If you were hoping for something different on TV circa 1984, Miami Vice delivered with its breathtaking two-hour pilot. From the opening New York shootout to the stirring nighttime drive with “In the Air Tonight” on the soundtrack, the show had style to burn.
It also had some glaring weaknesses. Gregory Sierra, who played Lt. Lou Rodriguez in the earlygoing, did not seem like a good fit for the show. And the wacky subplot involving the pet alligator of Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) got old pretty fast.
With the arrival of Edward James Olmos (Lt. Castillo) in episode 6, Miami Vice really began to hit its stride. Castillo put the vice squad in line immediately, and by the “Golden Triangle” episodes the lieutenant became more intriguing than the two main characters.
It almost didn’t turn out that way. Speaking with the Television Academy in a 2013 interview, Olmos recalled how he wasn’t interested in the part when executive producer Michael Mann offered it to him. In the end, it took Mann about five different offers to get Olmos in the show.
Edward James Olmos kept politely declining Michael Mann’s offers to join the ‘Miami Vice’ cast
When Mann first offered Olmos the part of Castillo, Miami Vice was in a time crunch. Sierra no longer wanted to play Lt. Rodriguez, so the show had him killed off in “Calderon’s Return, Part I” (season 1 episode 4). Mann wanted Olmos to fly to Miami and start playing Castillo the next day.
Olmos was in a completely different place. He and his creative partners had just produced The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982), which began in the American Playhouse series. For Olmos, Gregorio Cortez was very much a labor of love — and a highlight of his career as an artist to that point.
“I was very happy and very proud,” Olmos recalled in his Television Academy interview. “I had done Zoot Suit, I had done Blade Runner, I had done Gregorio Cortez … and Mann calls me up and says, ‘Do you want to do Miami Vice?'”
Despite having no money at the time, Olmos didn’t like the idea. He told Mann he could guest-star for a few episodes but couldn’t sign an exclusive contract to play Castillo. After Olmos hung up, Mann called him back with a higher offer, only to hear Olmos politely decline again. Then it happened two more times.
Olmos didn’t agree until he got creative control of the character — and a nonexclusive contract
Every time Olmos turned down Mann, the Miami Vice showrunner called back with a higher monetary offer. Olmos recalled starting to feel guilty about turning down so much money. At the time, he was working the graveyard shift running a furniture delivery business.
But he knew he couldn’t do another Gregorio Cortez if he was playing Castillo on Miami Vice. Then Mann came back with his fourth offer. “The money he was offering me was more money than my father made in his entire lifetime,” Olmos recalled. But he still didn’t bite.
Finally, Mann got back to him with a fifth offer. That one gave Olmos a nonexclusive contract while he played Castillo and full creative control of the character. Olmos decided to get greedy at that point. “And I’ll take the last offer [laughs],” he told Mann. That night, he got on a plane to Miami to start work the following morning.