The word of the week, apparently, was milestone. Last July honchos from NBC and Miami Vice were sitting around discussing the start of the stylish suit-’em-up, shoot-’em-up show’s fourth season. “The ratings had dropped, and critics had taken a few shots at the series,” says Warren Littlefield, NBC’s exec VP, Prime Time Programs. “Our objective was to reinvigorate the show and bring a must-see quality to it. It’s not enough to say, ‘Let’s do an interesting drug story.’ We’ve done a lot of interesting drug stories. So what we came up with was milestone.” Right—a significant event in a person’s life, one that will resound in the memory. And with luck, in the Nielsen ratings as well, where Miami Vice has slipped from No. 5 to No. 49 during a two-year period. While concentrating on the milestone mandate, one member of the brain trust had a vision: Sonny Crockett, the vice cop/bachelor played by hunky Don Johnson, would get married. “Everybody got excited,” recalls Littlefield. “It was the milestone we were looking for. And I predict that when we kick in with our milestone, we will have a very strong show.”
The groom-to-be does not disagree. “We’ve been accused of providing style over substance, and in some cases accurately so,” Johnson says of his show. “But a wedding involves characters emotionally, and therefore involves the audience emotionally. This is obviously working because it’s already captured a lot of attention.”
Johnson isn’t hyping the hype. Since casting for a bride started in September, the Vice wedding has engendered almost as many stories in the press as the latest Supreme Court nominee rejections. Now, after two months and 30 actresses, the sought-after milestone is finally looming at the end of the aisle. On the Wee set in Miami, his killer grin flashing ceaselessly, Johnson is having a fine old time with his prospective TV bride, rocker Sheena Easton. Crew members say they’ve rarely seen the mercurial actor in such a good mood. A tough pop-tart type, Easton, 28, is probably one of the few women who doesn’t throw herself at Johnson’s feet. Still, it’s apparent that she would knock his socks off, if he wore any.
Maybe it’s the short, low-cut, back-slit black dress she’s wearing. Maybe it’s those big-pupilled eyes of hers that change from blue to gray with the light. Maybe it’s the way her salty tongue—softened somewhat by her Scottish brogue—keeps cracking him up. Sheena tells Don she’s been asked to assess him as a lover. “I said you kissed well,” she says, “and as for the rest, you’ll be all right once you’ve read a couple of books.” Johnson roars with laughter, then pretends to make a call to executive producer Michael Mann. “Michael,” he says, “about that recasting….”
Too late. Easton is firmly ensconced for the next four episodes as rock singer Caitlin Davies, a witness in a music payola trial. Assigned to protect her (someone’s been watching Someone to Watch Over Me), Crockett saves her life, falls in love and marries her all in the first show, airing this week. “This girl takes him like a whirlwind,” says Easton. “She blows him away.” After the fourth installment Caitlin might be killed off, or separate from Sonny and return as a recurring character.
Tonight the pair are getting ready to shoot their big love scene, a very close encounter aboard Sonny’s Scarab houseboat. The intimacies won’t present a problem, says first-time actress Easton. “It’s the technical things, like getting on and off the boat, that’ll probably be filmed a thousand times.” Johnson remarks that when the scene is finished, he plans to do what he does every night—run four miles. Easton winks at him. “Tonight,” she says, “you won’t have the strength.”
“I love this woman!” he says.
This is the year to love Sheena. Last year? The year before? That’s another story. Raised outside Glasgow, Sheena Shirley Orr came on the scene with two big 1981 hits, “Morning Train” and “For Your Eyes Only.” Her appeal ebbed a bit after that, although she gained notoriety in 1985, when her song “Sugar Walls”—written by pal Prince—was called pornographic by Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center.
Easton continued making successful but not outstanding music. Then she hit a heartbreaker. She recorded an album of ballads, No Sound But a Heart, but her label, EMI-America, switched leadership before the LP was released. Easton wasn’t happy with the new management, and the album has never come out here. Protracted legal wranglings and a divorce from her second husband kept Easton lying low until early this year. She says that 1987 was “my most transitional year.”
Her re-emergence began when she dueted with Prince on his current hit “U Got the Look,” notable for its deep funk groove and single-entendre lyrics (“Your face is jammin’/ Your body’s heck-a-slammin7 If love is good let’s get 2 rammin’ “). Cole Porter, eat your heart out. But back to Easton: Her 5’¾”, 103-lb. physique, which she keeps in shape with daily exercise-junkie workouts in her home gym, landed her another gig—as spokeswoman for a chain of health spas. Feeling that she was on a roll, Easton decided to pursue acting. “I’m not Meryl Streep, and I’m not trying to play Lady Macbeth,” says Sheena, who studied acting for three years at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. “But I wanted something where I could draw upon my experiences. I liked the Miami Wee character because she takes no [expletive] from anybody.”
Competition was heavy. Singer Carly Simon, 42, was actively pursued. “I was extremely flattered,” Simon says from her Martha’s Vineyard home. “But my kids go to school here, and I would have to be in Miami for six weeks. I couldn’t leave them.” Simon turned the audition request down several times, with regrets. “I would have loved doing it,” she says. “I think I would have been the best wife Don Johnson ever had. He would have been sorry he left me.”
The reception accorded Easton was slightly different. When her agent first tried to get an audition for Sheena, the reaction was “Are you kidding?” But the agent persisted and won her a reading with the show’s star. “I had no pride,” says Easton. “As an actress I’m a beginner.” Johnson remembers being “very surprised by her. She was a knockout with a lot of natural ability.”
