Tango & Cash, 1989.     Next… ? Sylvester Stallone was Raymond Tango – without question. But who would he accept as his equally frame cop pardner, Gabriel Cash? After Patrick Swayze ran (to solo billing in Road House), the list was long… Johnson, Michael Biehn, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Michael Keaton, Ray Liotta, Liam Neeson, Michael Nouri, Gary Oldman, Robert Patrick, Bill Paxton, Ron Perlman, Dennis Quaid, Gary Sinise. Plus three  future Sly co-strs: Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis and James Woods. They all lost out on the debatable pleasure of four directors! From the Russian Andrei Konchalovsky to, secretly, Stallone.
  14. Tim Robbins, Jacob’s Ladder, 1990.   The queue to be ’Nam war casualty Jacob Singer was long… Robbins, Richard Gere, Tom Hanks, Dustin  Hoffman, Al Pacino… even Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson, so far down the pike that year thay they wound up sharing the dreadful Harley Davidson and the  Marlboro Man.
  15. Nick Nolte, The Prince of Tides, 1991.     Director and star Barbara Streisand offered the role of the unemployed, aimless and miserably married Tom Wingo.
  16. Michael Douglas, Basic Instinct1991.
  17. Kevin Costner, JFK, 1991.
  18. Tom Sizemore, Heat, 1995.  Auteur Michael Mann revived fthe failing Johnson career with the classy  Miami Vice series, 1984- 1989, but the actor passed  Michael Cheritto to Sizemore.
  19. David Caruso, CSI: Miami, TV, 2002-2010.      An early suggestion from producer Jerrry Bruckheimer forLieutenant Horatio Caine in the first of the Crime Scene Investigation spin-offs. But  Don had done Florida –  over six years in Miami Vice.
  20. James Caan, Las Vegas, TV, 2003-2008.    Don was  considered for  the Montecito Casino & Hotel security chief, Ed Deline. Of course he was. The series  was based on his notion: Casino Eye. “I read a ton of scripts and there aren’t many that blow my skirt up.”

  21. Mark Harmon, NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service, TV, 2003-2010.    Tiring  of series, after the 333 combined episodes of Miami Vice, 1984-1990,  and Nash Bridges 1996-2001, Johnson turned down creator Donald P Bellasario’s invitation  to play the patriarchal agent  Jethro Gibbs.
  22. Tom Berenger, Inception, 2009.      Despite not having had a decent movie since Dennis Hopper’s mercurial Hot Spot in 1989, Johnson turned down the offer from the Dark Knight’s UK auteur, Christopher Nolan, to play Browning. Maybe the A-List cast – Leonardo Di Caprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine etc – put him off.




 Birth year: Death year: Other name: Casting Calls:  22