When Edward James Olmos took over as Lieutenant Castillo in season 1 of Miami Vice, the entire feel of the classic TV show changed. Prior to Olmos’ arrival, Gregory Sierra had played Lt. Rodriguez, the vice squad’s excitable commander. But Sierra got written out (via an assassin’s bullet) after four episodes.
From the moment Castillo (Olmos) entered the building, viewers could tell the new boss wasn’t the same as the old boss. Star detective Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) asks partner Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) about Castillo’s vibe, and Tubbs sums him up with the perfect phrase: “Charles Bronson by way of Havana.”
The gruff Castillo lives up to that description, and at first viewers don’t know if he’ll ever cede an inch to Crockett (or Tubbs). In a 2013 interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Olmos looked back on the start of his 107-episode run on Miami Vice. As he recalled it, he didn’t need to act much to create the tension viewers see on-screen.
Edward James Olmos encountered a lot of pushback in his 1st days on the ‘Miami Vice’ set
As soon as Olmos got on the Miami Vice set, he didn’t feel right about Castillo’s office. “When I walked in the [office] at the beginning, there was stuff everywhere,” he told the Television Academy. “Papers and pipe holders, paper upon paper, and books…”
Though Olmos agreed it looked “lived-in,” he didn’t see it as Castillo’s. “I went to the set designer and said, ‘Take everything out,'” he recalled. After the set designer got approval, they removed literally every object from the office. But Olmos had one request. “Just give me some aspirin [for the desk].”
Sitting there with a bottle aspirin on top of an empty desk in an empty room, Olmos did his first rehearsal with Johnson (Crockett). And though it went well, Johnson took issue with Olmos’ decision to close the door of his office following their rehearsal.
“Don goes, ‘Hey Eddie, leave the door open,'” Olmos recalled. “‘I don’t want to work with doors.'” Olmos believed that Castillo would shut the door to his office on his first day in charge, so he couldn’t agree to Johnson’s request. That led to a multi-hour standoff on the set.
Olmos had a multi-hour standoff with Don Johnson that ratcheted up the tension in their early scenes
When Olmos stuck to his idea for Castillo’s office, Johnson became annoyed. “‘We’ll see about that,'” Olmos recalled Johnson telling him. Then he left the set, and Olmos said he and the entire Miami Vice crew waited for hours while the issue was addressed behind the scenes.
Olmos guessed the delay had to cost tens of thousands. Meanwhile, he’s sitting there wondering what he’d done on his first day. (The crew was also avoiding him.) Finally, producer John Nicolella turned up and told Olmos everything was going to be fine.
In some ways, it was: They shot the scene with Castillo’s door closed. As Crockett, Johnson burst into the room, slamming the door against a file cabinet. Then he slammed a file down on Castillo’s desk. Annoyed, Olmos (as Castillo) barely looked in Crockett’s direction.
“The tension was excellent,” Olmos told the Television Academy. “You could feel it, you could cut it with a knife.” Olmos thought it worked so well, in fact, that he kept it going. “I didn’t look at Crockett or Ricardo Tubbs for 10 episodes,” he said. “I wouldn’t give them anything.”