But not quite enough. The role instead went to Lorraine Bracco, wife of actor Harvey Keitel and co-star of Someone to Watch Over Me. But while that movie may have furnished the Miami Vice wedding plot, it didn’t furnish its co-star. A few days into the Vice shooting, Bracco came down with the flu and had to leave. Sheena got the call in her Los Angeles home, caught a plane to Miami and started the next morning. Her first dialogue scene was the marriage proposal. “I was nervous the first five minutes,” she says. “After a couple of takes I glanced at everyone’s face and saw a look of ‘Yeah, she can do this.’ It was very comforting. If I’d seen a look of ‘Man, this girl sucks,’ I’d have gotten nervous again.”
And so we’ve got a wedding. A 10-bedroom mansion on Coconut Grove’s Park Lane has been rented for $5,000 a day. As photographers for a tabloid shoot from the windows of another rented house across the street, the ceremony takes place. Philip Michael Thomas, who plays Crockett’s partner, Ricco Tubbs, is on hand as best man. Jan Hammer, the show’s synthesizer-happy composer, serves as the organist. A new character played by Touki Smith (sister of the late designer Willi Smith and girlfriend of Robert De Niro) is the maid of honor. Easton is wearing a strapless French alençon lace dress designed by Eddie Castro, with seed pearls and crystal paillettes. Johnson is wearing a double-breasted tux, a Versace shirt and—in honor of the special occasion—a pair of Perry Ellis socks.
As for the chemistry between the newlyweds, it’s molecular. This may be TV’s hottest pairing since Mr. Wizard met sulfuric acid. Johnson and Easton profess that their lust is purely professional, but much love could easily be lost between them. “He’s got an innate sensuality,” Easton says of Johnson. “His smile and his sense of humor are very sexy. The fact that he’s gorgeous doesn’t hurt either.”
Later the hunk in question is back in his gray customized motor home on the Vice set, listening to a Wynton Marsalis tape. Johnson, 37, appears chubbier than when he started the show four years ago, probably the result of kicking cigarettes. He’s asked how it felt to do the wedding scene. “I’ve done this before,” he laughs. “I mean in real life. It has its sobering moments. When they put the ring on my finger to test its size, I got the shakes.”
The trailer is decorated with photos of his son, Jesse, 4, by actress Patti D’Arbanville. Johnson has never married her, but he has tied the knot three times—in two earlier quickie marriages and at the end of a long relationship with actress Melanie Griffith.
When he was doing the wedding scene, did he think about getting married again? “Oh, I think when you’ve been to the altar as many times as I have, there’s always the thought that maybe you’ll get lucky again someday,” says Johnson. “Maybe you’ll run across that one person you feel totally compatible and comfortable with, who you’ll want to share the rest of your life with.” His cocky look, present just moments ago, is now gone.
With the first episode in the can, Easton is back in L.A. for a few days, sitting in the corner of her favorite restaurant, Genghis Cohen. She usually eats out, she says. It’s not that she doesn’t have a kitchen in her New England-style Hollywood Hills home. It’s just that she hates to cook. “If I have to cook for someone,” she says, “I’ll throw some tomato sauce on spaghetti. There, eat it, shut up.’ If I had kids, trust me, we’d have a cook. I’d read them stories, tie their shoelaces and wipe their noses. But I’m not making them any dinners. Believe me,” she says, “they’d thank me for it.”
Yes, she’d like to have kids—one or two—but with whom? That is the question. For Easton, like Johnson, the Vice wedding scene prompted thoughts of two previous marriages. Her first, to singer-actor Sandi Easton, took place in 1978 and lasted eight months. Her second, to her former manager Rob Light, 30, lasted 2½ years before ending in divorce last December. “I got married to the wrong person, both times,” says Easton. “The last time we just weren’t compatible.”
According to the tabs Easton lately has been very compatible with Prince—that is, until she dumped him because he insisted on communicating with her only via ESP. “It’s all [expletive],” says Sheena, laughing hysterically. “Of course we’re friends, but Prince is not my boyfriend, and that ESP thing is 100 percent [expletive]. My mother called me from England and told me about it. ‘You’ll be pleased to know your romance with Prince is over—you broke up over ESP.’ She peed on herself laughing about it.”
Not that Easton is romantically inactive. “I’ve dated quite a few people since splitting with my husband. I’m always in love. I’m either getting over somebody or falling in love with somebody else. Isolation terrifies me. If somebody said you can either die or live alone on a desert island for 40 years, I’d rather die than live alone.” Right now Easton is seeing a less-than-well-known L.A. musician. “We blend well,” she says. “I like him, he likes me. He’s compatible with my life-style at the moment.”
Sounds like he might be around about as long as Easton’s character remains on Miami Vice. In the three postnuptial episodes, the marriage will fall apart. “Caitlin’s music career will rapidly take off,” says NBC’s Littlefield, explaining what happens after this milestone is passed. “She becomes a public figure, and Sonny, as an undercover cop, can’t be a public figure. Her career and Sonny’s need to be private will impact on their relationship.”
No one knows yet how the last episode will end. If Easton’s departure is permanent, she says she’d like to “go dramatically, in a blaze of glory. We’ve been joking about bizarre ways to do it, like being beamed up on Star Trek.” But that’s in the future. For the present, Sonny Crockett is getting hitched, and, for four weeks at least, he’ll finally have someone to wash his ankles.