‘Miami Vice’ Did Larry Wilcox Dirty in Sonny Crockett Casting

Few TV shows feel as associated with an era as Miami Vice is with the ’80s. From the cool music to the stylish clothes, everything about it screamed the ’80s.

Its influence both as a fashion trendsetter and a role model for subsequent cop shows cannot be understated. Part of what made the show so great was its compelling main character, Sonny Crockett.

Here’s the story of that character and how someone (who was not Don Johnson) was almost cast in the role. 

‘Miami Vice’ redefined the cop drama

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For anyone who didn’t watch the show, Miami Vice may seem like a cheesy remnant of the neon-stained 80s culture. But fans of it know differently. Miami Vice was about more than its superficial trappings. It also featured great action scenes and riveting storylines.

The chemistry between Johnson’s Sonny Crockett and Philip Thomas Hall’s Ricardo Tubbs was truly dynamic. The partnership was so well-written and executed, it helped transcend the show above other imitators of its era. 

Today, cop shows all seem like procedurals like Law and Order and CSI. While observing police procedure was certainly an element of Vice, it was hardly the focus. What made it work were those characters. Fans tuned in every week not just to cheer them on, but to see how they’d develop. 

Think of how many TV shows and films attempted to build a franchise off of a pair of detective partners. Think of how many failed. Miami Vice didn’t just succeed as a TV show — it also spawned a feature film. That was in large part thanks to the work of Michael Mann, one of filmmaking’s great geniuses. But the character of Sonny in the starring role also helped distinguish it from other shows like it. 

Sonny Crockett was an iconic character

While Johnson now is accustomed to playing older men thanks to his age, he was one of the hottest actors on the market in the ’80s thanks to his work as Crockett. It helped establish his career and tied him not just to a TV series, but also an era.

When you think of ’80s TV, not many people come to mind before Johnson in a crisp, white blazer like Crockett. 

What made his work so good? According to an interview with Rolling Stone, Johnson said it was because he wrapped himself up in the character. He wasn’t sure where Crockett began or Johnson ended: 

“Look, I was a child of the streets. I knew the game. So I brought to the character a certain authenticity about how it goes down, and the stakes. To try and figure out how much did Don Johnson slip into the character, and how much did the character become Don Johnson…those lines are blurred.”

Fans can hardly imagine what the show would have been like without Johnson’s performance. That’s why it’s so crazy to think the part nearly went to someone else. 

What Larry Wilcox said about almost being cast as Sonny on ‘Miami Vice’

Larry Wilcox as Officer Jon Baker on 'CHIPS'
Actor Larry Wilcox, pictured here in character as Officer Jon Baker on CHiPS, was considered for the lead role on Miami Vice. | NBCU Photo Bank

According to Mental Floss, Larry Wilcox had previously starred in a different cop show, CHiPs. When producers were casting for Miami Vice, he said Michael Mann approached him to read for the part of Crockett: 

“I read with many actors and did stunts and fight scenes and all kinds of crap for Michael Mann and the writer. Later I found out that the writer of the original series pilot did not want me and was perhaps just using me to read other actors.”

While Wilcox’s audition drew rave reviews, they ultimately went with Johnson. That’s not to say Wilcox wouldn’t have done well in the role — but it’s odd to think of how the show might have turned out without Johnson’s trademark look as Crockett.