As he re­turns to TV as Ru­pert Grint’s boor­ish, nar­cis­sis­tic boss ‘I based him on Trump!’ , Mi­ami Vice star Don John­son in­sists that af­ter the years of women, drugs and fast cars, it’s...

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - FILM - IN­TER­VIEW BY LINA DAS

If ever there was a mo­ment when Don John­son re­alised he’d be­come a sex sym­bol, it was dur­ing the second sea­son of Eight­ies hit show Mi­ami Vice. He and co-star Philip Michael Thomas, as un­der­cover cops Crock­ett and Tubbs, were film­ing a scene in New York sur­rounded by high-rise of­fice blocks. ‘We were run­ning down the street,’ says John­son, ‘and some­thing was fall­ing all around us. When they said “Cut” I turned around and there were about 10,000 bras and panties cov­er­ing the street. It turned out the ladies work­ing in the of­fices were throw­ing their un­der­wear at us. ‘Of course,’ he adds, ‘it ru­ined the shot.’ The show, which in­tro­duced pastel­coloured Ver­sace jack­ets and de­signer stub­ble to the world, turned John­son into the ‘sex idol of the uni­verse’. Never one to shy away from fast liv­ing, he was soon an ad­vert for Hol­ly­wood ex­cess, from drink to drugs to women, though on to­day’s ev­i­dence you couldn’t pos­si­bly tell. Tanned, slim and im­mac­u­lately turned out in blue shirt and jeans, he’s a pic­ture of health. He turns 68 in De­cem­ber and frankly looks bet­ter than most men in their 40s.

He’s laid-back too – sober for years, yet happy to sit in the bar of the Los An­ge­les Penin­sula ho­tel, where he nurses a sparkling wa­ter and puffs on an elec­tronic cig­a­rette, his only vice. It’s a far cry from the days when less salu­bri­ous com­pany was itch­ing to make his ac­quain­tance.

‘Drug deal­ers were big fans of the show, which was kind of weird be­cause I was play­ing the cop who was ar­rest­ing them,’ says John­son. ‘Once, in a night­club one of the lo­cal drug deal­ers said to me, “I love you in that show. Let me give you some of this.” He pulled out this bag with about half a pound of co­caine in it and I said, “Thanks, but I’m not do­ing any drugs right now.” I was clean and sober and wasn’t about to do any of that.’

Such was his fame that even the Pres­i­dent, Ron­ald Rea­gan, so­licited his ad­vice on drug pol­icy. ‘I said, if you le­galise drugs, it takes the fun and glam­our and crim­i­nal­ity out of it and then you can tax it. So it solves a lot of prob­lems in one fell swoop.’ And how did he re­spond? ‘ He looked at me like I had four heads,’ laughs John­son.

Af­ter ad­vis­ing the White House on mat­ters of na­tional health, it’s fit­ting that John­son’s lat­est project is called Sick Note. The dark comedy fea­tures Harry Pot­ter star Ru­pert Grint as ha­bit­ual liar Daniel Glass, who is mis­di­ag­nosed with cancer by in­com­pe­tent doc­tor Iain Glen­nis (Nick Frost), yet con­tin­ues to fool ev­ery­one around him into be­liev­ing he’s ill in or­der to elicit sym­pa­thy.

John­son plays Daniel’s boss, Kenny West, who is boor­ish, potty-mouthed and to­tally lack­ing in self-aware­ness. ‘I based him on Don­ald Trump,’ says John­son. ‘Kenny is such a nar­cis­sist, so I thought he’d be a good model. Kenny speaks like the Pres­i­dent – any­thing can come out of his mouth at any mo­ment.’

John­son has known Trump since the late Eight­ies, when the ac­tor raced power­boats and Trump was a spon­sor. ‘He’s a very charm­ing guy and he’s man­aged to be­come Pres­i­dent of the United States, so he’s not stupid. He’s just…’ John­son, a stu­dent of Bud­dhism, mulls over his choice of word: ‘Un­con­scious.’

John­son read­ily ad­mits that he’s been ‘en­joy­ing a re­nais­sance’ in his ca­reer of late. Af­ter his Golden Globe-win­ning turn in

Mi­ami Vice, he had fur­ther hits such as Tin Cup (1996) and the TV cop se­ries

Nash Bridges (1996-2001). Af­ter a slight ca­reer lull, his role as a racist vig­i­lante in 2010’s Ma­chete earned him rave re­views. This was fol­lowed by Quentin Tarantino’s Os­car­win­ning Django Un­chained and the 2014 in­die film Cold In July.

‘Lead­ing men can be very one-di­men­sional,’ he says, ‘so it’s been fun get­ting to use the skills I was trained for by play­ing th­ese out­ra­geous char­ac­ters.’

His life has been pretty out­ra­geous, too. John­son was just 12 when he lost his vir­gin­ity to his 16-year-old babysit­ter. ‘I would say, “You girls took ad­van­tage of me,” ’ he jokes. ‘But it was a dif­fer­ent time back then. Peo­ple were get­ting mar­ried in their teens.’

His own par­ents, Wayne, a farmer, and Nell, a beau­ti­cian, were them­selves teenagers when Don was born, sep­a­rat­ing when he was 13. John­son ad­mits to be­ing a ‘mis­chievous’ kid. He left home at 16 and worked to put him­self through univer­sity. He moved to LA in 1969, where he lit up both stage and screen, most no­tably in 1973’s The Har­rad Ex­per­i­ment star­ring Tippi He­dren as the teacher of a school where the pupils are en­cour­aged to ex­per­i­ment sex­u­ally. The film was also

no­to­ri­ous for the fact that John­son, then 22, and He­dren’s 14-year-old daugh­ter, Me­lanie Grif­fith, started dat­ing.

The re­la­tion­ship is shock­ing to read about to­day, but Grif­fith said she was ‘to­tally self­suf­fi­cient and re­spon­si­ble’ when she got to­gether with John­son, and scarcely any­one bat­ted an eye­lid at their re­la­tion­ship back in the per­mis­sive Seven­ties. The cou­ple moved in to­gether when she was 15, mar­ried in Ve­gas when she was 18 and di­vorced a year later.

In a re­cent in­ter­view, He­dren ad­mit­ted that while John­son ‘wasn’t a bad man… the re­la­tion­ship was out of place’ and said he had sub­se­quently apol­o­gised to her. Of the cou­ple get­ting to­gether when Grif­fith was just a teenager, John­son says: ‘Tippi wasn’t dis­ap­pointed – she liked me.’

John­son then dated ac­tress Patti D’Ar­banville (with whom he had a son, Jesse, now 34), be­fore re­unit­ing with Grif­fith in 1989. They had a daugh­ter, Dakota John­son, now the 28-year-old star of the Fifty Shades Of Grey movies, be­fore di­vorc­ing again in 1996. The exes fa­mously get along, with all the fam­i­lies and as­sorted chil­dren shar­ing birth­days and hol­i­days. ‘Some peo­ple are just meant to be to­gether, and I think that was true for Me­lanie and me, so we got mar­ried twice. I don’t be­lieve that if you love some­one, that love dies – it changes and be­comes some­thing else.’

John­son has been mar­ried to third wife Kel­ley Ph­leger, a nurs­ery school teacher, for 18 years and they have three chil­dren – Grace, 17, Jasper, 15, and Dea­con, 11. ‘Peo­ple don’t de­velop to the place where they can have long-last­ing, ma­ture re­la­tion­ships till they’re in their 30s, and for some of us,’ he adds, ges­tur­ing to him­self, ‘it takes even longer than that.’

He’s hon­est, too, about his strug­gles with drink and drugs. ‘ When I was a young man in Hol­ly­wood, drugs, al­co­hol and par­ty­ing were ev­ery­where and it was hard to es­cape. It doesn’t be­come a prob­lem im­me­di­ately, it takes time, and it led to some poor choices.’

By the late Noughties, John­son had got shot of ev­ery­thing in his life that was ex­tra­ne­ous, selling off his 20 cars and his ranch in Colorado (‘the things that once de­fined Don John­son’). A few years later, he won a $19 mil­lion set­tle­ment for a share of the prof­its from Nash Bridges, which he had con­ceived with the writer Hunter S Thompson.

Nowa­days, his only con­ces­sion to fast liv­ing is a Tesla car. Self-pos­sessed and happy in his own skin, he has rid­den the Hol­ly­wood roller­coaster and come out the other side. He’s much in de­mand th­ese days with projects in­clud­ing the movie Book Club – a comedy star­ring Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton, whose lives are changed when they start read­ing Fifty Shades Of Grey. Is he ever go­ing to watch the whips-and-pad­dles block­buster that turned his daugh­ter into a star?

‘No,’ he says un­equiv­o­cally. ‘I mean, there are some images as a fa­ther that you just e don’t need in your head.’ ‘Sick Note’ is on Sky 1 from Novem­ber 7, 10pm

‘Drugs, al­co­hol and par­ty­ing were ev­ery­where. It was hard to es­cape and it led to some poor choices’

Don John­son’s ex-wife Me­lanie Grif­fith with their daugh­ter, Dakota John­son

John­son with Ru­pert Grint in

John­son in his Mi­ami Vice hey­day in the mid-Eight­ies Sick Note. Right: with Me­lanie Grif­fith in 1973

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.